Global Christianities

The Divinity School will host the second in the "Global Christianities" conference series on May 2, 2019. Speaker abstracts are given below; the schedule will be announced later in Winter quarter. 


In the beginning of the 21st century, Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Forging an interdisciplinary conversation, "Global Christianities" engages new directions in the academic study of global Christianities. 

"Global Christianities" is organized by Divinity School faculty Kevin Hector, Associate Professor of Theology and of the Philosophy of Religions; Dwight N. Hopkins, the Alexander Campbell Professor of Theology; Angie Heo, Assistant Professor of the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion; Karin Krause, Assistant Professor of Byzantine Theology and Visual Culture; and David Amponsah, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

The first conference in this series,  Global Christianities: New Directions for the 21st Century, was held in April 2018 and featured three leading scholars in theology, history and anthropology – Stephen Davis, Deirdre De La Cruz, and Jehu Hanciles – to reconsider approaches to the study of Christianity in the Middle East, South America, Africa, and Asia.


Persons with a disability who need an accommodation to attend this event, please call Suzanne Riggle in advance: 773-702-8219. 

image credit: Photocreo Michal Bednarak

Abstract: Adam Becker

“The Pre-Global Global Going Global: The Case of the Church of the East”

Several of the Christian communities of the Middle East represent traditions that go back at least to the fourth and fifth centuries CE. They even claim their own apostolic origins and maintain certain rites, practices, and theologies that are distinct from the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions that embrace the vast majority of Christians worldwide. Some even have preserved their own ancient liturgical languages (Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, and Ethiopic). Of these Middle Eastern churches the Church of the East (the “Nestorian Church”) stands out in a number of ways. For example, the East Syrians or, as they are often called today, the “Assyrians,” engaged in wide-ranging pre-modern missions across Asia. Also, unlike any other autonomous church, the East Syrians were never politically dominant, that is, they never enjoyed a Constantinian moment and the potential political and ethical problems that come with “Christendom.” Nevertheless, the Church of the East was deeply affected in the nineteenth century by their encounter with American and European missionaries (despite the absence of colonial rule in their native land). In this paper I would like to use the analogy of linguistic contact between related languages to conceptualize how the Church of the East was transformed by their contact with these other Christians. I will suggest contact linguistics as a model for thinking about the missionary encounter (in contrast to the more common translation model) and then I will ask how the case of the Church of the East may contribute to the conversation about “global Christianity.”


Abstract: Eliza Kent
“Gender and Power in the “Charismatic Space”: Assessing Scholarship on Contemporary Pentecostal and Charismatic Mission “

Among the most significant movements in global Christianity in the last forty years has been meteoric growth of Pentecostal and charismatic forms of Christianity.   While Pentecostal churches began spreading around the world in the 1900s, charismatic movements within non-Pentecostal churches took off in the 1960s. While some Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God, headquartered in Springfield Missouri, have well established formal missionary institutes that send American missionaries overseas, the missionary efforts of most Pentecostal churches are extremely modest and geographically contained, where local pastors seek to expand their flocks from within the community they find themselves in. This has yielded far-flung, extremely loose regional “networks” of largely autonomous Pentecostal churches, which are bound together as much by competition for adherents as by cooperation. My paper will assess recent scholarship on Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity that focuses on gender dynamics within such congregations, the vast majority of which consist of a charismatic male pastor and a predominately female congregation.  A finding that one sees in several recent studies is that in the “charismatic space”  -- with its affirmation of the radical equality of all believers and the availability of the Holy Spirit to all for healing, prophesying, and testifying with authority -- gender norms may be subtly renegotiated. Drawing on case studies from India, Melanesia and Latin America, the paper will probe the argument that Pentecostal and charismatic forms of Christianity afford women greater authority within their communities, and may allow new forms of femininity and masculinity to take shape.   


Abstract: Kwok Pui Lan


“The Study of World Christianity from a Postcolonial Perspective”

The spread of Christianity in the modern period has been associated with colonialism and imperialism. The majority of the Christians are now living in the Global South and churches in China and Africa have enjoyed phenomenal growth. Given the shift of Christian demographic, scholars have called for attention to the global expressions of Christianity in its variegated forms, ancient and modern. The conceptualization of “global” or “world” Christianity as a field of study has been dominated by scholars whose interest is in African Christianity (e.g. Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh, and Jehu Hanciles). This paper brings into focus the development of Asian Christianity and, in particular, the experience of Chinese Christians.

The paper will explore the contributions of postcolonial theory to the study of world Christianity. Postcolonial theorists raise the issues of Orientalism, representation, the power to narrate, hybridity, mimicry, ambivalence, and whether the gendered subaltern can speak. In challenging Eurocentric frameworks, postcolonial theory can provide critical insights in the conceptualization of “world” Christianity and the development of the field. Some of the issues discussed in the paper will include the hybrid cultural forms of Christianity, indigenous agency, the representation of subaltern women, the debate on cultural imperialism, the theory of global modernity, and the need for cross-cultural and comparative study of world Christianity from the Global South. The paper will introduce the theoretical contribution of scholars who have studied Chinese Christianity, including Wang Lixin, Paul A. Cohen, and Ryan Dunch.


Abstract: Jacob Olupona
“Global Christianity: Challenges, Concepts and Prospects”

Global Christianity has attracted much attention in recent times. It thus provides a fresh opportunity for scholars to begin to reimagine new paradigms and critical issues that may lead to fresh insights into the subject matter.  I will provide some reflections on conceptual, methodological and theoretical underpinnings surrounding the reemergence of the subject. For me, the defining foundation is that it is a multidisciplinary study that encompasses historical, comparative and cultural approaches at the same time. It should draw from various angles beyond the old Mission studies project to embrace both the humanities and social science in understanding the history, function and meaning and status of Christianity in our contemporary world, particularly in the Global South. 


My presentation will seek to provide guidelines to identify what is the changing face of the “global” as the subjects of study increasingly become active participants in the debate and conversations relating to the status of Christianity in the world. What does it mean for Asians, Africans and Latin American Christians to be the dominant actors, when in reality the resources are centrally located in the North (Europe and America) rather than in the South? What is the effect of the trends and patterns of Christianity in the North on Christianity in the Global South? For example, the fact that Christianity in its place of origin (The Middle East) is diminishing as a result of both the politics of the region and the status of Islam. Additionally, what is the role of seminary education and its effects in the face of the demise of Western theological institutions and the increasing emergence of “bible schools” as the cardinal training centers in the Global South? What is the place of intellectual academic inquiry in the emergence of theological education and what are the emergent relationships between the state and the actors and agents of Global Christianity? 

I will argue that to break new intellectual ground this new approach requires a rethinking of both the nature of the tradition itself, its status and role in World Religions and its significance today. This approach talks about Christianity’s encounter not only with other world religions and ideologies like Islam and the secular state, but also gauges how Christianity fares in its interaction with the politics of the nation state where it lives and where it is practiced. While recognizing its global reach, my presentation also underscores Christianity’s specific local manifestations and contextualization and will provide an outline for future scenarios.


Ultimately this approach/study will entail critical dialog between Global Christianity as defined/conceived by scholars and Christianity as it is largely conceived in the contemporary world.


Abstract: Dana L. Robert
“Mission studies and Global Christianity”

Mission studies has functioned as the midwife for the recent academic discourse of Global or World Christianity. The reflexivity of western missionary encounters with persons of multiple cultures stimulated the academic study of Christianity as a world religion. More recently, mission scholars flagged the demographic shift of Christianity from Europe and North America to Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and queried the implications of this shift for the teaching of church history and theology. The current interest in World Christianity is bigger than mission studies: it engages historians, anthropologists, area studies experts, and religious studies scholars. Nevertheless, mission studies retains an ongoing relationship with the emerging field through continued engagement with cultural boundary crossings, and self-reflection on fresh configurations of local contexts as they relate to the theological ideals of universal Christian community. 


My presentation narrates how the reflexivity of mission encounters contributed to the unfolding understanding of Christianity as a worldwide, multicultural religion. It addresses primarily the twentieth century to the present, when mission studies as formal academic discipline played a major role in the emergence of World Christianity as an academic discourse. A particular contribution of my presentation is its focus on English-language scholars from North America and the United Kingdom, who together represented the largest body of mission studies scholars in the twentieth century. 


Note: My contribution to the conference will track with an essay I am preparing for the Oxford Handbook of Mission Studieson the topic “Mission studies and world Christianity.” It will not attempt to cover dimensions of the topic I have previously explored in publications, including “Locating Relocating World Christianity: Interdisciplinary Studies in Universal and Local Expressions of the Christian Faith,” International Bulletin of Mission Research, April 2019. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2396939318805397; “Forty Years of the American Society of Missiology: Retrospect and Prospect,” Missiology42:1 (January 2014): 6-25. Published online Oct 1, 2013 at http://mis.sagepub.com/content/42/1/6.full.pdf+html.; “The Giants of ‘World Christianity’: Historiographic Foundations from Latourette and Van Dusen to Andrew Walls,” in Understanding World Christianity: The Vision and Work of Andrew F. Walls, eds. William Burrows, Mark Gornik, and Janice McLean (Orbis, 2011): 141-154; “Historiographic Trends in World Christianity, 1910-present: an Interpretive Essay” (in process). 


Abstract: Heather Sharkey
“Contemporary Middle Eastern Christianity within the Global Frame”

Contemporary Middle Eastern Christianity challenges assumptions within the field of world Christianity in two ways.  First, Middle Eastern Christian communities are dwindling, not growing.  They have been contracting within Middle Eastern populations since the first Islamic empire arose in the seventh century.  Whereas attrition once occurred primarily as individuals and families either converted or became assimilated to Islam – processes that Islamic states promoted while banning Christians from evangelizing – emigration drives shrinkage today.  Second, Middle Eastern Christian communities claim deep histories.  Many of their churchesemerged long before Catholic and Protestant merchants, conquerors, and missionaries arrived in the modern era.  The Coptic Orthodox Church, which traces its foundation in Egypt to St. Mark the Evangelist himself, offers a perfect example.


In other respects, contemporary Middle Eastern Christianity fits squarely within the global frame.  Since the mid-twentieth-century of decolonization, Christian leaders from the region have vigorously joined regional and international ecumenical bodies. In spite or precisely because of sectarian fissures among them, they have striven to cultivate pan-Christian solidarity abroad.  At the same time, Middle Eastern Christian migrants to places like North America and Australia have yielded diasporas whose members now engage in political lobbying and pursue missions inspired by earlier Catholic and Protestant examples. Christians of Middle Eastern heritage are also bringing their interests and energies into Western institutions of higher learning.  As a result, scholarship on contemporary Middle Eastern Christianity is booming – creating a gap between demographic facts on the ground and academic vitality which suggests parallels with the field of Middle Eastern Jewish studies.