By the time this issue of Studies in World Christianity goes to press, in March 2021, it will have been a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At the time of that declaration, the Director General of WHO stated that there were 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, with more than 90 per cent of the cases in China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. Even at that early stage, the danger of COVID-19 seemed remote to those living in other parts of the world. Yet soon after, regional and national governments began to close borders and implement different lockdown procedures. Certain people would be identified as ‘key workers’ as their jobs were seen as essential support for society. However, these individuals would be more readily exposed to the virus, which revealed inequalities across gendered, racial and socio-economic groupings. Furthermore, frustrations around the public health crisis resulted in forms of racial conflict. Many Western countries would see increasing reports of anti-Asian racism, as those of East Asian extract were scapegoated as causing the so-called ‘China virus’. Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, major cities throughout the United States and other parts of the world would burst out in protest against police brutality towards blacks. It appears as though humanity has become more and more ‘socially distant’.
Professor Brian Stanley leads this discussion with Centre alumni Dr Jooseop Keum (Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, Seoul, South Korea), Professor Esther Mombo (St. Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya), Dr Janice McLean-Farrell (New Brunswick Theological Seminary), and Professor Timothy Tennent (Asbury Theological Seminary). As part of the 175 year anniversary of New College, the panel reflects on the place of World Christianity in New College, University of Edinburgh. They speak about how the Centre and its former staff (such as Professor Andrew Walls, Dr Jack Thompson, Professor David Kerr, Professor James Cox, and Ms Margaret Acton) nurtured a community of scholars in world Christianity.
World Christianity is a discourse about Christianity as a worldwide reality. It is not merely about the growing numbers of the faithful ‘out there’, juxtaposed against the falling numbers in the West. Part of the demographic changes of Christianity include the migration of peoples from the majority world to my world, next door. In a recent Ph.D. thesis on Christianity in Glasgow, where 126 Church of Scotland churches operate within the presbytery, 110 new churches were established between 2000 and 2016; of those new churches, 65 per cent primarily work with minority populations of African or Asian origins. Scholars may be quick to discuss the implications of the secularisation thesis or the so-called post-secular. But for those Christian communities on the ground, they may be more readily concerned with addressing practical needs related to migration, ‘integration’ into the dominant society, and negotiation of identities. From the first century until today, Christians have been a people on the move. However, another part of the picture is that changes in a given locale often happen irrespective of the Christians who have come or gone. As the four main articles in this issue of Studies in World Christianity demonstrate, such migratory and demographic patterns demonstrate how societies are rarely homogenous, but, in actuality, quite pluralistic.
Studies in World Christianity has been a pioneer in the academic field for over a quarter of a century. Undoubtedly, the journal reflects the idiosyncrasies of its various editors and its associated Centre for the Study of World Christianity. But more importantly, it has become a historical record of some of the major concerns in this important field. To make this easier to explore, we have recently produced a digital index of the journal.