Academic Programs 
      

Global Christianity in Modern Historical Perspective*   (HI-611)
January Interession and Winter/Spring 2009

During the three centuries that have passed since 1700 the size, global distribution and ethnic composition of world Christianity have been transformed. Most Christians now reside in the developing world, and statisticians calculate that the total number of Christians in Africa, Asia and Latin America increases by 70, 000 per day, or more than 25.5 million per year. Historians are now struggling to produce truly “global” histories of Christianity that explain the vast and varied mechanisms through which missionary efforts and indigenous movements have produced the present diversity. This course will help students gain a broad historical perspective on modern trends in Global Christianity. It will also provide focused introductions to the origins of historical movements of current importance, such as Pentecostalism and some of the indigenous Christian movements now flourishing in the newly developing concentrations of Christian faith.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:50 pm, starting January 28, 2009.

Brian Clark

Adjunct Professor in History of Christianity

Contact Information:
phone: 

email:

 

Course Syllabus



Course Abstract:

During the three centuries that have passed since 1700, the size, global distribution and ethnic composition of world Christianity have been transformed. Most Christians now reside in the developing world, and statisticians calculate that the total number of Christians in Africa, Asia and Latin America increases by 70, 000 per day, or more than 25.5 million per year. Historians are now struggling to produce truly “global” histories of Christianity that explain the vast and varied mechanisms through which missionary efforts and indigenous movements have produced the present diversity. This course will help students gain a broad historical perspective on modern trends in Global Christianity. It will also provide focused introductions to the origins of historical movements of current importance, such as Pentecostalism and some of the indigenous Christian movements now flourishing in the newly developing concentrations of Christian faith.

Course Content:

This course will introduce students to contemporary World Christianity and to the processes through which Christianity has been communicated, received and reinvented through cross-cultural contact.   The aim of the course is to help students form deeper understandings of contemporary Christianity and the historical processes through which it has (once again) become a largely non-Western faith. The aim of this course is to help students appreciate the present profusion of World Christianities, the commonalities that draw them together, and the differences that divide them. We will often refer to current trends in Western Christianity, but our focus will be on the forms of Christianity we find in the "Majority World."

As an introduction to some of the themes and issues we will encounter in this course, we will begin by reading a series of essays by Andrew Walls, a premier interpreter of Christian History and its intercultural transmission.  His writings will introduce us to recurring patterns in the inherently unstable trajectory of Christian History, including the pattern through which missionary peripheries mature into new heartlands before facing eventual decay. We will also use a broad historical overview of Christian History by Martin Marty to gain a holistic sense of the general flow of world Christian history.

We will use a text by Pentecostalism Scholar Gerald Anderson to explore the ways in which Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Independent forms of Christianity have sprung up over the last century, growing from a negligible number of adherents to a massive, loosely-related set of movements.  (These movements are currently estimated to claim the adherence of 500 million people, the majority of whom reside in the developing world.)  While Anderson does full justice to the motives and methods employed by Western Missionaries, he pointedly includes the host of local people who actively interpreted and promoted vibrantly indigenous forms of Christianity in the southern continents.  
 
Anderson's narrative of Pentecostal expansion invites us to examine the relationship between the messages "spoken by" Western Missionaries and the way that they were interpreted and received by their hosts.  His work also portrays the complex relationships of missions to imperial ventures, and the intellectual and practical threats that historic and continuing forms of Western imperialism pose to World Christianities.   We will strengthen our grasp on these issues by looking at how events have unfolded in Africa, where a vibrant profusion of distinctively African Christian movements has arisen out of the ashes of the transatlantic slave economy and the colonial experience.    We will read Andrew Walls on the nature and significance of the Christian experience in Africa, and we will read critical reflections on the nature of African theology by one of the greatest theologians to emerge from modern Africa, Kwame Bediako, who died this past year.

Depending on its availability, we may also study a work by Lamin Sanneh that deals with the "missionary impact on culture" and the ways that some non-Western communities have come to "own" the Christian Bible through the process of Bible translation. We will conclude our course by returning to the broad questions about Christian identity that we have pursued by looking at the African case, this time by reading a recent work by prolific Church Historian Philip Jenkins, who provocatively portrays ways in which the Bible is being read today by the Christians of the "Two Thirds World."   

Throughout the course, we will encounter many difficult and unavoidable questions that bear directly on ecumenical and interfaith relations.  We will be faced with weighing the moral ambiguities of missionary efforts, and the manifold ways in which Western imperialism have impacted Southern Christianity.  The present profusion and diversity of Christian movements raises the question of whether there is any identifiable trait or set of traits that could allow us to identify a religious movement as "Christian," and if not, whether we should henceforth speak of "Christianities."  We will look at some of the issues and tensions that have begun to arise as the newer Christian movements have grown to dwarf their Western relations in size, and we will repeatedly encounter the manifold ways in which non-Western Christianity challenges the norms and assumptions of Western academic and cultural  elites.   Never far from our minds will be a consideration of the ongoing rivalry between Christianity and Islam, as the two largest and most rapidly growing of world religions vie for converts and influence across Africa and Asia.  All of these questions, and many more besides, will repeatedly call on us to open our minds and hearts in order to understand religious lives and communities that may differ markedly from our own. 

Course Method:

The instructor will minimize lecture time, emphasizing instead the interaction of students with each other and with the readings.  Students will form several small study groups. On a rotating basis, students will be tasked with taking responsibility for summarizing readings and leading small group discussions.  (Class participation will comprise 20% of the final grade).Each student will also be asked to prepare a printed 1-2 page response (double spaced) of response to the instructor's question(s) regarding the reading assignments for the week. (60% of grade.)

There will also be one additional written assignment, a 3-5 page review of a book on non-Western Christianity.  (20% of Grade.)

Required Texts: (Available at the seminary bookstore.)

Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. Marynoll, New York, Orbis Books, 2nd Edition, Nov. 30, 2008.  Paperback (This book will become available for orders around 2/20/09)
ISBN 13: 978 - 1570758041

Kwame Bediako. Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience. Theology in Africa Series, Marynoll, New York, Orbis Books, 2004.   Paperback.
ISBN : 1-57075-542-6 (pbk.)

Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith.  Marynoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1996. Paperback.
ISBN: 1-57075-059-9

Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. New York, Oxford University Press, 2006. Cloth.
ISBN 13: 978-0-19-530065-9

Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2004. Paperback.
ISBN 13: 978- 0-521-53280-8 paperback

Martin Marty, The Christian World: A Global History. A Modern Library Chronicles Book,  New York, The Modern
Library, 2007. 
ISBN: 978-0-679-64349-4

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