Religion & Development

Globally, religious people and communities have been deeply involved with alleviating human suffering and meeting basic human needs since the earliest days of mission. Furthering our understanding of how this happens and enhancing the ability of practitioners to work in this context are important goals of the CGCM.

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Announcing the Endowment of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission

The 20th Anniversary of the CGCM

On October 1st, Boston University announced the endowment of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission. The milestone was revealed on the 20th anniversary of the Center's founding. Opened in 2001 under the leadership of Dana L. Robert and Inus Daneel, the CGCM was the first Center of its kind in a research university in North America.

Since its inception, the Center has expanded rapidly. It launched Boston University’s first digital humanities project, and has remained at the forefront of digital scholarship. Today, the Center and its various online research platforms receive more than one million visits each year. However, the CGCM is more than an online community. It is the crossroads where  students, scholars, and mission practitioners intersect. It provides numerous lectures and events that bring the reality of World Christianity home to students at Boston University. In fact, the Center sponsors some kind of event for the public approximately every other week.

The Center remains a cauldron of creativity. With fourteen affiliated faculty and ten Visiting Researchers, new ventures regularly bubble up. Currently, Dana Robert is  spearheading a massive research project on “Mission and Collaboration in North America.” The Center has also recently launched projects on Global Congregational Song, the Sanctuary Movement in North and Central America, African Pentecostal Films, Mapping Christianity in China, and the Young Ecumenical Movement. When the world is your area of study, the possibilities are endless.

The Center passed the minimum threshold for an endowment, but it seeks to strengthen its financial foundation. The CGCM receives no funding from the university, but relies on the support and generosity of its community. To make a contribution to support the Center for the next twenty years, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.

China Historical Christian Database Receives Competitive NEH Grant

Drs. Daryl Ireland, Eugenio Menegon, and Alex Mayfield recently wrote a proposal to receive a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for continued development of the China Historical Christian Database. We are pleased to announce that their proposal was just accepted! The project was one of twenty projects chosen by the NEH to receive this generous funding. The project will further the digital mapping work of the Database, which charts Christian figures and institutions across China from 1550-1950, revealing the interconnection between missions, hospitals, schools, and other institutions, and illuminating the exchange of ideas and technologies between China and the West over four centuries.

Learn more about all the grant-winning projects at the NEH website, and more news about the Center's grant at the BUSTH website.

Call for Papers: COVID-19, Disease, and the World Church

In the midst of a pandemic that is shaking the globe we call for papers for a special issue of Studies in World Christianity  that analyse immediate responses to COVID-19 and that give some historical perspective on pandemics or epidemics. We do this in order to resource further response to pandemic whose effects will be with us for some years to come.

The papers may interrogate worldwide Christian responses to the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world by examining how churches have responded theologically and practically as the disease continues to spread. How have Christians responded by offering hope, calling for lament, or proclaiming God’s judgment? What ethical questions about planetary health, palliative care etc. have emerged or been hightened? How has digital media been employed for online church practice or as a vehicle for evangelism and social engagement? How has social distancing shaped understandings of the church community, and in what ways has online church left behind certain sectors of society?

The papers may also provide insight into how the world church in the past understood wide spread disease. Plague and pestilence have regularly been given theological scrutiny in Christian history and have prompted discussions of evil. The 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic influenced Pentecostal growth across the globe, and was instrumental in creating Independent Churches in West Africa who turned to fervent prayer and criticised mission churches for a lack of confidence in God. Missionary photography of plague and leprosy have been used to invigorate support of Western churches and missionary societies. In more recent history, HIV/AIDS has been described by some as the result of sexual sin, whereas the Avian flu and SARS were seen by others as fulfilling end-times prophecy and Ebola has shaken customary palliative care and funeral rites.

It is not uncommon to find articles that address aspects of health and Christian healing. In this special issue we wish to examine worldwide Christian reactions to disease and its spread as a way of understanding and reflecting upon a common problem with different contextual outcomes that have distinct and shared responses across the globe.

Due to the timeliness of the subject, we invite indicative abstracts by 20 April 2020 and complete articles (5000–8000 words, footnotes inclusive) by 25 May 2020. Papers should be formatted based on our styl e guide and emailed to


New Book: The Split Economy

In his new book, The Split Economy, Nimi Wariboko looks closely at the ethical challenge of capitalism. Others have named injustice, inequality, repression, exploitative empires, and capitalism’s psychic hold over all of us, as the central problem. Nimi Wariboko instead argues that the core ethical problem of capitalism lies in the split nature of the modern economy, an economy divided against itself. Production is set against finance, consumption against saving, and the future against the present. As the rich enjoy their lifestyle, their fellow citizens live in servitude. The economy mimics the structure of our human subjectivity as Saint Paul theorizes in Romans 7: the law constitutes the subject as split, traversed by negativity. The economy is split, shot through with a fundamental antagonism. This fundamental negativity at the core of the economy disturbs its stability and identity, generating its destructive drive. The Split Economy develops a robust theoretical framework at the intersection of continental philosophy, psychoanalytic theory, theology, and political economy to reveal a fundamental dynamic at the heart of capitalism.

Christian-Muslim Relations and State Formation in West Africa

christian-and-muslim-leaders-in-nigeriaMany emerging countries in postcolonial West Africa have found themselves at the center of Christian-Muslim interactions in the contemporary world. Nimi Wariboko's new piece, "Christian-Muslim Relations and the Ethos of State Formation in West Africa” in Evelyn A. Reisacher (ed.), Dynamics of the Muslim Worlds: Regional, Theological, and Theological Perspectives (Downers Groove, IL: IVP Academic 2017), explores the ways in which such state formation is both shaped by and shapes (sometimes coopting for the state's own ends) dynamics between these two religious communities.


Killing our Children’s Children

Surveying ecological disasters around the world, Visiting Researcher Kapya Kaoma delivered sharp warnings that an earth-theology must be developed, or we will be "killing our children's children." Dr. Kaoma delivered his message during the Gunther Wittenberg Lecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Ujamaa Centre in South Africa. His entire lecture has been made through Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa.

September CGCM Events

In September, CGCM had three seminars on various topics. On September 14th, Pius Tih, the Director of health services for the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB), met over breakfast with students and spoke about the role of Faith-Based Organizations in global health care. On September 22nd, Jeff Pugh, the executive director of the Center for Mediation, Peace, and Resolution of Conflict (CEMPROC) based in Quito, Ecuador, shared his experience building bridges of peace, conflict transformation, and development in both Latin America and the U.S. On September 27th, Elena Huegel shared from her rich experiences as both a child of a missionary family and her adult life in mission throughout Latin America. She discussed the opportunities and challenges emerging from the partnership in which she has participated between the United Church of Christ and the Pentecostal Church of Chile. Of particular focus was her work related to recovery from trauma--personal trauma, communal trauma, and environmental trauma--with such work taking place in local congregations and most notably in the Shalom Center in the foothills of the Andes.20160914_104224_HDR20160922_124936_HDR 20160927_094130

Education as a Mission

Education as a Mission

The Greatest Work in the World: Education as a Mission of Early Twentieth
Century Churches of Christ. Letters of Lloyd Cline Sears and Pattie Hathaway Armstrong

The Stone-Campbell Connection

Influences of Stone-Campbell Movement leaders on the writers of these letters are several and strong, beginning with Pattie Hathaway’s grandfather, James A. Harding. In 1869, Harding graduated from Bethany, a rigorous, private college near the Allegheny Mountains founded by Alexander Campbell. Although Campbell had died before Harding enrolled, his educational philosophy still influenced that institution.[2] Harding particularly absorbed Campbell’s emphases on propagating widely-accessible, liberal arts-based training overseen by well-equipped teachers who could guide students in their “physical, intellectual and moral development.”[3] Scholars have observed that this model established the parameters for Churches of Christ educational institutions and Campbell’s influence in this regard is evident in The Greatest Work in the World.

Additionally apparent in the letters is the inspiration of Barton W. Stone, Campbell’s Kentucky-based colleague who may be best known for his leadership in the famous Cane Ridge Revival of 1801. The intellectual foundations on which Stone based his teachings about personal piety are less well remembered today. But traces of his skepticism about modern “progress;” his emphases on spiritual maturity accompanied by ethical actions; and his allegiance to powers beyond those of civil governments[4] are clearly discernable in this volume of correspondence.

This work originates from a family prominent in the Churches of Christ from the mid–1800s through the 1960s. Letters exchanged principally between my grandparents, Lloyd Cline Sears and Pattie Hathaway Armstrong, constitute the bulk of the work. Augmenting their posts are letters from family members J. N. and Ida Woodson (Harding) Armstrong and Pattie (Cobb) Harding, wife of James A. Harding. Written between 1915 and 1921 these letters express an educational philosophy and understanding of Christian purpose inspired by the Stone-Campbell Movement and held in tension with the intellectual and social ferment of the times.

As leaders in “the oldest ecumenical movement in America,”[1] the letter writers helped establish and run a series of small schools throughout the American South, Midwest, and West that influenced generations of students to become teachers, preachers, missionaries, and orphanage directors.

Today, Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee is the oldest establishment in this legacy while Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas has been  the institution most closely associated with the letter writers. Correspondence contained in The Greatest Work in the World dates from a time in between the founding of these two schools, when the authors were running Cordell Christian College in Oklahoma and Harper College in Kansas.

This primary source material allows rare access to privately expressed thoughts of men and women attempting to live as Christian educators at the outset of an uncertain and rapidly changing twentieth century. Their letters also offer encouraging lessons for contemporary American Christians in this even more volatile era.

Containing a foreword by Richard T. Hughes of Messiah College and an afterword by Larry R. Long of Harding University, The Greatest Work in the World is available from Wipf and Stock Publishers.

This webpage contains excerpts from the book along with extra material and photographs not found there.

[1] J. D. Murch, Christians Only, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2004, 360.

[2] Lloyd Cline Sears, The Eyes of Jehovah, Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1970, 10.

[3] Thomas H. Olbricht, “Alexander Campbell as an Educator,” Lectures in Honor of the Alexander Campbell Bicentennial, 1788-1988, Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1988, 85.

[4] Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, 92

Elizabeth Cline Parsons, editor
Lecturer on Religion, Culture, and Development
Faculty Associate, CGCM

It is surprising to me how untaught the people of the country generally are. They have learned a few of the very first principles of Christianity and are blinded to all the rest. . . . And so bad is this condition that it will be impossible to change it in one or two generations. The people are not willing to receive the great lessons which they ought to have. . . . Preaching to these brethren might lift them up in two or three generations, but the trouble will be in getting a preacher. All the preachers they would have are the kind which would only emphasize the same condition, and make them worse instead of better. They need someone who can teach to live among them and work and make everyone else work. This can only be done by men trained from their boyhood. And I know of no better place to give boys this training than in a Bible school. We are engaged in the greatest work in the world, and it must go on. Even if you should die the work would have to continue, and I should do my best to carry it on. And I know if I should die you would keep it going; there would still be sufficient—more than sufficient—friends to make it go. And I hope to see it turn out hundreds of preachers, boys and girls, who will make a reformation throughout this whole country [Cline Sears, June 27, 1915]

I am of the opinion you are about our Bible School in the future. . . . In all the history of the school work the schools have been small. The Nashville Bible School is larger to day than it ever has been, but it is losing its spirituality—and we must not do that. The Orphan’s Home must not be large for the same reason. If the Home is crowded I can not have the influence over the children I must have to do what I believe the Lord would want me to do. It would be impossible for me to know each child’s disposition and to know what traits should be encouraged and what traits should be fought and mastered, and, too, I want them to know and love me, but they can not do it if I have too many. [Pattie Hathaway Armstrong, June 21, 1915]

There is a great difference between the people of the world and of the popular churches, and the people of the churches of Christ. Anything that is respectable and respected by society and the world is engaged in by the popular churches. War is not condemned, but is encouraged by the ministers. I heard a prayer recently for the “success of our arms in Mexico,”—which necessarily means the destruction of hundreds of lives and the ruin of hundreds of homes, yet because the world praises it as patriotism the preachers pray for it, and buy flags to lead the army in battle. [Cline Sears, July 17, 1916]

Just before church time I went to the post office just as I told you. The office was empty, so I stood by the window and read your letter in the twilight. I came up the street wishing I could be in a boat on the lake with you when I glanced up and almost caught my breath at the beauty of the scene. Under the trees and among the flowers in Mr. Lee’s yard were hundreds and hundreds of fireflies. I think I have never seen anything more beautiful. The whole world seemed filled with these tiny fairy lanterns. This time I didn’t cry at a beautiful scene. You enjoyed it quite as much as I did. There is quite an advantage in being together though separated, isn’t there? [Pattie Hathaway Armstrong, July 12, 1915]

Click Cordell Christian College Promotional Pamphlets to see some transcriptions of promotional pamphlets produced for Cordell Christian College. The pamphlets provide additional information and perspectives on the viewpoints of the letter writers.

Mission as Development? – The Case of Thailand

2014-01-16 13.12.19In 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.

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Mission and Development through Non-Profit Service

FBO-NGO panelDr. 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.

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