Studies in World Christianity 25.3

With this issue, the journal Studies in World Christianity completes twenty-five years of existence. Launched at the beginning of 1995 to be an ‘international forum for a dialogue of equals’ on the study of ‘theology and the science of religion’, this journal has pioneered and defined the interdisciplinary subfield of World Christianity. Today World Christianity has established itself as an important discourse that examines Christianity as a world religion, with scholars from across the globe. It also recognises the limitations of the world religion paradigm and uses the studies of Christianity in diverse localities and Christianity melded into other religious traditions to critique the way in which world religions are often viewed.

A glance at the first issue gives an indication of the way in which the journal has developed the founding vision over a quarter of a century. Professor James Mackey, the first editor, recognised the need to discuss the ‘place- and shape-changing nature of Christian theology’ as a way of challenging Western-dominated thought in which he himself had been formed, but which was questioned by the research of his co-editors, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Andrew Ross and Michael Northcott. Four of the six articles in the first edition gave historical and theological rationales for a careful study of a global context, and the encounter with religious traditions other than Christianity that have become hallmarks of the journal. These articles are ‘Christianity in the Non-Western World: A Study in the Serial Nature of Christian Expansion’ by Andrew Walls; ‘The Significance of Modern African Christianity – A Manifesto’ by Kwame Bediako; ‘Theology and Context in East Asia – China, Japan, Korea’ by Edmond Tang; and ‘Original Sin in the East–West Dialogue – A Chinese View’ by Zhou Xinping. The early issues of the journal, however, had a wider remit which is visible in the other two articles: John Polkinghorne wrote on ‘The New Natural Theology’ and J. Ian H. McDonald on ‘Interpreting the New Testament in the Light of Jewish–Christian Dialogue Today’.

Articles on science and religion, biblical studies and interreligious dialogue could now be found in other journals. Studies in World Christianity began to develop a particular interest in the social and cultural expressions of Christianity in the non-Western world that discussed their distinctive history, including their interaction with Western Christianity. There was a gap in the literature on the variety of Christianity as a world religion and this became the particular focus of the journal. This interest was reflected in the work of the Centre for the Studies of Non-Western Christianity (now the Centre for the Study of World Christianity) at the University of Edinburgh, which supported the journal. For some years, the journal’s interdisciplinary scope was often limited to history, anthropology and sociology. There was a concern not to rival journals of missiology, ecumenics or interreligious dialogue. However, more recently there has been a return to an engagement with the kind of theology apparent in the first issue, as well as with religious studies methods.

To mark the anniversary of the journal, twenty-five articles from Studies in World Christianity were highlighted in 2019 on the journal’s web page. Together the articles demonstrated the breadth of the field of World Christianity and the depth of interdisciplinary study into the rich variety of Christianity around the globe. The articles include the one by Walls that appeared in the first edition, and others by leading scholars in the field – Musa Dube, Brian Stanley (the third editor of the journal), R. S. Sugitharajah and others. Mission history, Asian theology, studies in gender, migration and bible translation are all included here. Studies in World Christianity has always aimed to encourage articles on under-studied movements and writings from scholars from the Global South. However, its focus is not simply on the Global South. The journal has articles on international movements and networks, like that of Ciprian Burlacioiu, ‘Russian Orthodox Diaspora as a Global Religion after 1918’.


There are, however, movements that remain under-studied in World Christianity. The field has been criticised for its Protestant and Pentecostal emphasis, its focus on Africa and Asia, and its focus on the contemporary era. In the future, we hope to publish in Studies in World Christianity more research on Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, and to broaden the regional horizons with articles on Oceania and Latin America and on the connections and comparisons of Christian movements worldwide. As the World Christianity discourse matures, the editors would welcome theoretical papers that problematise the conceptualisation of World Christianity, examine the approaches that are used in its study and question familiar periodisation.

The articles in this issue attempt to address some of these imbalances whilst also exploring familiar themes. The first three articles all examine the Roman Catholic Church. The first two articles, by Valentina Ciciliot and John Maiden, examine the origins of the charismatic renewal movement in the United States and Australia, respectively. The articles were written as a pair. Maiden shows the ‘relationships and flows’ between Australia (part of Oceania) and the charismatic movement in the Midwest that Ciciliot analyses. Together they show the interactions between an international, institutional church, and a twentieth-century global movement that crossed denominations but developed a particular spirituality within the Catholic Church. Thao Nguyen writes on the development of the Catholic Church in the tumultuous history of Vietnam, 1954–2010, and shows its changing relations with the state. The last two articles return to the familiar ground of Protestant mission history. Both explore its impact on worldwide movements. Jennifer Snow examines how the notion of the ‘Christian Home’ influenced global ecumenical networks in the mid- to late-twentieth century. Soojin Chung’s article is also concerned with Christian ideals of the family. She examines the influence of a Chinese and international missionary upbringing on the transracial and transnational adoption policies of Pearl Buck that challenged racial assumptions of the US in the mid-twentieth century. The dynamics of the various transnational relationships in Christian churches and networks described in the five articles also helped to shape national movements, albeit those with global sensibilities. Together, these articles demonstrate the pertinence of different Catholic and Protestant global networks for the study of Christianity as a world religion, and the way in which these networks have distinct influence in different contexts.

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