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.
The 2014 Costas Consultation on March 28 focused on Christians in the Middle East, and attracted many students, faculty, and interested lay people from diverse traditions associated with the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) of ten theological institutions in the greater Boston area. The consultation included a panel of student papers, the viewing and discussion of a film about Christians in Iraq, “Displaced in their Homeland,” and two key speakers. Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Harvard University researcher, and former Vice-Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, gave a lecture identifying and challenging five key myths about Christians in the Middle East (the myths of pluralism in the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East as the “Muslim World,” Christians as foreign invaders, Ecumenical Solidarity, and Israel as a protector state for Christians) that when taken together, perpetuate the oppression and persecution of Christian communities in the region. The keynote address was giving by Bishop Elias Toumeh, Antiochian Orthodox Bishop of Pyrgou. Bishop Toumeh gave a heartfelt address on the struggle of Christians in Syria, and the importance of sacrificial leadership; the Bishop also looked at the positive opportunities that Christians have to minister in a time of conflict, such as serving as hostage negotiators. You may read a fuller account of the Bishop Toumeh’s address in an article by the The Pilot, “Syrian Bishop Finds in Solidarity Boston.”
Many CGCM associates participated in the event; student Daryl Ireland was a key coordinator of the Consultation. Another student, Gina Zurlo, presented one of the student papers centered on a demographic perspective of Christianity in the Middle East. Gina has shared her presentation with us here (costas middle east). The Consultation was an important opportunity, not only to educate the community about ancient Christians in the region and their plight for survival and religious freedom, but also to hear from people living in areas of conflict, and the forging of ecumenical support across nations and traditions.
Michele Sigg, PhD student and Project Manager for the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, has recently published an article entitled “Carrying Living Water for the Healing of God’s People: Women Leaders in the Fifohazana Revival and the Reformed Church in Madagascar,” in the journal Studies in World Christianity, Volume 20 (April 2014), pp. 19-38. Well done Michele! You can read the abstract below, and link to the article here.
Abstract: For over one hundred years the Fifohazana Revival has played a key role in the spread of Christianity in Madagascar. The Fifohazana is an indigenous Christian movement that seeks to serve Malagasy society through the preaching of the Gospel and a holistic ministry of healing in community.
This article summarises the findings of a study that explored the role of women leaders as holistic healers in the Fifohazana revival movement and the Reformed Church (FJKM) in Madagascar. Based on interviews with four women ministering in the Fifohazana or the Reformed Church, including a rising leader in the revival movement, this study highlights the importance of women leaders as radical disciples and subversive apostles in the Fifohazana revival movement and in the Reformed Church. As such, these women have been instrumental in bringing renewal into the church through the work of the Holy Spirit in the holistic healing ministry of the Fifohazana.
Doctoral student Christopher James has recently reviewed a book on the intersection of ecclesiology and anthropology, Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, edited by Pete Ward. Check out the review in Missiology: An International Review 42 (1), January 2014, 92-93.
Gina Bellofatto, student affiliate of the CGCM, and Dr. Todd Johnson’s described, “Key Findings of Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020.” The article appeared in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and is available for free to online subscribers.
Doctoral student Gina Zurlo has recently given several papers and lectures at social science conferences. In August, she presented a paper at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in New York City, titled, “Christian Sociology in Transition: The Institute of Social and Religious Research,” which discussed an early phase of American sociology and its intersections with the social gospel and ecumenical movements in the early 20th century. She also gave a paper at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion annual meeting in Boston on the development and use of demographic databases.
Doctoral student Gina Zurlo was on the faculty of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea (October 30–November 8, 2013). Gina gave a lecture titled, “Demographics of World and Asian Christianity” to a group of 200 students from 60 countries, representing 80 different denominations, and also offered reflections on the future of the ecumenical movement in light of trends in global Christianity. Videos of her lecture can be found in two parts, here and here.
PhD student Christopher James has been busy publishing several articles on missiology. Chris’ two peer-reviewed journal articles are: “Missional Acuity: 20th Century Insights Toward a Redemptive Way of Seeing,” in Witness: Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, vol. 26 (2012); and “Some Fell On Good Soil: Church Planting in Religious Ecologies,” Witness: Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, vol. 27 (2013). Well done! We look forward to sharing more of his work.