Studies in World Christianity 21.2

Biblical and Non-Biblical Sources of Popular Religiosity in World Christianity

Studies in World ChristianityChristianity, as our first contributor to this issue of Studies in World Christianity reminds us, is supremely a religion of the Book. The narratives, symbols and doctrinal content of the biblical writings supply the constituent texture of the religion. Nevertheless, as the same contributor, Ole Jakob Løland, points out, for much of Christian history the great majority of Christian believers did not have direct access to the text of the bible: its teaching was mediated and refracted through their participation in, or observation of, a non-vernacular liturgy, and through religious art, music, drama and the communal observance of pilgrimages and festivals in honour of the saints.

In traditionally Catholic societies, such as those of Brazil and Mexico (the subjects of our first two articles), Christian motifs and ideas suffused the structure of community life, but they did so as part of a miscellany of inherited social values and practices, some of which had very little to do with the bible. Our third article, on the Lisu people of south-west China, is also concerned with the ingredients of Christian worship and popular devotion, and in particular with hymnology, a much neglected subject in the current scholarship on world Christianity. Our final article focuses on Christian ethics rather than worship. Teetotalism – the total abstention from all alcoholic beverages – is self-evidently not part of biblical tradition. In much of Africa, however, it has become a virtually non-negotiable marker of Protestant Christian identity. In this matter, as in the other facets of Christian religiosity surveyed in this issue, ‘what the bible says’ was not the only or necessarily even the most determinative factor shaping the contours of Christian life.

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About Brian Stanley

Brian Stanley read history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and stayed on in Cambridge for his PhD on the place of missionary enthusiasm in Victorian religion. He has taught in theological colleges and universities in London, Bristol, and Cambridge, and from 1996 to 2001 was Director of the Currents in World Christianity Project in the University of Cambridge. He was a Fellow of St Edmund's Collge, Cambridge, from 1996 to 2008, and joined the University of Edinburgh in January 2009.

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