Request for help: Global Christianity

As I may have mentioned, I’m going to be staying on for most of next year at Kalamazoo and will have the opportunity to teach a course in the fall on Global Christianity. Developing this course is going to be one of my major summer projects, but due to bureaucratic requirements, I need a draft syllabus in the next couple weeks — ideally, I would put together something presentable next week while I’m still off.

I’m currently hoping to trace three main themes in Christianity in the Third World: liberation theology, the rise of Pentecostalism, and African-originated forms of Christianity (and perhaps also voodoo, because I’ve seen indications that students tend to be really into that). I need good, accessible studies that are suitable for undergraduates — either book length (hopefully around 150-200 or less, unless it’s really extraordinary) or articles.

Obviously a ten-week quarter doesn’t allow me to actually cover the entire world, so I thought focusing on particular countries might make sense — in particular, within Asia I was assuming I’d focus on Korea. I have a good idea of what I’d like to do for the theological side of liberation theology, but advice on accessible studies of the sociology or history of the movement would be great.

Finally, for each region I’d like to use at least one film, as I’ve found that’s a very effective way to grab undergrads on a more gut level and make them more willing and excited to discuss — for Latin America, I’m going to use Oliver Stone’s Salvador (a great idea if you’re doing a liberation theology course, by the way), and I’m wondering if Son of Man might be good for Africa, though I haven’t seen it as Netflix does not yet have it. For Korea/Asia, I’m totally open.

General discussion of how to structure this kind of class is welcome as well.

19 thoughts on “Request for help: Global Christianity

  1. ‘City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala’ is a good book that looks at the rise of pentecistalism through a Foucauldian rubric, which comes across as a good way of understanding how pentecostalism is a way that the self comes to know itself and others, as well as its effects on society. Stephen B Bevans’ book ‘Models of Contextual Theology’ provided a good structuring tool when I did a seminar presentation to fellow Gender & Cultural Studies postgrads (who knew very little about theology). So the latter might be most useful.

    (hehe… when you mentioned korea i immediately thought of Heerak Christian Kim.)

  2. Why not the Philippines? I’ve listened to a few courses on global/Asian Christianity, and they either neglect to mention the fact that the Philippines has been a Christian country for over 400 years, or just mention it in passing then moving on to the nascent Christian movements in China and/or Japan. Korea sounds like a good choice (there are two korean mission churches near my house), though.

  3. “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci” would be a fine book for undergraduates, but as it is the biography of a Jesuit missionary to China, it doesn’t appear to cover the time or themes you’re focusing on.

  4. I’ve just read Mario Aguilar’s Theology, Liberation, and Genocide, which argues that African liberation theology in the wake of Rwanda offers a kind of liberation theology of the death of God. You may be able to just use a chapter or two. It’s very accessible.

  5. The Mission is at least worth considering even if it is set in the past and you’re already covered with South America – it’s a beautiful film and worked well with my students when I was lecturing on the problems of globalisation.

  6. David Chidester’s book on the history of Christianity (Christianity: A Global History) has some good chapters on the origin and development of Christianity in Africa and Asia. It’s also very accessible and easy to find. I enjoyed it myself as an undergraduate.

  7. I would definitely recommend “The Apostle.” I know its set in the US in the south, and therefore could be interpreted as a kind of neocolonial move, but there are a number of ways that it gets at key aspects of what you would be dealing with: 1) indigenization. Duvall is simply masterful as a “son of the South.” His religious practice and identity are so entwined that questions of indigenization could be fruitfully raised; 2) the power of grassroots religion. Again the character that Duvall plays is clearly from the lower classes and identify’s with that mileu; 3) the ambivalent character of pentecostalism (really every form of religion it sounds like you’re going to engage; not to mention any form of religion in general). Duvall’s character (Sonny) is deep and complex as is the religion that he embodies. I think this would give many of your students a character that was both accessible, but also complicated which could provoke some really good conversation about pentecostalism more broadly; and 4) American pentecostalism, for better or worse, has provided one of the key templates for much of what has come to be called “global” or (I think better) “world” Christianity. For me there are really two key elements that stand out in the movie as regards this: a) power–pentecostalism is as much about the power of God (a God who does not need to be defended via philosophical or theological apologetics) to vanquish the various gods that control and confront us in the “last days” as about anything else. As many would say in various parts of the world: “I can’t believe in a god that doesn’t have the power to free me from the spirits and powers that enslave me and my ancestors”; b) the movement is thoroughly restorationist. This is captured so well by Sonny’s baptism of himself and self-declaration as an “apostle.” Most would argue that the gesture of “restorationism” is a kind of reflex against modernity;there is some truth to this, but I tend to think that it is more complex. Some might argue that retorationism almost functions as a kind of move to recapture a pristine or primal “tradition.” I think this misses the deeply eschatological nature of the restorationist gesture. Rather, the end is nigh, and one of the signs of such a situation is the restoration of the true church (isn’t this the gesture of most of the American-born religions?). Of course, in my opinion, all modern “religion”–esp. modern Christianity, like modernity itself–is thoroughly eschatological and apocalyptic. As such restorationism is of a piece. [In many ways, studying the movements you have outlined in the context of globalization or whatnot is also like studying the confrontation of eschatologies.]

    I would also recommend looking at Thai Pentecostalism.

  8. I’ve taught the Bevans book (in this syllabus) a few times, and though it’s pedagogically good, it has so many theological problems (like claiming all theology is either creational (good) or redemptional (bad)) that it’d be annoying to teach.
    On global pentecostalism, I’d recommend Harvey Cox’s Fire from Heaven and maybe a follow up book like Stålsett’s Spirits of Globalisation collection, which has at least one chapter on Korea.
    Comaroffs are obviously excellent. Gerald West’s work (primarily in Academy of the Poor)offers a good comparison practice to Latin American Liberation Theology. Also check out his rather self-indulgent but enlightening introductory article to Semeia issue 88 (I think).

  9. Allan Anderson has an introductory text on global Pentecostalism – An introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity published by Cambridge UP.

  10. I think that the Bevans book was used in a class I TA’d — though I was unimpressed, I’m willing to be convinced. I’m not sure exactly how it would fit into this course, though.

  11. Mark Noll’s latest book comes to mind (

    Also, I’m surprised no one has mentioned anything by Philip Jenkins who is (imho) the go to guy for anything dealing with global Christianity. Here are some great options by Jenkins:

    Another helpful option from an “evangelical” perspective is Soon Chan Rah’s latest The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing Christianity From Western Cultural Captivity.

    Good luck!

Comments are closed.