Last week I was in Atlanta, Georgia, USA to discuss precisely that question. Invited by Jehu Hanciles and hosted by faculty and students of Emory University, 25 scholars grappled with the slippery entity we call ‘World Christianity’. Is it a field, or a lens or even a discipline? Who studies it and why? How did it emerge? Why is it found mainly in Europe and North America? Has it a Protestant bias? What is the relationship between the study of World Christianity and the Christians across the globe who are studied? How do our studies connect with other academic studies like missiology, area studies, demography and anthropology of Christianity? These questions have been asked many times before but I welcomed the opportunity to ruminate collectively with scholars who had carefully prepared and shared papers beforehand. Individual contributions were influenced by the primary discipline of contributors, the areas of the world with which they were most familiar, and how far their institution, post or programme deployed the term ‘World Christianity.’
The team at Emory will distil our papers and conversation for public consumption. In the meantime, I have attempted to articulate my description of the present state of World Christianity. I think that because we deliberately cross boundaries of other disciplines when we study World Christianity, it is similar to other emerging foci of study—Global History, intercultural theology etc. However, perhaps the combination of all the following elements does give World Christianity some distinctiveness beyond a useful ‘hold all’ term:
John Mbiti, a pioneer of both
modern African theology and the study of religion in Anglophone Africa has died
at the age of 88.
Mbiti was part of the pan-African
intellectual movement that influenced nationalist discourse as African
countries gained independence from colonial rule. His books, like African Religion and Philosophy (1969), New Testament Eschatology in an African Background (1971), Introduction of African Religion (1975)
and Bible and Theology (1986), became
best sellers. Mbiti critiqued the international disregard for African religion
and demonstrated the religious literacy of Africans. In his cross-continental
surveys and his classifications of proverbs and religious practice, Mbiti
identified a praeparatio evangelica of Christianity in the African past, with a universal deity at its
centre. For Mbiti the mingling of
Christianity and indigenous religion enriched the lives of African people. He
was not without his critics. Okot p’Bitek, his colleague at Makerere
University, Kampala, Uganda in the 1960s, railed against the making of African
spiritual beings into a God with Christian attributes. For Bitek this
diminished and destroyed indigenous practices. In later life, Mbiti continued to work from
his home in Switzerland – translating the NT from Greek into his native Kikamba
(Kenya). This project allowed him to reflect further on the intrusion of
western concepts into biblical translations. His thought continues to have a
profound influence on the work of African scholars and church leaders.
On March 6, 2018, we will be launching Alexander Chow’s new book, Chinese Public Theology (Oxford University Press, 2018).
The event is co-sponsored with the Centre for Theology and Public Issues and will be held in the Martin Hall, New College. It will include a discussion with Edmond Tang (University of Birmingham) and James Eglinton (University of Edinburgh).
The event will be followed by a reception and is open to the public. For more details, please see the advertisement flier.
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