Global Christianity and Interreligious Relations

Studying the new faces of Christianity

Christianity has always had a global identity and it spread in all directions from the Middle East from the very beginning. Only after 1000 A.D. did Christianity as we know it come to be a predominantly Western, or European, religion. Until then, early Christianity was spread and practiced mainly in Asia and Africa. During the last century, Christianity’s demographic point of gravity has swiftly moved out of the western countries. A century ago, about four in five Christians lived in the West whereas today it is only two in five. This is not only a matter of a geographical shift but also of cultural and theological dimensions undergoing an immense change. As a result, there are new theological ideas and movements, new kinds of churches and movements that other churches no longer regard as Christian. Also, other religions have changed through their encounter with Christianity. When Christianity is confronted with new cultures and religions it is inevitable that the Christian message(s) and lifestyles are reformulated, sometimes radically. At the same time, the situation of Christianity has changed dramatically even in the Western world. Through mission and colonialism, and later migration and tourism, cultures and religions from all parts of the world have permeated the West. Thus, Christianity can no longer be considered the self-evident cultural and religious foundation of Europe. In fact, it never should have been a self-evident foundation because of the presence of Judaism, Islam and primal religions. The Western Christian missionary movement opened tremendous global views in theology and churches in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, global connections have become an everyday matter in religion, culture and business. The local and the global are increasingly intertwined, and it is getting harder to regard something only from a local perspective. Global Christianity as a field of study does research on churches and other Christian phenomena in relation to global, international and intercultural developments and contacts.

No religion is an island

When studying contemporary Christianity one cannot avoid other religions.  All religions are mixtures of several other religions, as well as religious and cultural ideas, so that any study of religion should be interreligious to begin with. However, one needs to keep in mind that all religious ideas are expressed in a culture and all religion is, therefore, culture. It is impossible to draw clear boundaries between religion and culture. For the same reasons, it can be difficult to draw a line between one religion and another, especially when it comes to lives religion. Even if some differences between religions were clear in principle, in practice they can be blended in the lives of the believers. Power structures and economic structures are also present in all cultures and religions which makes them, Christianity included, platforms of cultural, political, economic and religious power struggles. Today, relations between religions have increased drastically. They also become increasingly important because they are not only relations of nonchalance or tolerance. Sometimes the cooperation between religions or churches can contribute to a better world like the joint effort of Christians, Muslims and Jews against South African Apartheid or American Southern racial discrimination. Research of such cooperation can help benchmarking it for other situations to follow. It is also common that interreligious relations are characterized by competition or even enmity. In cases of enmity, ethnic, political, cultural and economic interests intermingle. Interreligious research can contribute to alleviate these problems through deepening the understanding of such conflicts and by proposing theological ideas that help the parties to see each other as something else than enemies.

Methodological and theoretical dimensions

Bordering systematic theology and philosophy of religion, this discipline studies the theological and ethical consequences of the above. It may happen in the form of analysis of contextual or interreligious theologies, or through constructing theology on the basis of ecumenical and interreligious encounters. In this case one utilizes different methods of textual analysis and hermeneutical approaches.
In this discipline, one often studies empirically Christian communities concentrating on how different cultural, religious, and theological phenomena interact. Then, one approaches anthropology and sociology of religion as well as practical theology. In this case, one chooses between qualitative methods. Ethnographic field work methods are especially useful when concentrating on the influence and interaction between cultures in churches and interreligious encounters.
When one takes a chronological approach to these questions, one gets close to church history and methodologically in the field of historical studies. In theoretical discussion, one tends to be very pluralistic and theoretical contributions are found in political and social sciences, especially social and cultural anthropology, as well as systematic theology and philosophy. It belongs to the nature of the discipline that one finds inspiration in the thought of majority world’s thinkers of various backgrounds.

Emphasis on Africa and Near East

CTR is a meeting place of researchers on African Christianity. We have several ongoing projects on different dimensions of African churches, especially charismatic and African Independent. One cooperates with different kinds of Africanists, especially, anthropologists, theologians, missiologists and scholars of religion. Also Near East is an area of emphasis with one of the professors, Jesper Svartvik, being stationed partly in Lund and partly at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem. Important partners are theologians and philosophers from all three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), as well as researchers in Jewish Studies and Islamology. The discipline has strong networks of cooperation in the Nordic region, Europe, Near East, Africa and USA. We receive researchers and doctoral students from these areas, organize joint seminars and conferences and do research there. The secretariat of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS), the only non-denominational global learned society in the field, is located at CTR in Lund.

Doctoral dissertations in Global Christianity and Interreligious Relations

The discipline was founded in the 1990’s as Mission Studies and Ecumenics and the name was changed into Global Christianity and Interreligious Relations in 2015. The following doctoral dissertations have been successfully defended in the discipline at Lund University: Magnus Lundberg, Parallel Churches: The Relations between Archbishop Alonso de Montúfar and the Religious Orders in Mid-sixteenth-century Mexico. (2000) Carl Sundberg, Conversion and Contextual Conceptions of Christ: A Missiological Study among Young Converts in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. (2000) Ann Aldén, Religion in Dialogue with Late Modern Society: A Constructive Contribution to a Christian Spirituality Informed by Buddhist-Christian Encounters. (2004) Emi Masé-Hasagawa, Spirit of Christ Inculturated: A Theological Theme Implicit in Shusaku Endo’s Literary Works. (2004) Göran Wiking, Breaking the Pot: Contextual Responses to Survival Issues in Malaysian Churches. (2004)
Mats Rydinger, The Vulnerable Power of Worship: A Study of a Power Approach to Contextualization in Christian Mission. (2006)

Rolv Olsen, Prevailing Winds: An Analysis of the Liturgical Inculturation Efforts of Karl Ludvig Reichelt. (2007)

Jieren Li, In Search for Via Media between Christ and Marx: A Study of Bishop Ding Guangxun’s Contextual Theology. (2008) Lennart Henriksson, A Journey with Status Confessionis: Analysis of an Apartheid Related Conflict between the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 1982-1998. (2010) Sara Gehlin, Prospects for Theology in Peacebuilding: A Theological Analysis of the Just Peace Concept in the Textual Process towards an International Ecumenical Peace Declaration, World Council of Churches 2008-2011. (2016) Aron Engberg, Walking on the Pages of the World of God: Self, Land, and Text among Evangelical Volunteers in Jerusalem. (2016)

Hans Olsson, Jesus for Zanzibar: Narratives of Pentecostal Belonging, Islam, and Nation. (2016)
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