Studies in World Christianity 28.2

World Christianity and Reciprocal Exchange

Edited by Afe Adogame, Raimundo Barreto and Richard F. Young

There is sometimes an assumption that Christianity operates, grows and develops in a historical, social, cultural, political and religious silo or context. This is hardly the case. Christianity, past and present, has shaped all geographical, religious and cultural contexts in which it has found itself, but all these various contexts, cultures and religious traditions have in turn also had an impact on Christianity in manifold ways. An exploration of this reciprocal interaction is important for our global age. Christians once viewed the world in split-screen mode: there was Europe, the centre of the faith, and there was the rest of the world with large swaths of non-Christian lands that were ripe for the work of missionaries. However, over the last century an enormous growth in Christianity across the Global South and a drop in the proportion of Europeans and Americans who identify as Christian has upended that perspective. The centre of gravity has shifted from the Global North, serving notice that the future of the faith will look increasingly diverse and dynamic.

The study of World Christianity seeks to understand how Christian communities embody historical and cultural experiences locally and globally; as such, it fosters the study of both local and translocal ways of knowing and doing. Thus, World Christianity hardly exists in a historical and socio-cultural vacuum; it encounters, affects, and is in turn impacted by local, indigenous worldviews, religions and cultures. The complex historical and socio-cultural encounters of worldviews, religions and cultures at the root of Christian communities in a variety of contexts demand further understanding and analysis. The selected, peer-reviewed essays in this issue, originally presented at Princeton’s Third International Conference (2021), explore and reflect on such a diversity of local, indigenous expressions and experiences of Christianity, their encounter with other religious traditions, and the variety of ways they interact with one another critically and constructively across time and space. While based on case studies, they focus on ethnographic practices and new methodological directions. Common themes addressed include conversion, translation, identity, missions, materiality, migration, diaspora, intercultural theology and interreligious dialogue.

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Studies in World Christianity 25.1

Guest edited by Corey L. Williams and Afe Adogame

Multiple identities are a standard feature of human culture and society. Everyone possesses what French sociologist Bernard Lahire has called an internal plurality (2011). As Lahire sees it, individuals are ‘the bearer[s] of heterogeneous habits, schemes, or dispositions which may be contrary or even contradictory to one another’ (2003: 344). Relatedly, in their comprehensive work on identity theory, Peter J. Burke and Jan E. Stets have argued that, ‘We take on many identities over the course of a lifetime, and at any point in time we have many identities that could be activated’ (2009: 131). In other words, everyone’s internal plurality includes multiple identities that can be activated for diverse purposes. (Continue reading the introduction here.)

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Images of Islam

by Deanna Ferree Womack (originally posted here)

Images of Islam abound these days, and many of them are troubling. Those who speak loudly and most forcefully define Islam in the narrowest of terms, making one image – the militant extremist – into a type for all Muslims. I find striking similarities between recent American public discourses and Protestant missionaries’ portrayals of Muslims in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From a comparative historical perspective, it is clear that the oft-repeated tropes about Islam as a violent and oppressive religion have been transmitted uncritically from one generation to the next. This dismissal of an entire faith tradition and its 1.6 billion adherents around the globe stems from a long pattern of Western representations of “the other” that 1) describe a collectivity rather than recognizing individual identities and 2) presume to speak authoritatively without taking the subjects’ own perspectives into account. The problem did not originate with the modern missionary movement, but American missionaries were among the Orientalist thinkers who adopted this mode of discourse on the Muslim populations they encountered in the Middle East. Continue reading

Studies in World Christianity 22.1

Missionary Eyes and Indigenous Eyes

Studies in World ChristianityFrom the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, Catholic and Protestant missionaries were the eyes through which Europe viewed the religious and cultural systems of the non-European world. Merchants, soldiers and diplomats sometimes fulfilled the same function, but they were birds of passage who rarely had the necessity or inclination to observe the ritual practices of indigenous peoples at close hand. Missionaries, by contrast, were in for the long haul. The objective of conversion required careful and patient observation of local traditions, the slow learning of language, the gradual attuning of the mind to the finer points of ceremonial observance, totem or taboo. Missionaries compared and contrasted what they saw with what they had seen elsewhere, or with what was familiar to them in European Christendom. As they did so, they began to order the miscellany of phenomena they encountered into divisions, categories, even systems. Continue reading