Global Christianties: Perspectives, Methods, and Challenges Conference: Session 1, Part 1

, , Leave a comment


PRESENTER 1: Our first
speaker is Dr. Kwok Pui Lan. Dr. Kwok Pui Lan is the former
William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology
and Spirituality at Episcopal Divinity School. She has also taught at
the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Auburn Theological
Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and Yale
Divinity School, and is currently teaching
at Emory University. Professor Kwok’s
research focuses on Asian feminist theology
and post-colonial theology. She has written or edited 20
books in English and Chinese. If I went through all of the
things that deserve to be said, there wouldn’t be
time for her paper. But here are some of them. Occupy Religion
Theology of the Multitude, Post-Colonial Imagination
and Feminist Theology, Introducing Asian
Feminist Theology, Discovering the Bible in
the Non-Biblical World, and Chinese Women and
Christianity– a History 1860 to 1927. Professor Kwok has also received
multiple honorary doctorates, is a past president of the
American Academy of Religion, and is co-founder of the Pacific
Asian North American Asian Women in Theology
and Ministry network. Her paper this
morning is entitled “The Study of World Christianity
from a Post-Colonial Perspective.” Please join me in
welcoming Professor Kwok. DR. KWOK PUI LAN: Good morning. AUDIENCE: Good morning. DR. KWOK PUI LAN: Thank
you very much for this kind introduction. I am delighted to
have this opportunity to learn from my
colleagues about this very important topic– global Christianities,
perspectives, methods, as well as challenges. The title of my
paper is “The Study of World Christianity from a
Post-Colonial Perspective.” I want to ask the
audience, how many of you have been to a church in China? We have a few. Were they full? Very full, OK. So several years ago,
I had the opportunity of visiting this megachurch
that is called Chong Yi Church in Hangzhou, China. The sanctuary can
seat 5,000 people. It was all full, even
before the service began. We were told 1,000
children and young people attended the Sunday school,
and the team of Sunday School teachers was more than 100. Wow! This phenomenal growth of
churches in Communist China has caught many by surprise. The official statistics puts the
number of Christians in China to be around 25 to 30 million. But the unofficial figure
ranged somewhere between 80 to 100 million, if
we counted those who belonged to the house churches. So China is poised to be the
country with the highest number of Christians in the world. World Christianity,
as a field, has moved away from a Euro-
or Euro-American centered interpretation of
Christianity and recognized the global configurations
of Christianity in all its diversity
and complexities. The Christian demographics,
as many of us know, has shifted to the global south. By 2025, half of the
Christian population will live in Latin
America and Africa. Another 17% will live in Asia. Only one out of five will
be non-Latino whites. So what can be learned from this
changing demographic, and how can the study of
Chinese Christianity contribute to our understanding
of world Christianity? Here, I wanted to introduce
to you this eminent scholar of Chinese history. In 1984, Professor Paul A. Cohen
published this very important book– Discovering History in China– in which he discussed
different models of the study of Chinese history in the West. The first model, he called the
Western Impact Chinese Response model, which treats the
Chinese as passive and reactive in the historical encounter. Using this model to
study world Christianity, the focus will be on
the role of missionaries while downplaying the agency
of Chinese Christians. The second model– he calls
it the Cultural Imperialism model, which treats
timeless Christian mission as an integral part
of Western domination. This has been the dominant
view in the historiography of Chinese mission
in China after 1949. But since the late ’70s,
other interpretations began to emerge. Chinese scholars such
as [? Wang Li Xin ?] has reassessed the legacy
of Christian mission. The contribution of Christian
colleges and the encounter between Chinese women
and Christianity. Paul Cohen criticized these two
models and suggests a third. He calls it the
China-centered model, which begins with Chinese problems
set in a Chinese context, and seeks to understand the
internal structure or direction to Chinese history that proceeds
from the earlier centuries. So instead of beginning
from the West, as in the Western Impact or
Cultural Imperialism model, this third model
begins with the Chinese as the protagonist
of the unfolding drama of the interaction
between Christianity and Chinese society. Taking the cue
from Cohen, we will look at the development
of Chinese Christianity from the very beginning,
and not from the time when Western missionaries
arrived in China. This is the ancient Silk
Road, all the way from Turkey and Syria, from the West, to
Chang’an, the ancient capital of China. So along the Silk Road, you
have the interaction or cultural exchange between the Christians,
the Buddhists, the Muslims, and other religious traditions
for a very long time. Some of the leading
post-colonial theorists hailed along the Silk Road. This is Jerusalem, where Edward
Said was born, and later grew up in Egypt. This is the present
day Mumbai, called Bombay, where Homi Bhabha,
the author of The Location of Culture, came from. And this is Calcutta,
where Gayatri Spivak, another leading
post-colonial theorist grew up and attended
high school. So I suggest it
is no coincidence some of the leading
post-colonial theorists will be theorizing from
the multiplicity of culture and the interplay of different
religious traditions. So today, I propose a
post-colonial cross-cultural approach to the study
of world Christianity. It has three characteristics. The first one– Christianity was a
hybrid phenomenon from the very beginning. Therefore, it requires
a cross-cultural and inter-religious
approach to study it. The missionary movement is
part of global modernity. And then we need to use
a comparative approach to study Christianity from
the South to the South. My first part–
hybrid Christianity. As many of us know
Christianity emerged from the Jewish and
Gentile communities influenced by Hellenistic
culture living in the Roman Empire. From the beginning, it
was a cultural hybrid, negotiating with and integrating
various cultural and religious elements. During the missionary
movements that Paul initiated, he went along the
Mediterranean and then traveled in Asia Minor. Unfortunately, history has been
taught from the Mediterranean, and then took a big leap to
Europe, and then to America, and then forgot there
was another branch that was ancient and important. You know it is this route– the Church of the East. Before Christianity was
dominant in the North, let us not forget it
traveled to the South, to Africa, and to the
East, along the Silk Road. Christianity spread
with commerce, with missionary
activities, and also with inter-cultural exchange. Here, you can see the
metropolitan centers of this spread of
Christianity to the East. So then, if we pay
attention to the development of missionary activities
in the Church of the East, we will recognized
Christianity reached India and China very early on. Some even believed
that St. Thomas himself went to Kerala, India,
and died as a martyr there in the first century. We do not know whether
that legend can be proved. But here, I am showing
you this St. Thomas cross in Kerala, India. The earliest type
of these crosses can be found as way back
as the eighth century. You can see the cross was
on top of the lotus, a very important symbol for Buddhism. And then it shows
an arch to a door. What is it? Well, according to
[INAUDIBLE],, this cross appear to be surrounded
by a [INAUDIBLE],, and on a mantle archway known
in Buddhist and Hindu temples. And then if we
travel further east, and then you will come to
Chang’an, the ancient capital of China. Here, you have the
famous Nestorian tablet. Syrian missionaries arrived as
early as the seventh century, and this tablet detailed
their activities, which also showed a cross
on top of a lotus flower. Before I show you the cross,
let us remind ourselves of the spread of Buddhism. And here, you have the cross. Again, you have the Nestorian
cross on top of the lotus. This art historian, [INAUDIBLE],,
says this type of cross is more a sign of the
resurrected and cosmic Christ than of the dead one. The development of
Christianity in India and China saw that the Christian
messages and even symbolisms had to be translated into the
vernacular and local idioms. As the late Professor
[INAUDIBLE] has reminded us, the translation of
Christian message across different
cultures and religions has given rise to a tremendous
polarity and diversity of expression in
world Christianity. This means that Christianity
has always been polycentric, and has been re-constituted
and re-imagined in diverse cultures. Here, I want to quote
Professor Tite Tienou. “Polycentric Christianity
is Christian faith with many cultural homes. The fact that
Christianity is at home in a multiplicity of cultures
without being permanently wedded to any of them
presents for Christians everywhere a unique
opportunity for examining Christian identity and
Christian theology.” I had the opportunity to read
the Chinese on the Nestorian tablet. It talks about trinity. It talks about baptism. But it did not talk about the
suffering or the crucifixion. Why? In seventh century China,
influenced by Buddhism, it would have been
difficult for the Chinese to understand how that
man hanging on the cross will be surviving. Can you see that even
within theology, not just artistic symbol, there has
been adaptation from early on? Now it comes to
my second point– global modernity. In the eighth century,
Rome turned its attention to the North and
formed alliances with the Germanic people. From the eighth century
to the 15th century, Christianity expanded
in the North and West, whereas the Church
of the East shrank. So many would
associate Christianity with Western civilization. And it spread to different
parts of the world through commerce, colonialism,
and Christian missions. Now, Christian
missionary activities were an integral part of the
civilizing mission of the West, while indigenous cultures in
the Americas, Africa, or Asia were denigrated as
backward and inferior. There is this
binary construction in the study of world history. Some societies are or were
designated as traditional, while other societies
would be seen as modern. It is important to remember
what Edward Said, one of the pioneers in
post-colonial studies, has reminded us in his book
Orientalism, published in 1978. And I quote, “Orientalism
can be discussed and analyzed as the culprit institution
for dealing with the Orient.” Here, he meant the Middle East. “Dealing with it by making
statements about it, authorizing views of it,
describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it– in short, Orientalism
is a Western style for dominating,
restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” These orientalist
biases is clearly evident in the works of
an earlier generation of missionaries and
scholars who all studied the Christian
missionary movement in China. Here, you have the
volume published in 1922, with the unfortunate title, The
Christian Occupation of China, which detailed missionary
activities, the scope and extent of their
work in China. Later, we have that
almost classic text on the history of Christian
missions in China, written by Kenneth Latourette– so thick, really classic. Both, though not the
same, but certainly we’ll think the Western missionaries
had done great service in emancipating China. So now, given that
we are learning from the post-colonial theorists
not to construct tradition and modernity in binary way, how
can we look at modernity anew? Here, let me cite
three possibilities. This first one treats Latin
America, Africa, the Pacifics, or other non-Western
societies as occupying the underside of modernity. Now, [? Irwin ?] used this. So there is modernity
defined by Western advanced industrialization. And then because
of colonization, there was an underside. The second one,
proposed by [INAUDIBLE] following [INAUDIBLE]. Then it constructed modernity
as not just one process, but two processes which
are joined together. The formation of the
modernity could not happen without the
colonization of vast population of the world. That is why you have a slash,
modernity and coloniality. I would like to
propose, from colleagues who have studied Chinese
history, a third possibility. That is called global modernity. Here, I want to cite
a Turkish scholar who has devoted his professional
career studying China. “Modernity all along has
been global in scope, plural in form and
direction, and hybrid, not only across
cultural boundaries, but also in the relationship of
the modern to the traditional. It is important to highlight
modernity as global in scope.” Extending this study to world
Christianity, Ryan [INAUDIBLE] says, “The local agents
and host environment exerted influences in the
adaptation, negotiation, and adjustment of
missionary efforts and intercultural
communication.” He continues, “Recognition
of the agency exercised by the recipient society
is a major reason why cultural differentiation is now
seen as part of globalization, along with homogenization,
because every claim universal is translated into
existing cultural matrices, in which it can take
on different meanings or be employed in
different ways.” Now, let me come back to
cite China as an example. Scholars often
credit missionaries for introducing Western
notions of womanhood, regarded as
enlightened and modern, in contrast to those in
traditional Chinese culture. Such generalization
overlooks that both Chinese and Western
understanding of womanhood changed over time. Women missionaries who came
to China in the 19th and early 20th century were
influenced by the ideals of womanhood and evangelical
view of domesticity of the Victorian period. In the United States,
women missionaries were influenced by
the cult of womanhood, which could be characterized by
piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. They saw the Chinese customs
of foot binding, concubinage, and arranged
marriage incompatible with their ideal of monogamous
marriage and educated womanhood. They were often credited with
bringing more egalitarian views of the sexes to
the Chinese society. Yet back home, they were
considered traditional by the more radical feminists. Here, you have the
picture of domesticity. Can you contrast this
with this picture? Which one is more radical? That is why
[? Margery King ?] argues that 19th century American
women missionaries exported Western notions of
domesticity, and did not contradict the Chinese
notion that women’s place was in the home. The missionaries did
not export any kind of feminism, understood by
their counterparts in the US at that time, to China. They even included sewing or
embroidering or domestic work in the curriculum
for girls schools. Now, the situation of
China changed very rapidly in the late 19th and
early 20th century. This year, we as Chinese
commemorated the May Fourth Movement, the centennial
of this important student protest against Western
imperialism in China. So female students
took to the street 100 years ago in May to protest,
with their male counterparts, foreign aggression. And as they were protesting,
what did their women missionary teacher tell them? Did they encourage
them to protest? Give a guess. Not quite. They were not the
radical ones back home. They were not eager to
support the students under their tutelage
to be protesters or to fight for
Chinese salvation. So today, when we look
at this past history, would we say simply
Western women missionaries, they brought modern notions
of womanhood to China? The story was much
more complicated. The evangelical
ideals that wives should be educated,
keep the house tidy and clean, and
help their husbands reflected Western response
to the Industrial Revolution and other social changes. Timeless notions about womanhood
affected missionary visions and their strategies
working with women. Some of the women missionaries
changed their views of looking at the
world and themselves after working for a
long time in China. In one particular
case, it was the change in women’s leadership
in the church that changed the whole world’s
Anglican communion. Here is a picture in 1945. In the center of the picture
is the Reverend Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained
to be the first woman priest in the worldwide
communion in 1944. And then, because of the
controversy surrounding her ordination, the people
in UK, United Kingdom, said we had to investigate,
learn something about it. And there was also a push
within United Kingdom to have women being
considered to be priest. So it was not UK
influenced China. It was the other way around. In case you have forgotten,
it was not until 1992 that the Church of England
allowed women to be ordained– decades afterwards. So I move on to my third point,
comparative study from South to South. Both the Christian Impact
Indigenous Response, and the Cultural
Imperialism models of studying world
Christianity focus on the relations
between the global North and individual countries or
societies of the global South. The study of world Christianity
has called our attention to local agencies. In the past decades, we have
produced many important works that study Christianity
from the global South. 30 years ago, when I
began to do the research on Chinese women
and Christianity, there were very few
comparable studies. I had to borrow the
insights from those who were studying
African-American women in the United States to
learn how to do this. Today, I am happy to report
there are many more studies that talks about women’s
interaction with Christianity from the global South. That is why the time has
come for not just London and Shanghai, or New York and
Fuzhou, that kind of study. We should be learning
China-India, China-Iran, China and Uganda. How can we do it? Let me just give an example. The Church Missionary
Society, a society organized by the
Anglican church, has been involved in many parts
of the world in recent work. Three important
foci of their work– one, evangelism, two,
education, third, medicine. So here, we have a
scholar, Francis-Dehqani, who has studied Religious
Feminism in an Age of Empire– CMS Women Missionaries in Iran. So if we compare the situation
of women’s work in Iran and China, we will notice two
very important observations. One– the use of
female education to gain access to the populace. Second– we certainly
want to know in what way
Christianity interacts with the religious traditions
in China or in Iran. In China, most of
the early converts– they came from practicing
Chinese popular religion. In Iran, certainly it
was the Muslim tradition that was dominant. So a cross-cultural study
between these two societies would find how women negotiated
multiple religious identities, communal pressure, family
pressure in becoming Christian. Let me move on to India. In India, as in China,
the only converts came from the lower class. Why? The established
elites would not allow their women or their daughters
to follow a foreign religion. So it would be of interest
to study how the lower class women in China became
interested in Christianity and to compare and contrast
how Dalit women from India were particularly interested
in joining the church. Why? They had very little
to lose, isn’t it? Because they could
then learn to read, they could become Bible
women, and they could even teach the higher-class
women how to read. So for them, it
might be a chance to improve their social
mobility, to give themselves a better chance of life. Now I wanted to talk
about China and Africa, because in these
two contexts, we had numerous studies
or discussion on how the CMS missionaries
or the missionary societies had tried to deal or
fail to deal with a very important question– that is, polygamy. In China in the 19th
century, the richer families, the husband had
more than one wife. And in Africa, even
today in some societies, we have polygamous marriages. Now, how did the missionaries
respond to that situation? In China, and also, for
example, in Uganda, the CMS missionaries, they had
to be very careful. On the one hand, they did not
want to, then, stir up trouble. Those elites, the
men who had power, they would not want missionaries
to change this practice. But on the other hand,
many of the missionaries subscribed to nuclear
monogamist family. So it would be very
useful and interesting to compare and contrast how
women in these two societies negotiate with new religious
identity, new forms of teachings about
marriage and family, and new understandings
of womanhood. So in conclusion,
I want to suggest we need dynamic and interactive
frameworks that recognize multiple possibilities,
fluid frontiers, and creative adaptations in the
study of world Christianity. We need to emphasize
on the receptors rather than the transmitters,
and on local agencies in the missionary and
indigenous encounter. As Ryan [INAUDIBLE]
reminds us, homogenization and differentiation are
simultaneous and mutually conditioning dimensions
of globalization. The study of world
Christianity can contribute to our understanding
of the construction of a modern order that is
an ongoing global cultural process. Thank you very much. PRESENTER 1: Thank you
so much, Professor Kwok, for an eminently
compelling and clear paper.

 

Leave a Reply