The COVID-19 Pandemic and World Christianity
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic will, for generations to come, constitute a point of reference for many endeavours, issues and social institutions, including religion. Some of the most public responses to the pandemic have been of a religious nature. The pandemic has also obviously affected our understanding of world Christianity and its contextual expressions and responses, especially in the face of the enigma of evil. Historically speaking, the pandemic has permanently inserted itself into how the Christian life is lived and expressed. It struck at a time on the Christian calendar when Christians worldwide were preparing to celebrate the major landmarks of the faith – Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost.
In non-Western contexts in particular, these historical Christian events occasion major celebrations in various church activities with some of them culminating in social gatherings in the holidays associated with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection in particular. In some parts of Europe where traditional church services are no longer the norm, the Monday after Pentecost is a public holiday. Whether these Christian landmarks were to be celebrated in religious services, Masses or as social gatherings, the coronavirus ensured that in-person meetings had to be aborted. In many cases, media technology of various sorts came to the rescue as churches and their leaders looked for innovative ways in which to stay in touch with the faithful.
We have dedicated this and the next issues of Studies in World Christianity to the study of how select Christian churches and communities from different continental contexts responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly regarding church services. Religion is itself a mediated phenomenon, and modern media technology has evolved as a major means of religious practice. In virtually all the studies relating to the church and the coronavirus scourge, media technology had to play a critical role in religious mediation and communion. The spread of COVID-19 led to the cancellation of events, negatively affected economics, disrupted political and social life and, most importantly for our purposes, religious life as well. When such negativities strike in terms of affliction, people search for answers. The Christian religious context, on account of its promises of salvation and deliverance from evil, became one of the main sources of appeal as people sought to make sense out of the pandemic situation.
In the midst of a pandemic that is shaking the globe we call for papers for a special issue of Studies in World Christianity that analyse immediate responses to COVID-19 and that give some historical perspective on pandemics or epidemics. We do this in order to resource further response to pandemic whose effects will be with us for some years to come.
I interviewed Dr Melissa Inouye (University of Auckland) about her latest book, China and the True Jesus: Charisma and Organization in a Chinese Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). Drawing on historical and oral sources, Inouye presents a fascinating analysis of the well-known yet understudied Chinese Christian group, the True Jesus Church.
Why did you want to produce this study on the True Jesus Church?
I first encountered the True Jesus Church in China when a woman struck up a conversation with my husband and my baby son on a bus in a city. She invited him to church that evening. At the time we were attending a local Three-Self congregation, so he asked, “Is it a Three-Self church meeting?” She said no. So he asked, “Is it a house church meeting?” She said no. I was intrigued to hear about this church that defied the categories I had in my mind for Chinese Christianity. I went to the meeting place in a sort of commercial building and found that it was in fact a True Jesus Church. I had previously encountered the True Jesus Church in Taiwan but was surprised to find them here, in the PRC. In addition to being intrigued by the True Jesus Church’s out-of-the-box identity, I also wanted to investigate the relationship between native religious culture and transplanted Christian culture within the church. It struck me as extremely Chinese, but also very like other global forms of restorationist Christianity such as Mormonism.
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This guest post was written by Dr Jason Bruner, assistant professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, as a reflection on the recent conference “Currents, Perspectives, And Methodologies In World Christianity” held at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr Bruner’s most recent book is entitled Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. He can often be found on Twitter @jason_bruner.
Is World Christianity a field, a sub-discipline, an analytical disposition? What are its methods, if any? And where is research in relation to it going at present? I will reflect on these questions in light of the proceedings of a recent conference, convened at Princeton Theological Seminary from January 18-20, 2018, which gathered a remarkable group of scholars from around the world who saw their work as intersecting with World Christianity. Continue reading