Studies in World Christianity 29.2

World Christianity: Retrospect and Prospect

The academic field of World Christianity, as we know it today, owes no small debt to the Yale–Edinburgh Group on World Christianity and the History of Mission (formerly known as the Yale–Edinburgh Group in the History of Missions and World Christianity). The term ‘World Christianity’ itself has much earlier vintage. It arose from within the ecumenical movement of the first half of the twentieth century and, as such, reflected the twin imperatives of unity and mission. However, the term fell out of use until the 1990s. It was at the inaugural Yale–Edinburgh Conference in 1992 when the term ‘World Christianity’ was again deployed, this time as the conference theme, ‘From Christendom to World Christianity’. That first meeting was held on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. As Dana Robert recalls, it signified ‘a postcolonial stance of moving beyond European Christendom of the old [Kenneth Scott] Latourette approach to mission history’ that focused on the geographic expansion of Christianity, ‘to that of indigenous initiative and Christianity as a multicultural religion not tied to one hemisphere’. Started by former colleagues Andrew F. Walls and Lamin Sanneh, holding meetings at their respective institutions, the Yale–Edinburgh Group became a seminal discursive space for a postcolonial approach to mission history. It also brought to light the importance of documenting and preserving historical archival collections associated with Christianity as a worldwide phenomenon.

Today, World Christianity has become commonplace in British and North American academic institutions of theological education. Many new research centres and faculty appointments are being made bearing the name ‘World Christianity’ and its near-synonym ‘Global Christianity’. But, more importantly, the field’s academic focus on lived Christianity has given rise to a growing set of disciplinary approaches beyond the historical, especially in social scientific and theological studies. In 2022, thirty years after that fateful inaugural Yale–Edinburgh Conference, the convenors recognised how important it would be as a network of scholars to pay tribute to its late founders, Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh, engaging their legacy with a view to both retrospect and prospect. We are pleased that this issue of Studies in World Christianity includes a look at some of the papers from the 2022 Yale–Edinburgh Conference on ‘World Christianity: Legacy and the State of the Field’.

While the first paper reflects on the legacy of Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh and speaks to the state of the field, and our second and third papers shifted us away from the disciplinary tools of Walls and Sanneh to the ethnographic and theological explorations in World Christianity, our final paper brings us back to the historical and missiological disciplines. Although not a paper that originated in the Yale–Edinburgh Conference, Klaus Koschorke and Adrian Hermann very much speak to the state of the field of World Christianity, representing the so-called ‘Munich school’ of World Christianity.

This issue includes a final piece, remembering the life and work of Laurenti Magesa, who passed away in August 2022. Like many of the others highlighted in this issue, Magesa represents a major example within World Christianity of a Catholic theologian who sought to translate the gospel through its inculturation into the African soil.

Together, these articles very much pay tribute to the pioneering work of Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh and the Yale–Edinburgh Group. But they also demonstrate the ways in which the ideas which gave birth to the field of World Christianity have been generative across a multiplicity of disciplines to open up new ways of understanding Christianity. They also foreground how overlooked or marginalised expressions of Christianity help us to have enlarged views of the beauty of Christianity as a worldwide reality.

This is an excerpt from the editorial for SWC 29.2 by Alexander Chow, entitled ‘World Christianity: Retrospect and Prospect’.

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