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.
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World Christianity is a discourse about Christianity as a worldwide reality. It is not merely about the growing numbers of the faithful ‘out there’, juxtaposed against the falling numbers in the West. Part of the demographic changes of Christianity include the migration of peoples from the majority world to my world, next door. In a recent Ph.D. thesis on Christianity in Glasgow, where 126 Church of Scotland churches operate within the presbytery, 110 new churches were established between 2000 and 2016; of those new churches, 65 per cent primarily work with minority populations of African or Asian origins. Scholars may be quick to discuss the implications of the secularisation thesis or the so-called post-secular. But for those Christian communities on the ground, they may be more readily concerned with addressing practical needs related to migration, ‘integration’ into the dominant society, and negotiation of identities. From the first century until today, Christians have been a people on the move. However, another part of the picture is that changes in a given locale often happen irrespective of the Christians who have come or gone. As the four main articles in this issue of Studies in World Christianity demonstrate, such migratory and demographic patterns demonstrate how societies are rarely homogenous, but, in actuality, quite pluralistic.
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.
It is a truism to state that Christianity has spread across the world as a result of cross-cultural communication. Andrew Walls, who has done so much to set the approach, research questions and tone of World Christianity studies, has highlighted how scripture and Christian thought are translated into new languages and thought-forms as Christianity spreads. Walls, who celebrates his ninetieth birthday this year, has encouraged attention to the historical processes at work in communication that are examined in this edition of Studies in World Christianity. Between them, the articles in this edition illustrate the variety of form and effectiveness of cross-cultural communication in the modern history of encounter with Christianity. They also show familiar patterns. All these articles prioritise textual and oral communication. Reading, writing, preaching and proclaiming are the main modes of communication under scrutiny. (Continue reading Emma Wild-Wood’s introduction here.) Continue reading →