By Eva Pascal
This year’s American Society of Missiology Conference on the theme of “Contextualization in the Contemporary World” took place at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. The thirteen possible tracks, which reflected the anthropological interests of ASM President Dr. Robert Priest, included a symposium on Third Wave Mission, a panel on witch accusations, “Worship and the Arts” (ethnodoxology), a panel on contributions from the Global South, “New Faces of Mission in the 21st Century, and a sponsored track on African leadership. Representing BU were Lisa White as well as Christopher James, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst, and Michèle Miller Sigg who all three presented papers. Ruth Padilla-DeBorst presented a paper entitled “Doing Theology for Life: Radical Evangelical Theological Formation for Integral Mission in Latin America.” Michèle Miller Sigg’s paper entitled “Until Lions Start Writing their Own History: The Challenge of Contextualizing the Research, Writing, and Teaching of African Christian History” was part of the Emerging Ideas and Practices track, facilitated by Padilla-DeBorst.
In the absence of Dr. Dana Robert, student associate Michèle Miller Sigg was invited to attend the African Leadership Study consultation that took place immediately following the ASM. The ALS is a study project led by Bob Priest that started in August 2012 and is funded by Tyndale House Foundation. Between 2012 and 2013, faculty members and graduate students in Africa collected data from over 8,000 Christians from Kenya, Angola, and Central African Republic in an effort to identify influential African leaders and organizations. Some of the outstanding leaders were then interviewed in a follow up phase. The papers presented at the ALS consultation used data from this study to examine various aspects of the influence of these African leaders. The papers will eventually be published in an edited volume.
By Michèle Sigg
Histories of American sociology generally acknowledge, to varying degrees, Christian involvement in the development of the field. Much of this attention, however, underemphasizes two highly influential movements in early-twentieth-century Christian thought, the social gospel movement (1870s–1920s) and the rise of the global ecumenical movement (beginning in 1910). One under-researched, yet particularly revealing example of the impact of these movements is the Institute of Social and Religious Research (“the Institute”; 1921–1934), founded in 1921 under the leadership of global Christian leader John R. Mott and funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The Institute was comprised of Christian social scientific researchers who promoted interdenominational cooperation by engaging in scientific inquiry regarding the structure, current status, and functions of religious institutions and life in the United States. The Institute strived to maintain a high level of academic rigor while also retaining a religious motivation that included service to others, a classic struggle in the early history of American sociology.
The publications produced by the Institute were groundbreaking in their applications of social scientific methods to the study of religion in the United States, most notable of which included Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd’s highly generative and controversial Middletown study. In an overview of the largely unexplored tenure of the Institute, this paper brings together important trends in the early twentieth century to provide a unique perspective on the historical and theological contexts for the development of American sociology as an academic discipline.
To learn more, see “The Social Gospel, Ecumenical Movement, and Christian Sociology: The Institute of Social and Religious Research” (June 2014) by Gina Zurlo, a CGCM student associate, in the online version of The American Sociologist. Boston University students can access the journal through JStor and other hosts, and the article will appear in print version in 2015.
In the last few decades, Christian development has grown so rapidly in some quarters it is almost synonymous with mission. Earlier this year Dr. Todd Johnson led a residency study on religion and development in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Dr. Johnson was assisted by CGCM student associate Eva Pascal. The residency study is part of the World Christianity Doctor of Ministry program through the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
The team of teachers and D.Min. students spent an intense and rewarding two weeks visiting over 20 non-governmental and faith-based organizations in various parts of northern Thailand. These NGOs and FBOs were selected for the range of scale, religious affiliations, and the variety of social, political and environmental issues they addressed. They also included large scale international organizations like ADRA, and local projects like Hope Home, a small house for disabled children. Many of the organizations focused on the challenges facing minority people (called Hill-Tribes) in the areas of education, sexual exploitation, health care, and land rights. Students were able to see first-hand not only some of the central challenges in the region, but how organizations have stepped up to address them, and how faith-based organizations work to integrate mission into their work. The residency was such an overall success that another residency in Thailand on religion and development is in the works for the next residency cohort.
Despite distress about mainline decline and the rise of the “Nones”, church planting in North America is booming. According Warren Bird and Ed Stetzer, these new church starts are even outpacing closures. This presentation will discuss the patterns in mission and spirituality among new churches started in Seattle, Washington since 2001. As the largest city in a region distinctive for its weak religious institutions and a preponderance of “Nones”—Seattle is near the front of national “post-Christian” trends. As such, missiologists and practioners interested in the North American context can learn much from the forms of ecclesial mission and spirituality taking root in Seattle soil. Analysis of surveys from more than half of the 100+ new Seattle churches has revealed four dominant patterns in spirituality, eight salient mission priorities, five key identity features, and four paradigmatic combinations of these which serve to lay out the diverse field and invite missiological imagination.
CGCM Student associate Christopher B. James presented these findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology in St. Paul, Minnesota. His presentation was titled “Patterns in Mission and Spirituality Among New Churches in Seattle” and highlights some of the early findings of his dissertation research.
You can learn more about his research by reading “Ecclesial Pioneers in the Pacific Northwest“, published online via Christ & Cascadia, a new online journal for practical and theological engagement with Cascadian culture and ministry. You can also explore his research site (www.newseattlechurches.com) which features a map of new churches and follow the project on Twitter (www.twitter.com/newSEAchurches).
Christopher B. James is a PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology with training from Fuller Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, and the Renovaré Institute. You can connect with Christopher and explore his work via Academia, www.jesusdust.com, and @chrisbjames.
Alumnus Dr. Amos Yong has been appointed as the new Director of the Center for Missiological Research and Professor of Theology and Mission at Fuller’s School for Intercultural Studies. In his new role, he will also direct the School of Intercultural Studies’ PhD program. You can read more about this exciting new appointment on Fuller’s news-site.
The July 2014 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research contains a new article by alumnus Dr. David Scott, entitled “The Geographic Imagination and the Expansion of Methodist Missions in Southeast Asia,” IBMR 38:3 (July 2014): 130–34.
Synopsis: Missionary work by the Methodist Episcopal Church began in Southeast Asia in 1885 in Singapore. The Malaysia Mission spread throughout Southeast Asia, establishing work in Singapore, Penang, peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, Java, and Sumatra, as well as maintaining nominal oversight of mission work in the Philippines. By using geography to justify its extension across distance, the Malaysia Mission acted similarly to other global systems.
The article is available for free to online subscribers.
A major study project on changes in gender and caste social distinctions among the Indian diaspora Christian communities in the United States will be sponsored by Center for Global Christianity & Mission. The project will compare what has happened in the United States with ethnic and religious identity negotiations in India. The study has been facilitated by a Collaborative International Research Grant under the American Academy of Religion’s International Connections Committee.
This study emerged from the realization that the Christians of India are an important element in the resurgence of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere as well as in the emergent immigrant Christianity in the North. Indians constitute one of the fastest growing Christian groups in the United States, and Indian Church communities in North America provide interesting and significant transnational linkages across the North-South divide from which much can be learned. Hence, a comparative study of the community in the United States and India will provide resources for comparison with the Christian experience of other immigrant groups and minority communities, such as Latino/as and African Americans.
It is generally agreed that Christian communities in India, mirroring their dominant religio-social milieu, have traditionally been hierarchical/patriarchal in character. Women and Dalits (the “Untouchables”) have been marginated and denied access to positions and roles of status and power. At the same time, it seems obvious that there is a blurring of such gender and caste/class distinctions in the North American society to which Indian Church communities have migrated. Accordingly, the principle question to be considered in this study is: Is there evidence that the migrant Indian Church communities are appropriating norms and values in North American society that have the potential of driving the creation of more egalitarian social and faith communities in India and in diaspora?
Two conferences will be organized on the research question – one in Chennai, India during summer this year and the second in Boston, MA in Fall. These conferences are expected to bring together around twenty five scholars each who are familiar with studies on Indian Christian diaspora. From their diverse perspectives, the participants will consider the following questions: (1). Will the Diaspora Church become the Local church? (2). The role of Gender and Caste in the Making of the Congregation; (3). Ecumenical Inclusivity vs. Ethnic exclusivity in the church.
Dr. Jesudas M. Athyal (Visiting Researcher at the CGCM, Boston University School of Theology) will be the Principal Investigator of the project. He will also organize the conference in Boston. Dr. Joshua Kalapati (Professor of Philosophy, Madras Christian College, India) and Dr. Athyal will together organize the conference in Chennai. They will also collaborate to distill the results of the two conferences to provide a response to the main research question.
The information gathered at this project about gender and caste is expected to contribute to wider discussions of gender and religion and the role of caste in South Asian religions.
Jesudas M. Athyal
(Visiting Researcher, Center for Global Christianity and Mission)
The Spring 2014 newsletter, CGCM News is now available in print and digital forms. You can pick one up at various location in the School of Theology, and it is available for download and viewing here: Spring 2014 Newsletter.
Dr. Elizabeth Parsons, Lecturer in Religion and Development and a Resident Scholar with the CGCM, taught an exciting course this spring on the intersection of mission and development. The course, called Enacting Mission Through NGO and FBO Work, covered a variety of issues related to work in non-governmental, non-profit, and faith-based organizations. In the first part of the course, students gained a footing on the history and current functioning of NGOs and FBOs. Thereafter, they not only engaged critically with values and assumptions embedded in the business of development and NGO related work, they also learned practical skills important for the vocation, from money matters to navigating the rough waters of cross-cultural interactions.
The last part of the course engaged future contexts, opportunities, and challenges for NGO and FBO service and leadership in the 21st century. To help with these questions, Dr. Parsons organized a panel for the class, with the support of the CGCM, and invited the STH community to attend. Panelists were chosen for their connections with STH, for their own spiritual and ethical commitment to service work, and to show how theological education would be helpful for a range of service vocations. The panelists included STH alum Rob Gordon, Executive Director of United Way of Kennebec Valley; John Lindamood, Director of Resident Services in the Cambridge Housing Authority, who holds an M.Div. from Harvard and has made presentations at STH in the past; and Paula Kline, Executive Director of the Montreal City Mission, who oversees an organization that is a contextual partner of STH.
The panel, “Enacting Mission Through Non-Profit and Faith-Based Service Work in Unpredictable Times,” took place on April 11, 2014. Dr. Parsons introduced the class and each guest spoke of the paths that brought them to non-profit work, addressed how they integrate spiritual formation and commitment into their vocation, and in the question and answer sessions that followed, shared practical ideas about how to get into non-profit work, and what kind of skills are important.
Theological and pastoral education as laying the foundation for work in social justice and instilling compassionate values, working in partnership, and fundraising tips were just some of the key themes that emerged from the panel and discussion. The STH will look forward to future teaching and discussion on the intersection of mission and development.
The 2014 commenement of Boston University marks the 40th anniversary of the graduation of one of the School of Theology’s most important African graduates: the late Bishop Josiah Mutabuzi Kibira. Josiah Kibira graduated with an S.T.M. from the School of Theology in 1964. A pioneering local and international leader, Josiah Kibira became the first African to be elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Buhaya, Tanzania. He served in the World Council of Churches, and was the keynote speaker at the All Africa Conference of Churches General Assembly held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Bishop Kibira was also the first African to be elected president of the Lutheran World Federation. The memory of Bishop Kibira’s leadership is marked by the establishment in 2010 of an institution of higher education in his name, the Josiah Kibira University College in Bukoba, Tanzania. His son, Josiah Mwesigwa Kibira, is an established director and screenwriter, who in 2010 released a documentary about his father, Bishop Kibira of Bukoba: An African Lutheran. For a fuller account of Bishop Kibira’s life and service, see his biography on the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, and the History of Missiology.