Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South
- ISBN: 9781442271562
- Published By: Rowman & Littlefield
- Published: May 2018
In the study of World Christianity, literature focusing on the Global South is increasing. While there is plenty of literature studying Christianity in the non-Western parts of the world – many centuries of Western missionary writings as well as post-missionary writings – the current literature, largely set in the context of demographic shifts of Christians, comes with new and important focuses.
First, no longer the West or Western theologies are at the center or as the referral point to understand and interpret the relevance of Christianity for today’s world. Contextual theologies, based on the experiences of people in the Global South, have become crucial to carry on this task. Second, the new developments address concerns such as the presence of many religions and cultures including indigenous traditions, and postcolonial experiences and perspectives that are more important for Christians in the Global South rather than concerns about secularization, decline of Christianity, and sexuality, which generally dominate the Western discussions. Third, the presence of local voices, often in dialogue with the West, is increasing, rather than Westerners strictly mediating those voices.
The two volumes of Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South in many ways represents well these developments. The volumes focus on five territories: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and the Middle East.
There are more than five hundred core encyclopedic entries, and a number of short essays, which briefly but comprehensively discuss the topics. There are five introductory essays or prologues written by experts for each of the five territories, in addition to a short but excellent introduction by the well-known scholar, Philip Jenkins.
Also, there are sixteen essays at the end about the Global South experience—both historical and contemporary— with Christianity in these five territories. The regions are further subdivided for a better focus. These are followed by six afterwords by scholars and church/mission leaders.
The core entries are on many important themes in Christianity in the Global South, as well as on countries, churches and denominations, theologies (mostly transnational), mission societies and organizations, people groups, the Bible and its interpretation, and religious movements. Entries on topics such as art, music, architecture, children, lay movements, theological education, religious conflict, and contributions of women add more weight to the Encyclopedia. A good number of themes are studied transnationally, and several topics are studied as part of all the five territories.
The country-wise discussion of Christianity is extensive and very helpful. The entries follow a general structure, which includes geographical location, ethnic composition, languages spoken, form of government, religions, Christian denominations, timelines of Christianity in the country, major Christian leaders, church-state relations, Christian sociocultural influence, educational systems, evangelization, institutions and movements, and future prospect. Discussions on only a few countries include sub-themes like oppositions to Christianity, though it could be extended to many other countries. Similarly, Christian relations with other religions may be another crucial sub-theme within countries that could have been highlighted.
The Encyclopedia is really an excellent resource for students and scholars in the field of World Christianity. Although there is other literature—monographs and edited works and series—encyclopedias and comprehensive companions are few. The other encyclopedia which is close to this work but limited in terms of its focus of geography is The Oxford Encyclopaedia of South Asian Christianity (2011). However, the work under review is not only broader in geographical scope, but also in terms of themes and contemporary developments.
This volume includes an excellent bibliography, which is grouped by themes and diverse regions. It also has a useful timeline of Christianity in the Global South, which is comprehensive (this is in addition to the timeline in each country-specific core entries). Two appendixes of entries listed by theme and by author, and a short index of entries and a large index of names have been provided. All these make the volumes reader friendly.
There are a few concerns, though. For instance, some topics are limited to only one context (like ecumenism in the Middle East, fundamentalist movements in East Asia, postcolonialism theological discourse in Africa). It is not explained why there cannot be discussions about them in other regions under core entries. Also, it is unclear whether 167 (xxii) or 164 (xxiii) countries constitute the Global South. The prologue on the perspectives on Latin America and the Caribbean, while it is very good and I like it for its discussion of postcolonialism, does not offer a general picture about Latin American Christianity. Of course, working on a topic like this is indeed a herculean task, as many authors and editors involved in the projects explain, and one cannot expect everything in two volumes.
Among the available literature on the subject, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South is unique in many ways. One significant aspect is it covers many topics common to the five territories it discusses. This helps in conversations and dialogue among Christians within the Global South rather than they being seen strictly through Western lenses; and Christians connecting to each other can open up many new avenues in the study of World Christianity.
Muthuraj Swamy is Director, Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.Muthuraj SwamyDate Of Review:October 10, 2020