Christian Theology in the Age of Migration

Implications for World Christianity

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Peter C. Phan
  • Minneapolis: 
    Lexington Books/Fortress Academic
    , January
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Christian Theology in the Age of Migration is a product of a semester-long seminar on migration and religion in 2018 at the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, New Jersey. Initiated by its editor, Peter C. Phan, the edited volume seeks to respond to the challenge of migration, in light of the large influx of refugees from the Middle East to Europe and the anti-migrant policies of Donald Trump’s presidency (ix). This is Phan’s fourth edited book about Christian theology and migration, having previously co-edited three volumes on the subject with Elaine Padilla—the most recent of which is Christianities in Migration (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2016).

Divided into four sections, the first six chapters of the volume employ different methodologies to analyze the phenomenon of migration: sociologist José Casanova indicates the multicultural, multireligious nature of migration, illustrating it from the context of globalization from 1800 to today (chapter 1). Valentina Napolitano uses ethnography to study the labor of Mexican nuns in Rome and coins the term “migrant itineraries” of the way of life of these gendered migrants (chapter 2). Hendrik Bosman shows how the Exodus as memories of migration in the Old Testament affects identity formation (chapter 3). John Ahn examines the forced and return migrations in the Hebrew Bible and their impacts on different generations due to identity construction (chapter 4). vănThanh Nguyễn portrays Jesus, the son of God, as a migrant throughout his life and highlights the theme of sojourners for churches in the New Testament (chapter 5). From a historical perspective, Ciprian Burlacioiu outlines the migration activities of Christian communities since the first century and argues that migration is a key element that transforms institutionalised churches (chapter 6).

The second section mainly engages with systematic theology. Phan develops the concept Deus Migrator through God’s attributes and God’s care to human beings in light of different migrations in the Bible (chapter 7). Kanan Kitani continues Nguyễn’s conversation of Jesus as a refugee and Phan’s notion of Deus Migrator to discuss Jesus’ nature as a paradigmatic migrant, the son of this migrant God (chapter 8). Ulrich Schmeidel introduces the term “coalitional church” to propose an ecumenical ecclesiology that welcome people with different faith in the age of migration (chapter 9).

The third section turns to Christian ethics. William A. Barbieri Jr. discusses the role of human dignity in Christian migration ethics and how imago Dei plays an important part in it (chapter 10). Kristin E. Heyer criticizes the structural injustice of Trump’s migration policy and calls for solidarity with the weak and marginalized (chapter 11). While highlighting the distinction between an “ethics of immigration” and a “legitimate public policy of immigration,” Joshua Mauldin proposes a workable immigration policy for a liberal democratic society (chapter 12). Seforosa Carroll explores the notion of climate justice related to climate-induced displacement (chapter 13).

The last section concerns practical theology, which, according to Phan, is “theology’s implications for daily living” (xvi). Kristine Suna-Koro offers three loci to ponder on the relationship between liturgy and migration: God in migration, liturgy in migration, and liturgy as migration (chapter 14). Daniel G. Groody argues how refugees as “no-bodies” are dignified by churches as “some-bodies”, and connect with “every-body” and the body of Christ through eucharist (chapter 15). Karla Cavarra Britton investigates the correlation between architecture and migration, highlighting how (return) migration shapes identity and worship in sacred space

(chapter 16). Kathrin Winkler challenges the monocultural and monoreligious characteristics of Western education system, and suggests a postcolonial approach in the context of globalization and migration processes (chapter 17).

The editor’s expertise on this topic has allowed him to carefully choose the group of contributors to complement their specialties with one another and provide a more balanced view of the topic. Though the idea of the seminar originated from the U.S. context, the geographical locations examined in this volume go well beyond North America and cover most continents in the Global South.

A common weakness in any edited volume is that the chapters are not coherent with each other, but this volume does not have such a fault. The authors were well-informed by each other’s work and knew the structure of the book prior to writing their chapters, having had the opportunity to interact with each other for the semester-long seminar. For example, Bosman in chapter 3 cites theories of forced migration by Ahn, author of chapter 4 (38–39), and Schmeidel references Heyer’s suggestion of churches caring about non-Christians (162–163). As a reader, I benefit from their collaborations – the chapters flow extremely well, such that I can skip the usual practice of wondering why certain chapters are there and simply enjoy reading the book itself.

My question to the editor is, although the subtitle Implications for World Christianity suggests the edited volume is about “non-Western Christianity,” which mainly refers to Christian faith in the Global South (to use Sebastian Kim and Kirsteen Kim’s term), I wonder if this subtitle is necessary. Migration itself implies global movements, whether from the Global South to the Global North or vice versa. The heavy use of biblical narratives in these chapters already highlights a non-Western expression, especially when the migrations of the holy family and of the father of faith took place within the Middle East. This may raise questions about whether migration is merely a Global North matter, where developed countries are forced to receive refugees, or to what extent the push factors can be solved in the Global South. Barbieri, Heyer, and Mauldin have considered these factors in their chapters respectively (chapters 10–12), and I am sure Christian scholars of migration studies can further ponder on these questions.

This edited volume is informative and thought-provoking. It will be a good textbook at the university level to learn about Christian theology and migration. Although I come from the field of world Christianity, I do not perceive that this volume is only limited to this field but that it has broader implications for the departments of theology and religious studies around the globe, due to its extensive coverage of topics and areas. I recommend that theological educators assign this text to their students and add this volume to their summer reading lists.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Calida Chu is an adjunct lecturer at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

Date of Review: 
August 19, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter C. Phan is professor at Georgetown University.



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