Christianity boasts one of the largest and most rapidly growing religious followings in Asia. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent Asian economic liberalisation has encouraged both the flourishing of Christian evangelism and the rising prominence of Christianity in the public sphere. This conference seeks to bring Christianity in Asia into sharper focus by exploring local and regional experiences and perceptions of the faith today. In brief, two key questions define the conference agenda: In an increasingly globalised world, what does it mean to be Christian in contemporary Asia? And, what social and political position does Christianity occupy in regional perspective?
Since its founding, Christianity has been ‘global’ in its orientation, engendering diverse forms of responses as its adherents seek converts around the world (cf. Hefner 1993, 1998; Kaplan 1995; Horton 1971). In this conference, the manner in which Christians in contemporary Asia – in communities and as individuals – negotiate their positions within the state will be used as a key to understanding expressions of Christianity in the region. In recent years, Christian communities in countries such as South Korea, the Philippines and Singapore have become important sources for overseas mission work. Meanwhile, critical questions are raised about the relationship between Christianity and the changing state in Asia through incidents such as the significant increase in converts to unofficial churches in China and Vietnam, Christian advocacy in public debates on casinos and AIDS in Singapore, and mission expansion in Nepal. In such negotiations the state may well enact institutional technologies of control and regulation over religious discourse and practice. But despite the challenges of political marginalisation, church organisations throughout much of the region continue to promote activities – such as charity, education and commentary on public morality – that overlap with the state’s authority. The conference seeks to understand how Christians comply with, coopt, resist or circumvent governmental authorities in their respective local contexts.
Developments in information communication technology (ICT) such as the Internet have had an enormous impact on Christianity in the region. In some cases, ICT has facilitated new forms of globalised religious associations that do not easily come under the surveillance and regulation of state authorities. These changes have given rise to new expressions of faith such as the megachurch and new religious networks such as online evangelism. On the other hand, the ‘localisation’ of Christian theologies and rituals draws attention to local agency in the expression of faith. As with the Dayak in Borneo or the samahans of the rural Philippines, indigenous Christianity has often exceeded the orthodoxies prescribed by their mission ‘sources,’ in turn creating highly contextualised forms of religious expression (e.g. Keyes 1996: 290; Goh 2005). This ongoing and complex interplay between the global and the local in Asian Christianities will constitute an important focus of this conference.
While the nation-state aims to produce citizens for the sake of its own long-term survival, Christian morality sees individuals as ‘temples of God’ to be disciplined for ultimate salvation. By bringing together scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, the conference seeks to shed light on how Christian churches and followers negotiate their public roles and identities vis-ŕ-vis the state (cf. Leung 1996; Gifford 1998). How do Asian states react to this ‘Christianising’ trend in the context of nation-building, globalisation and socio-economic development? What are the social and political ramifications of Christian conversions in Asia? In what ways does Christian conversion impact on state policies pertaining to religion and ethnic relations? Conversely, how do state policies affect missionary efforts and people’s experience of conversion? Under what circumstances do Christian values either converge with, or diverge from, the state’s agenda? This broad theme of complicity and conflict is what the conference wishes to address.
We invite paper proposals focusing on the following topics:
Christian groups and civil society
Christian morality, sexuality and public health
State policies on religious and ethnic boundaries
Conversion to Christianity and social change
Christianity, technology and social control
The localisation of Christian doctrine
Interfaith dialogue between Christianity and other religious groups
Paper proposals of maximum 300 words must be submitted by 19 June 2006 to Manjit Kaur.
Accommodation will be provided for the speakers, and partial reimbursement for air-travel may be available.
Keynote speaker: Professor Robert W. Hefner, Boston University.
While the conference wishes to provide up-to-date, comprehensive analyses of the various social and political experiences of Christianity in Asia, it also hopes to contribute to the wider literature on religious globalisation and politics in the modern world. It is anticipated that the conference proceedings will be published as an edited volume.
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