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Christian Renewal Movements in the Global South

Conference Report

In the spirit of Pentecost the following news report about an international conference is written in English. The author hopes her choice of language will make the report accessible to many despite differing mother tongues.


At a time when the rapid growth of Christian renewal movements in the Global South is proving simplifying theories of secularization wrong and in the Global North populist right wing movements are rallying to defend the “Christian West” considered to be under attack, a conference set out to bring scholars back to where it all started.

From May 28th to 29th, 2017, more than 20 scholars from all around the world gathered at Jerusalem for an interdisciplinary conference on “Christian Renewal Movements in the Global South in the 20th and 21st Centuries: Religious, Social and Political Transformation.” It was, in a sense, a pioneering event. One of the first conferences on contemporary Christianities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—an institution traditionally dedicated mostly, though not exclusively to the study of Christianities gone by.


The deliberately broad focus of the conference brought together a wide range of scholars both well-established as well as young researchers. Their diversity in terms of research interests, methods as well as geographical foci was in itself revealing: Christian renewal movements are a global religious phenomenon and as such occupy scholars across disciplinary and regional boundaries among them Esther Berg, research assistant at the Institute for Global Church and Mission (IGM), and Gregor Buß, former research fellow at IGM and now a fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


The following short report may serve to provide the interested reader with insight into both the current state of Christian renewal movements in the Global South as well as the respective current state of research. The report will be – as the conference has been – divided into six sections.


The first group of talks presented on Sunday morning was dedicated to the theme of “Building Communities of Faith.” The session opened with a presentation by Marcin Rzepka (Institute of History, The Pontifical University of John Paul II, Krakow, Poland) on Pentecostals in Iran drawing attention to processes of indigenization as well as the transformation of church space through new media technologies. He was followed by Juan Fonseca (Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas, Lima, Peru) who spoke about LGBTI Christian communities in Lima, Peru, and the potential these diverse, ecumenical communities hold to act as laboratories for (re-)making church from the margins. The morning session was concluded by Devaka Premawardhana (Colorado College, Colorado Springs, USA) presenting a counter-narrative to the irresistible “explosion” of Pentecostalism in the Global South based on his anthropological research among the Makhuwa-speaking people in northern Mozambique whose flexible, mobile identities enable them to not only enter but also leave churches comfortably.


The second group of papers presented on Sunday morning expanded on “Models, Conceptions and Theory.” The first paper was given by Naomi Richman (University of Oxford, U. K.) on the uneasy relationship between anthropology and theology and the “problem of belief” in anthropological and social-scientific research on Pentecostal/charismatic Christianities. She was followed by Esther Berg (Institute for Global Church and Mission, Frankfurt, Germany) who spoke about new forms of socio-political engagement within neocharismatic networks and their strategies to transform nations “for Christ” from a religious studies perspective. The session was concluded by Yonatan N. Gez (The Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) introducing the metaphor of “butinage” (literally “pollen gathering”) to study religious mobility from a lived religion-perspective based on his research in Brazil, Switzerland, Kenya and Ghana.


The third session and group of presentations on Sunday afternoon explored the topic of “Race and Ethnicity Inside and Outside the Church.” It was opened by Yael Mabat (History Department, Tel Aviv University, Israel) drawing attention to the peculiar dynamics of conversion to Christianity among Indians in the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Puno, Peru, in the early 20th century where conversion enabled new believers to simultaneously adjust to a changing world while at the same time holding on to their traditional Indian identities. She was followed by Manuel Muranga (Department of Languages and Literatur, Uganda Christian University, Mukono) who explored how the emergence of the Christian renewal movement in East Africa has impacted local naming traditions. The session ended with a presentation by Andrea Althoff (German Society of European Academies, Bonn, Germany) who spoke about the role of ethnicity and ethnic identities in different renewal and revitalization movements, both Christian and indigenous, in contemporary Guatemala reflecting on the different agendas these movements pursue and their impact on post-war Guatemalan society from a sociological perspective.


The fourth group of papers presented on Monday morning discussed “Representations and Narratives of Christianity in Today’s World.” The session opened with a presentation by Maximilian Overbeck (Department of International Relations and European Integration, University of Stuttgart, Germany) on media representations of religion in armed conflict focusing on the ways in which Islam and Christianity respectively have been discussed in relation to violence in newspaper articles from major European countries and the US between 1990 and 2012. He was followed by Andreas Heuser (Faculty of Theology, University of Basel, Switzerland) speaking about media-mediated interreligious conflict and de-escalation scenarios based on a Ghanaian case example of a precarious Pentecostal-Muslim interchange. The session was concluded by Prakash Kona (Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India) reflecting on the making of a subaltern Jesus in the life and work of John XXIII and how the notion of human rights foregrounded in Christian humanism across the Global South has shaped movements resisting the corporatization of the modern state.


The fifth session of the conference grouped together presentations dedicated to the topic of “Global Flows, Dialogue and Internationalization of Christianity.” The session was opened by Ben Cowan (Department of History and Art History, George Mason University, Washington DC) with a presentation on Christian neo-conservatism and the rise of today’s transnational Christian Right focusing on arch-conservative Catholic and Evangelical activism during and in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. He was followed by Aleksandra Djuric Milovanovic (Institute for Balkan Studies, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade) who spoke about the history of Nazarene emigration to Eastern Europe and later America reflecting on the way in which the process of migration has transformed a once East European-based conservative neo-Protestant community into a transnational Christian renewal movement. The session was concluded by Mauricio Lapchik Minski (Department of Comparative Religion, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) reflecting on the history of the Rastafarian movement and discussing the theological notions of Ethiopianism, Repatriation and Idealization of Africa.


And papers of the sixth and last session finally on Monday afternoon took a closer look at “Politics, Economics and Society Through the Prism of the Church.” The session was opened by Donatus Ukpong (Department of Religious and Cultural Studies, University of Uyo, Nigeria ) discussing Pentecostal and charismatic approaches to economic development and their impact on the production and distribution of wealth in Nigeria. He was followed by Julia Kuhlin (World Christianity and Interreligious Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden) with a presentation on the prosperity teachings in two Indian charismatic churches in the city of Gururgam and the way in which these teachings are lived out and embodied differently by different women in these churches. The session was concluded by Jason García Portilla (Swiss-Latin American Centre at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland) who presented initial findings from his mixed methods-research investigating the impact of religious discourses and practices on development indicators in Switzerland, Cuba, Colombia and Uruguay.


The last day of the conference closed with concluding remarks from Gegor Buß (The Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem).


The conference was jointly organized by Yael Mabat (History Department, Tel Aviv University), Yonatan N. Gez (The Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Tamara Kerzhner (Department of Geography, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and generously sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Martin-Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities and the Glocal Community Development Studies all at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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    Esther Berg

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