By the time this issue of Studies in World Christianity goes to press, in March 2021, it will have been a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At the time of that declaration, the Director General of WHO stated that there were 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, with more than 90 per cent of the cases in China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. Even at that early stage, the danger of COVID-19 seemed remote to those living in other parts of the world. Yet soon after, regional and national governments began to close borders and implement different lockdown procedures. Certain people would be identified as ‘key workers’ as their jobs were seen as essential support for society. However, these individuals would be more readily exposed to the virus, which revealed inequalities across gendered, racial and socio-economic groupings. Furthermore, frustrations around the public health crisis resulted in forms of racial conflict. Many Western countries would see increasing reports of anti-Asian racism, as those of East Asian extract were scapegoated as causing the so-called ‘China virus’. Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, major cities throughout the United States and other parts of the world would burst out in protest against police brutality towards blacks. It appears as though humanity has become more and more ‘socially distant’.
On November 10, 2020, the Centre hosted a panel discussion around the intersection of qualitative and theological approaches to the study of world Christianity. We were glad to have with us Dr Easten Law (OMSC), Dr Diane Stinton (Regent College), and Dr Muthuraj Swamy (Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide), and moderated by Dr Alexander Chow (University of Edinburgh). Topics ranged from personal interests in qualitative approaches to the study of theology, the knotty relationship between “elite” and “lived” theologies, and the value of such an approach to the study of the worldwide phenomenon of Christianity.
On October 13, 2020, the Centre hosted a panel discussion with leading experts in the field of Chinese Christianity: Dr Mark McLeister (University of Edinburgh), Professor Chloë F. Starr (Yale Divinity School), and Dr Kevin Xiyi Yao (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), and moderated by Dr Alexander Chow (University of Edinburgh). Topics ranged from the personal interests in the field, different disciplinary methodologies (historical, theological, and social scientific), and a debate around Chinese Christianity’s relationship with World Christianity.
It perhaps goes without saying that World Christianity is diverse. In large part, this diversity comes from the multiplicity of cultural, religious and socio-political concerns of the majority world, which have raised new questions to pre-existing theologies and practices. Such differences exist not only between North and South, East and West, but also within the same locale – across the progress of time and diversity in visions of mission. Furthermore, these differences have often manifested themselves institutionally, through the proliferation of new church movements, often formed independent of established denominational structures.