The Idea of Global Christianity: An Interview with Angie Heo

Anthropologist Angie Heo’s first book, The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt (2018), examines saintly intercession to explore the reconfiguration of religio-political imaginaries. Rather than seal off Coptic Christians and their religious tradition, she foregrounds the shared life between Copts and Muslims, as both transformed by the modern Egyptian nation-state and by geopolitical interests in the Middle East, particularly its Christians. Her book expands the terrain of the anthropology of Christianity, pushing the limits of the subfield’s conceptual foundations by offering new avenues of investigation. Below, in a four-part interview with AnthroCyBib co-curators Candace Lukasik and Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, Heo shares her insights on discipline, methodology, and the transnational and political stakes of global Christianity. 

The Political Lives of Saints examines divine intercession to illuminate the ways Copts and Muslims in contemporary Egypt imagine the otherworldly and also how they imagine each other. As an anthropologist of Christianity, what concepts, methodologies, or frameworks guided your approach? How has the subfield of the anthropology of Christianity and/or Religious Studies shaped your work? 

Christian-Muslim mediation is the overarching frame of my book.  By examining how Coptic Orthodoxy mediates social relations between Christians and Muslims, I sought to avert the culturalist notion that Christian ideas and practices serve to reproduce and reinforce Christian identities.  This notion is especially pervasive across studies of Egypt’s Copts, a group which frequently figures as a beleaguered minority battling to assert its religious identity in the throes of persecution. For theorizing about Christianity, the problem I found with this model of cultural assertion is that it leaves intact, even affirms, the sectarian structures of communal identity that end up ghettoizing Copts and Coptic Orthodoxy in the first instance.  In other words, the position of Copts in the Egyptian state and society are always and already-given ones in the political analysis, with Christianity merely providing its cultural and ideological contents for expression. Christian-Muslim mediation was my strategy for specifying how Orthodox Christianity serves as an historically specific medium for generating structures of minoritarian authoritarianism as well as potentials for overturning them. While researching and writing, I discovered that Orthodox Christianity and its modern transformations offer thick insights into intersections of state and religion, which means for Copts, important sites of Christian-Muslim governance. 

Intercession – that is, advocacy on behalf of another – is a key concept that grounded me in the material technics of religious mediation.  In my book, I focus on intercession to analyze two tiers of Christian-Muslim mediation at once: institutional and imaginary. My inspiration came from an illustration that I encountered several times during my fieldwork.  When I asked about how saints and their holy intercession works, many Copts would invoke the metaphor of “wasta”, the “who you know” or personal connections that work for you when you need something. The simple yet striking metaphor stuck with me.  There is a lot written on how the Coptic Church has assumed an increasingly centralized institutional role as an arbiter of Christian-Muslim affairs nationwide. There is less written on how this new institutionalization of communal advocacy has relied on major shifts in everyday activity of divine mediation.  Intercession allowed me to consider multiple genres of religious communication, with the aim of disaggregating institutions of state power into its various forms, acts, images, embodiments, ideologies. That is, breaking apart what seem like coherent institutional actors from the bottom up and inside out.

Lucky for me, anthropologists of religion had already been contributing to vibrant conversations in religion and media as I was first exploring intercession.  Here, I am thinking about the anthropologies of Christianity and Islam in particular, both fields pursuing overlapping questions around language ideologies along with the secular and global nature of modernity.  While pursuing a PhD in Anthropology at Berkeley, I also had the good fortune of studying with Bill Hanks, Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood who each advanced my thought on semiotics, materiality, and technology in different ways.  It is true that anthropologists of Christianity have spilled significant ink on Protestantism (and I will join them for the second project!). Having trained with an historically-oriented ethnographer of Catholicism and a leading expert in indexicality, I benefited from yet another perspective on the sensory dynamics of presence that helped my work on Orthodoxy’s visual and tactile elements.  Anthropological work on Islam, and with Egypt as a decidedly fruitful location, has also been formative of my approach to media, tradition and authority. I cannot even imagine how my book would have turned out without these remarkable writings which deal with the contending publics and politics of Islam and which speak volumes about religion beyond the limits of Islam.   

For your second project you have shifted your focus to Evangelical South Korea, to examine late capitalist development and the legacy of the Cold War. This project also takes a transnational shift, looking at the global linkages of political conservatism. Between the Middle East and the Asian Pacific Rim, and (Oriental) Orthodox Christianity and Evangelical Protestantism, what are some of the ways your conceptual engagements with and understandings of the anthropology of Christianity shifted between these two projects? Beyond theological or ritual differences, how is the study of Orthodox and Protestant forms of Christianity different in anthropological perspective? How do transnational linkages, migration, and global connection factor into your new analytic frames?

I find these questions especially stimulating because I have been thinking lately about what the term “global Christianity” both offers and obscures for interdisciplinary scholarship in religious studies.  It is too often the case, unfortunately, that “global” signifies a geopolitical hierarchy in which the originary norms of a given tradition are presumed to lie in the U.S. and Europe, while phenomena like “global religions” or “world literature” lie in the Global South.  Anthropologists of Christianity, I believe, can help push for more analytic clarity on what “global” and what “Christianity” mean, and what they mean together. Your line of questions pushes exactly for this clarity. Orthodoxy and Protestantism, as Christian traditions, both organize distinct orders of universalism and empire – we could even say competing orders.  They also encounter shared forces of globalization – trade, media and migration – that shape their respective orders of growth and expansion. Work gets exciting when we think about the universalizing aspects of tradition and the globalizing dimensions of political economy, conjointly and comparatively.  

What is unique to Orthodox Christianity is the intrinsic centrality of the ethnos or nation to its self-identity; that is, Coptic Orthodoxy is Egyptian Christianity.  This imagined link between nation and Orthodoxy relies on traditional ideologies of origin, nativism and continuity, and this link also changes across historical contexts of anticolonial nation-building and ecumenical aspirations.  Of all my book’s body chapters, the second one “Redemption at the Edge” most directly tackles various entanglements of Orthodox expansion with the modern nation-form. In it, I examine how Orthodoxy prescribes forms of pilgrimage and imaginings of Holy Land, and how religious boundaries and territorial borders are defined in the process.  The whole chapter revolves around the question of what Holy Egypt is, what the Egyptian nation-state is, and how these two converge in the 1960s. Vatican II and the Arab-Israeli wars, I argue, are significant historical events that shaped the specifically Egyptian character of Coptic Orthodoxy (Arab nationalism + Christian-Muslim unity) and its counter-imperial forms.  To make this argument, I had to engage the broader international and global frames that determined this dual status of Egypt’s image, and thus began with two imperial frontiers, Roman Catholic and Zionist.  

So while imaginings of the ethnos or nation are central to Orthodoxy, this does not mean that Orthodoxy is bound to nationalism in any primordial or essential way.  I think the intellectual project is to observe Orthodoxy’s changing definitions and attachments to the nation-form, and then, to analyze what it implies on a more global scale about national and religious belonging.  In The Political Lives of Saints, I trace how international contours of post-WWII imperialism shaped Orthodoxy’s claim as a distinctively “national” religious tradition.  Another angle at the global aspects of Orthodox Christianity embarks from transnational and diasporic displacements of national belonging (and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading both of your dissertations on this topic!).  For the Orthodox American context, I also find the longer history of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska fascinating for historicizing questions of diasporic migration and settlement during periods of U.S. and Russian rule. From recent conference invitations I’ve received, I’m gathering that there is also budding interest in Orthodoxy’s growth across the Far Eastern borderlands, near and inside Japan, China and North Korea.  Here, I can’t resist giving another shout-out to Dominic Martin‘s forthcoming book on Old Orthodoxy in a former military zone for nuclear submarine repair near Vladivostok.

This brings me to my second book project on Cold War Christianity in the Asian Pacific Rim. My second book project more squarely examines the transnational and imperial impulses internal to Evangelical Protestantism, focusing on South Korea and the divided Koreas.  As in Egypt, the historical setting of anticolonial nationalism was crucial to the making of national Christianity and its liberatory identity in South Korea. Protestant Christianity’s explosive growth during the Cold War additionally meant that American-allied ideologies of anticommunism and freedom were always part of the equation.  For my work on Orthodoxy in Egypt, I devoted a lot of time to thinking about materiality, images, and the tradition’s deep ties to antiquity. In Korea, I’m finding that I am consistently asking questions about transnational religion alongside questions about political economy and fervently capitalist conditions. Development and globalization set the terms of rapid religious change in South Korea, in effect, a mass conversion to Protestant Christianity that unfolded over a couple quick and spectacular decades instead of the glacial pace of millennia.  This historical fact, of course, has to change the way we approach the study of Christianity in Korea and East Asia more broadly (versus the Middle East) . 

While Orthodoxy has been described by scholars and journalists alike as a “national” religious tradition, you’re asking us to defamiliarize this notion by looking to the historical contexts by which such a claim emerged—post-WWII imperialism, as well as postcolonial imaginaries of the nation. While transnational and diasporic displacements have decentered the nation over the past few decades—as Orthodox populations migrate, settle, and develop new notions of belonging—how does the current far-right iterations of nationalism and growing forms of political conservatism weigh upon Orthodoxy, in its many forms? For example, the renewed power of the Russian Orthodox Church and its intimate connections to President Vladimir Putin has reinforced the narrative of Orthodoxy as archaic and such majority Orthodox countries as antithetical to the promise of political secularism. Along these lines, how does the Coptic Orthodox context compare to, say, the Russian or Greek contexts? How do non-ethnic converts to these faiths trouble Orthodoxy’s perceived “nationalist” tendencies?

 The rise of far-right nationalism and right-wing populism is, unfortunately, a current and global phenomenon.  Considering the high value it places on origins, Orthodoxy may slide into ideologies of nativism, purity and authenticity, especially when allied with xenophobic strands of nationalism.  This is where I think race, racism, and racial hierarchies become important issues to explore alongside Orthodoxy, especially as it is linked to various forms of growth such as assimilation or invasion.  During my fieldwork, I also discovered that some of the most devout Copts were adherents of racial purity, and some measure of racism carried weight in their understandings of Arab Islam and Egyptian Orthodoxy.  In the Coptic Orthodox tradition of saint veneration, we also find imaginary traces of racial difference, colonialism and globalization in figures like Moses the Black (also called “the Ethiopian”), and most recently, Matthew the African (the Ghanaian migrant laborer who was among the Libya Martyrs). On the question of comparison, I still have much to learn about contemporary movements in the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, but I am sure that their mission dioceses join the Coptic Orthodox’s abroad in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. 

Examining Orthodoxy to specify the relationship between political conservatism and political secularism would make for a fascinating project.  Isn’t it precisely the authoritarian impulses internal to liberalism that have inspired so many studies in critical secularism recently?  And many of them have also looked closely at Protestantism for secular-liberalism’s shadows. I don’t believe there is anything intrinsic to Orthodoxy that overdetermines its alliances with far-right or extreme nationalist governments in any context.  What I find really interesting, in fact, are the resources within Orthodoxy that allow for those moments when Orthodox churches assert their autonomy from their sponsoring states. These moments include Pope Shenouda’s break away from President Sadat, as the “Arab’s pope”, when it came to maintaining the pilgrimage ban after The Camp David Accords in 1978.  They also include the post-Soviet churches seeking recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople rather than the Moscow Patriarchate in 1991. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the various Ukrainian Orthodox Churches especially after the 2018 schism which is directly related to the Russian military occupation of Ukraine. I am excited to read Jeanne Kormina and Vlad Naumescu‘s writings, for example, on how this topic plays out for the Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe for the next issue of Anthropology Today (Volume 35, Issue 4). 

Building off of your earlier response to the term “global Christianity,” how has studying non-Western forms of Christianity been received in the American academy, within and outside of the discipline of anthropology? Many times, when scholars write and speak of Christianity, they tend to collapse all of Christianity into Western Christianity. What implications does this have for Eastern forms of Christianity that stem from different historical contexts and genealogies? To get more specific in relation to your work in The Political Lives of Saints, how has Orthodoxy been made legible in the study of Christianity and religion more broadly? What are the possibilities of disentangling Western Christianity and the global North from studies of Christianity, in all its diversity, within the academy?

How do we locate where the East and West are in any form of Christianity?  For many postcolonial subjects of Christianity, the answers may lead to either alienation or emancipation.  And then, how do we specify where the East and West are within Coptic Orthodoxy in Egypt, and in ways that distinguish them from where they are within Evangelical Protestantism in South Korea?  I believe these are critical questions that all scholars of global Christianity – anthropologists, historians, theologians – need to be asking. I certainly understand why people call Coptic Orthodoxy an “Eastern tradition”, or Korean Protestantism an “Eastern” or “Asian” expression of a Western tradition.  In some venues, it even makes sense to deploy shorthand for complex geopolitical relations. But there is also the danger of reifying the East and West in ways that aren’t very helpful for understanding religious ideas and practices if you want to go beyond identity claims.  

I gave this little prelude of qualifiers about the limited use-value of East and West because I have heard these designations amply thrown around in Christianity studies.  But I suppose my real answer begins here, since I actually hear your question asking something different. Anthropologists of secularism and Islam, like Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, exercise the genealogical method to show how concepts are entangled in unequal relations of power. The West and non-West binary allows them to stage and expose an asymmetry between various traditions of thought and practice.  This asymmetry is also one in which certain elements from Christianity in Western Europe and North America become hegemonic in academic scholarship and political institutions. Few think of Asad as an anthropologist of Christianity (on this note, I find Gil Anidjar’s exchange with him to be lively and interesting).  But Asad is clearly examining not only Enlightenment Christian sensibilities in human rights’ regimes, but also medieval Christian forms of ritual discipline that informed pathbreaking work on submission and agency in Islam.  In my view, the first step for disentangling Western Christianity from studies of Christianity is to identify what norms govern our notions of religion and how these norms are related to imaginaries of the East / West divide. Doing this can also broaden conversation between the anthropology of Christianity and other subfields in anthropology at large.

 

 

Zawiejska and van de Kamp, “The Multi-Polarity of Angolan Pentecostalism”

Zawiejska, Natalia and van de Kamp, Linda. “The Multi-Polarity of Angolan Pentecostalism: Connections and Belongings.” PentecoStudies. 17(1): 12-36. 

Abstract: This article discusses the national framing of Angolan Pentecostalism from the perspective of connections. It analyses how Angola matters as a centre of inspiration for different Pentecostal churches and networks precisely by engaging different religious imaginaries, social memories and anticipations of the future that operate in a variety of ethnic, African and Lusophone spaces. In doing so, this contribution aims at overcoming both the understanding of global Pentecostalism through a national and diasporic lens as well as a universal lens, underscoring the multi-polarity of Angolan Pentecostalism. The connections that Angolan Pentecostalisms create between places and cultures involve different transnational circuits that cultivate diverse cultural, economic and political imaginations and belongings. The possibilities for bridging and bonding that different Pentecostal connections offer generate new relationships, imaginations, rituals and the circulation of ideas. We suggest that Angolan Pentecostalism might be seen as a multi-polar force of multi-directional connections, which dynamics and intensity oscillates, depending on the location and movement of a Pentecostal group in the global geography of power, in postcolonial territorial and social settings, and on modes of appropriating and making Lusophone heritages.

Halvorson, “Conversionary Sites”

Halvorson, Britt. Conversionary Sites: Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota. 2018. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.

A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.

Yang, et al, eds, “Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity”

Yang, Fenggang, Joy K. C. Tong, and Allan H. Anderson.  2017.  Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity.  Leiden: Brill.

Publisher’s Description: This is the first scholarly volume on Chinese Christian Pentecostal and charismatic movements around the globe. The authors include the most active and renowned scholars of global Pentecostalism and Chinese Christianity, including Allan Anderson, Daniel Bays, Kim-twang Chan, Gordon Melton, Donald Miller, and Fenggang Yang. It covers historical linkages between Pentecostal missions and indigenous movements in greater China, contemporary charismatic congregations in China, Singapore, Malaysia, and the United States, and the Catholic charismatic renewal movement in China. The volume also engages discussion and disagreement on whether it is even appropriate to refer to many of the Chinese Christian movements as Pentecostal or charismatic. If not, are they primarily following cultural traditions, or upholding beliefs and practices in the Bible?

Contents:

Pentecostals and Charismatics among Chinese Christians: An Introduction
Fenggang Yang, Joy K. C. Tong, and Allan H. Anderson

Part 1. Historical, Global, and Local Contexts

Chapter 1. Contextualizing the Contemporary Pentecostal Movement in China
Donald E. Miller
Chapter 2. Chinese Ecstatic Millenarian Folk Religion with Pentecostal Christian Characteristics?
Daniel H. Bays
Chapter 3. Pentecostalism Comes to China: Laying the Foundations for a Chinese Version of Christianity
J. Gordon Melton
Chapter 4. Elitism and Poverty: Early Pentecostalism in Hong Kong (1907–1945)
Connie Au

Part 2. A Chinese Pentecostal Denomination: The True Jesus Church

Chapter 5. Charismatic Crossings: The Transnational, Transdenominational Friendship of Bernt Berntsen and Wei Enbo
Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye
Chapter 6. Taming the Spirit by Appropriating Indigenous Culture: An Ethnographic Study of the True Jesus Church as Confucian-Style Pentecostalism
Ke-hsien Huang
Chapter 7. Glossolalia and Church Identity: The Role of Sound in the Making of a Chinese Pentecostal-Charismatic Church
Yen-zen Tsai

Part 3. Pentecostal or Non-Pentecostal: Self-Identity and Scholarly Observation

Chapter 8. Spirituality and Spiritual Practice: Is the Local Church Pentecostal?
Jiayin Hu
Chapter 9. Are Chinese Christians Pentecostal? A Catholic Reading of Pentecostal Influence on Chinese Christians
Michel Chambon
Chapter 10. The “Galilee of China”: Pentecostals without Pentecostalism
Yi Liu

Part 4. New-Wave Charismatics in Chinese Societies

Chapter 11. “Christianity Fever” and Unregistered Churches in China
Selena Y. Z. Su and Allan H. Anderson
Chapter 12. China’s Patriotic Pentecostals
Karrie J. Koesel
Chapter 13. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Mainland China
Rachel Xiaohong Zhu
Chapter 14. City Harvest Church of Singapore: An Ecclesial Paradigm for Pentecostalism in the Postmodern World
Kim-kwong Chan
Chapter 15. The Localization of Charismatic Christianity among the Chinese in Malaysia: A Study of Full Gospel Tabernacle
Weng Kit Cheong and Joy K. C. Tong
Chapter 16. The Femininity of Chinese Christianity: A Study of a Chinese Charismatic Church and Its Female Leadership
Joy K. C. Tong and Fenggang Yang

Conclusion: Challenges, Theories, and Methods in Studying Chinese “Pentecostalism”
Allan H. Anderson

Mantsinen, “Migrations, transformations and tradition”

Mantsinen, Teemu T. 2016. Migrations, transformations and tradition in the Finnish Pentecostal movement: why does all global not become local?  Culture and Religion. Early online publication.

Abstract: In this article, I will outline the dynamics of social transformations and cultural preservation in the Finnish Pentecostal movement, which are caused and affected by different migrations in the history of the movement. With a history of hundred years, immersed by social and societal transformations, missionaries, new converts and new cultures, the Finnish Pentecostal movement has its own traditions, but nevertheless is constantly facing influences from different cultures. My aim in this article is to analyse the logics of transformation and preservation of Pentecostal religion and culture on a congregational level. I will compare two different migrations, the Karelian evacuation and the international immigration, as well as analyse the differences in acculturation between these groups. The analysis will include not only the language and cultural habits, but also the social situations, structures and the styles that matter in the way Pentecostalism transforms, and how migrant groups are acculturated within the church.

Ntarangwi, “The Street Is My Pulpit”

Ntarangwi, Mwenda. 2016. The Street Is My Pulpit: Hip Hop and Christianity in Kenya. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 

Publisher’s Description: To some, Christianity and hip hop seem antithetical. Not so in Kenya. There, the music of Julius Owino, aka Juliani, blends faith and beats into a potent hip hop gospel aimed at a youth culture hungry for answers spiritual, material, and otherwise. Mwenda Ntarangwi explores the Kenyan hip hop scene through the lens of Juliani’s life and career. A born-again Christian, Juliani produces work highlighting the tensions between hip hop’s forceful self-expression and a pious approach to public life, even while contesting the basic presumptions of both. In The Street Is My Pulpit, Ntarangwi forges an uncommon collaboration with his subject that offers insights into Juliani’s art and goals even as Ntarangwi explores his own religious experience and subjective identity as an ethnographer. What emerges is an original contribution to the scholarship on hip hop’s global impact and a passionate study of the music’s role in shaping new ways of being Christian in Africa.

Daswani, “The Globalization of Pentecostalism and the Limits of Globalization”

Daswani, Girish. 2013. The Globalization of Pentecostalism and the Limits of Globalization. In Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek, A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion.  Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley and Sons.

Abstract: Globalization and Pentecostalism are intimately connected in a double sense. On the one hand, it is globalization that makes possible the rise of Pentecostalism and offers it the means to spread. On the other hand, “globalization” summarizes what Pentecostals find wrong with the world and what they hope to transform. I illustrate this interconnection and the dilemmas to which it gives rise by forcing on a particular denominator whose members I followed for years.

The Church of Pentecost (CoP) is a global church with over eighty branches located outside of its headquarters in Ghana. At the time of writing, the home page of its website displayed a list of its eighty-four member countries, scrolling across the screen from right to left like flashing news bulletins or stock prices. The names are indexical of a divine commitment to, and financial investment in, countries such as Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, India, Lebanon, United Kingdom, United States, and Zimbabwe (the list continues). The phrase “Bringing the world to the saving knowledge of Christ” underpins the title of the church, elucidating the imagined reality summoned up by the list. While the information does not change as frequently or rapidly as international news or stock markets, it affirms the missionary presence of the church and the international flows of its leaders and members. The website is an apt artifact of our globalized age, electronically capturing its urgency, continuous movement, and fluctuations. For viewers, the website also helps to thicken social relations by enabling the virtual participation of church members living in different parts of the world. One of the news items from 2011, for example, informed CoP members about the chairman’s public lecture at the Global Christian Forum in Manado, Indonesia. Another, from 2012, shared a blog post from the immediate past-chairman, who writes about the failure of the church in Europe to live up to expectations. While residing in hamburg, Germany, he invited CoP members to pray for the European branches of its church. “now, while the fastest growing churches are in Africa and Asia, Christianity has taken a nose-dive in most parts of Europe. We are the fruit of their missionary sacrifices. Our presence in Europe at this time is divine . . . REVERSE MISSIOLOGY.”

 

 

Bialecki, “The Third Wave and the Third World”

Bialecki, Jon. 2015. The Third Wave and the Third World: C. Peter Wagner, John Wimber, and the Pedagogy of Global Renewal in the Late Twentieth Century. Pneuma 37(2): 177-200.

Abstract: While a great deal of social science literature has examined the explosion of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in the Global South as well as conservative and anti-modern forms of resurgent Christianity in the United States, little work has been done to investigate the causal effects of the former on the latter. Drawing from existing literature, interviews, and archives, this article contributes to filling that gap by arguing that in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical missionary concerns about competition from global Pentecostalism led to an intellectual crisis at the Fuller School of World Missions; this crisis in turn influenced important Third Wave figures such as John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner and is linked to key moments and developments in their thought and pedagogy.

Occasional Paper: Mikeshin, “Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized”

Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized
Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki)

This paper echoes the idea of glocalization of Evangelical Christianity, suggested by Joel Robbins (2004). Robbins marks two simultaneous processes in Pentecostalism and Charismatic (P/C) Christianity as Westernizing homogenization and indigenizing differentiation. I suggest that Russian Evangelicalism’s relation to the Russian culture is glocal in a similar way: “a relationship of both rejection and preservation.” (Robbins 2004: 137) Russian Evangelical congregations, as well as P/C, are also to a great extent autonomous, egalitarian, and focused on evangelism.

Although I place Russian Evangelicalism in the Robbins’ model, there are remarkable differences between those two phenomena, constructing a distinct narrative of glocalization. These differences go beyond denominational features, or even explicit display of the Holy Spirit by P/C, and they rise from the dogmatics. Firstly, the emphasis on the direct interaction with God was spread through the vast activity of P/C missionaries. Initially it took form of planting and growing churches by the Western ministers, which can be also seen in Russia after 1991. However, Russian Evangelical groups, even Pentecostals, originated from the spiritual endeavors of certain Russian intellectuals, most remarkably Ivan Voronaev (Pentecostal) and Ivan Prokhanov (Evangelical Christian). They brought Western teachings to Russia, interpreted and transformed them on the basis of the Russian Bible, and constructed the narrative of response to the Orthodox spiritual monopoly and Russian sociocultural context.

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Merz, “A Religion of Film Experiencing Christianity and Videos Beyond Semiotics in Rural Benin”

Merz, Johannes. 2014. “A Religion of Film Experiencing Christianity and Videos Beyond Semiotics in Rural Benin.” PdD diss,. 

Excerpt: In 2002, Paul Eshleman of the American Jesus Film Project claimed that their flagship known as the Jesus Film was “the most-watched, and the most-translated film in world history” (2002: 69). Seven years later, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra (2009) declared Nigeria the “Christian movie capital of the world” in the influential American evangelical magazine Christianity Today. In more academic circles, New Testament scholar Adele Reinhartz speculated that “it may well be the case that more people worldwide know about Jesus and his life story from the movies than from any other medium” (2007: 1), while Asonzeh Ukah commented for Nigeria: “The medium of video has become one of the preferred channels for the communication of religious truth, hope, ideas and propaganda” (2003: 226).

These different observations indicate a trend in evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity towards an increasing use of films and videos. This raises the question, which I address as the overarching theme of this book, of whether we are witnessing a shift in certain forms of Christianity from a religion of the book towards a religion of film. Such a shift from text to film would have wide-ranging implications not only for Christians but also their wider socio-cultural settings, both on a local and global scale. I address the various factors that contribute to such a shift and discuss its implications for rural Benin. I propose that the best way to approach this theme is to study how contemporary Christians engage with audiovisual media. More specifically, I am interested in how people watch and experience Christian films, what they make of them and how these films become part of their lives and the world they live in. In order to grapple with such ques- tions and fully understand the results of my ethnographic research, I need to move beyond semiotics, which has been one of the foundational premises of Western science.

With Nigeria having become the world leader in the production of Christian video films, West Africa seems an ideal place to study this phenomenon. While obvious places may be cities in southern Nigeria or Ghana, such as Ibadan or Accra, I chose a less likely area for my research on Christian films, namely the rural Commune of Cobly in the northwest of the Republic of Benin. Cobly is often considered one of the remotest parts of the country and those Beninese from outside the region who have heard of it associate it with backwardness and as being steeped in tradition. State employees, such as teachers or policemen, resent being sent to work there and missionaries often consider it a difficult place to work given that its people are largely “unreached” (cf. Mayrargue 2005: 247), a current missionary euphemism for “pagans”. My knowledge of the area, on the other hand, made me realise that the Commune of Cobly would be a fascinating site for researching people’s experience of Christianity and video films. Especially during the last two decades, the younger generation have become increasingly interested in all things they consider modern, whether mobile phones, television sets, videos or Christianity, thereby participating in the trends of the wider region. Older people often stayed more sceptical towards these developments, promising an interesting mix of views and opinions in a society that is facing rapid and significant social and cultural changes.

In this book I discuss three Christian films that are all known in the Commune of Cobly and that have been used in evangelistic events and sometimes circulated on Video CD or DVD: Jesus (1979, produced by John Heyman) has been made in American evangelical circles with the goal of global evangelism; La Solution (The Solution, 1994, David Powers) was produced by American missionaries in Côte d’Ivoire; and Yatin: Lieu de souffrance (Yatin: Place of Suffering, 2002, Christine Madeleine Botokou) is a Beninese video production that has a direct link with the Nigerian Christian film industry.

I am particularly interested in how people watch and experience these films, focusing not only on their contents, but also, and maybe more importantly, on their materiality. I include what people make of television sets as material objects that are usually used to watch videos. Furthermore, it is important to discuss the history and backgrounds of the films and how they became popular in rural parts of Benin. This allows me to link my research with regional and global trends of Christianity and address my overarching question of whether Christianity is shifting its focus from Biblical texts to Christian films…