The emergence of numerous indigenous forms of Christianity as a consequence of its globalization is a well-known and widely studied phenomenon in missiology. A debate concerning criteria for discerning authentic inculturation/ contextualization and illegitimate syncretism has accompanied these studies right from the start and has remained a fundamental concern among missiologists. This debate is not surprising, for the discussion of contextualization and syncretism occurs exactly where faith and culture interact. Despite the continuing discussion, however, no common theoretical approach to syncretism exists, and no criteria for authentic inculturation or contextualization have yet been agreed upon. (1)
This article presents the results of two field studies of the interaction between faith and culture in the lives of believers in Jesus Christ from a Muslim background in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and from a Hindu background in Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Nadu, India. (2) The results suggest that we should not be hasty in judging indigenous forms of Christianity as either authentic contextualization or illegitimate syncretism but, rather, should examine carefully the interreligious hermeneutics at work. Such a use of interreligious hermeneutics could provide the theoretical basis necessary for theological and missiological discussion of the relation between Christianity and other religious traditions. I conclude by discussing how empirical studies might inform missiological perspectives on Christian identity and its relation to other religious traditions in our globalized world.
Jesus Imandars in Dhaka, Bangladesh
As an independent nation since 1971, Bangladesh in its cultural and social life continues to be deeply influenced by Islam, which is the religion of more than 85 percent of its population. While there are 12 percent Hindus and 0.6 percent Buddhists, Christians number only 0.3 percent of the approximately 150 million Bangladeshis. (3) Although the majority of Christians are converts from Hinduism, Islamic culture is the background for Christianity in Bangladesh.
During my fieldwork in Dhaka, I established acquaintance with a number of Bangladeshi men and some women from Muslim background who attended small groups of Isa imandars, or "those faithful to Jesus." The groups, which the imandars termed jama'at (fellowship), met in private homes and functioned as gatherings for worship, prayer, sermons, and social interaction. In this condensed report, I focus on their liturgy, religious ideal and identity, and theological reflection. Taken together, these three areas provide a rough outline of what it means to be an imandar (literally, "faithful [one]").
Jama'at liturgy. A typical meeting in Mehrab's jama'at took place in his office, which was connected to his apartment. On Fridays a small signboard announcing "Jama'at" was placed on the front door; all furniture was removed, and mats covered the office floor. The meeting started in the late afternoon as the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the houses across the small street. As members of the jama'at arrived, each was handed a copy of the Kitab ul Mughaldesh (the Bible in Musalmani Bengali translation) and a homemade collection of Isae-songs. After five or six imandars had gathered, Mehrab welcomed everyone and announced a song, either a translation of a classic Western hymn or a local composition drawing heavily upon the Bangladeshi style of music known as baul gan (folk song). In principle women were welcome but in reality their attendance was limited to the women living in the household where the meeting took place. This means that the jama'at groups in practice tended to follow the somewhat patriarchic religious culture in Bangladesh. Reading, especially recitation of long passages in the Kitab ul Mughaldesh, was part of every meeting. The Zabur (the Book of Psalms) and the apostolic letters were often recited. In veneration of the Holy Book it was placed on a wooden bookstand in front of every imandar. Mehrab, who called himself imam (leader of the prayer), would occasionally read aloud a text himself, but he usually restricted himself to preaching the sermon, commenting on and developing the texts. There were always common prayers after the sermon. In contrast to the highly ritualized mosque prayers, the imandars did not follow any particular ritual, but everyone was free to pray. From time to time the imandars celebrated Communion. The ritual was simple and devoid of pomp and circumstance: Mehrab simply read the well-known verses from I Corinthians and distributed bread and fruit juice.
As a whole, the liturgy thus seems to consciously adopt a Bangladeshi and Islamic style of worship in several aspects. On the material level, the straw mats covering the floor and the wooden bookstands are expressions of Islamic style, found in every mosque or Qur'an school. With folk songs, recitations, and expositions of God's deeds by the leader, the style of the meeting itself clearly draws on the popular South Asian milad style of religious meetings, which are commemorative religious gatherings held to celebrate birth, marriage, or funerals. Recitation of sacred texts is widely used in Islamic religious culture to evoke the sacred reality of divine revelation. In identification with this practice, the imandars recite the Bible. In contrast to Islamic practice, however, they recite the text in the vernacular. In so doing, they seem to be shifting emphasis from the Islamic ideal of correct recitation to the Christian ideal of correct understanding. Interestingly, the haul gan is not simply music but also a religious sect known for its unconventional behavior, poetic freedom, and spiritual spontaneity. Baul is not limited to one religion but has attracted followers among Hindus as well as Sufis. Adopting and identifying with this style of music, the imandars transcend the borders of structured religious life and point to the key role of personal relation and inner commitment. Another interesting feature is the role of prayers; the value of ritualized namaz prayer (4) in Arabic is played down, in contrast to individual and personal prayers in Bengali. When it comes to Communion, rituals are stripped down to a minimum. The jama'ats are thus not simply Islamized Christian churches but are consciously more intimate and "spiritual," in contrast to institutional and "religious" mosques and churches.
Religious ideal and identity. The word iman (faith) is not just etymologically related to "imandars" but plays a fundamental role in the imandars' self-understanding as "faithful." According to the emic, that is, the imandars' perspective, faith is not abstract knowledge or belief but must be existential and relational, expressed first and foremost as faithfulness. According to the imandars, iman involves a personal totality, "heart, mind, and strength," and becoming a Jesus imandar means to fix one's iman on Jesus, that is, to enter a relation with Jesus, who as a spiritual master willmediate the divine and transform the believer through his very presence.
Besides prayer and reading, the imandars enact their faithfulness ritually in baptism, which is spoken of as turiqa (binding) of oneself to Jesus. This binding is said to be a public witness to a loyalty and faithfulness that transcends all other boundaries, religious and social, because it first and foremost is an individual, personal commitment. Given this background, it seems strange and almost paradoxical that the majority of imandars continue to practice and argue for public baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. However, the concepts of iman and the notion of baptism as turiqa might be reconciled: turiqa stems from the Sufi tradition, where it refers to the mystical path in faith. As a concept utilized in connection with baptism, turiqa seems to emphasize a personal and emotional bond between the subject and Jesus, a radical interiority expressed ritually. The imandars' reinterpretation of Christian baptism enlarges the meaning of baptism, for it becomes a ritual enactment and public confession of an inner transformation.
A fundamental question is to what degree this commitment to Jesus is compatible with the life of the wider Muslim community, and the question frequently arose whether the imandar was still a Muslim. The imandars themselves were divided on this question. Although most agreed that a newly baptized imandar could continue participating in the local mosque, roughly half the informants no longer identified themselves as Muslims, while the other half accepted Mehrab's line of argumentation that identifying oneself as Muslim is significant, even if it takes some historical and textual exegesis: specifically, a Muslim aims to submit to the will of God, and so does the imandar. According to the apostle Paul, inner transformation is needed for a believer to do the will of God (Rom. 12:2). When the imandar becomes faithful to Jesus, inner transformation is initiated, and the result is a regenerated Muslim who does the will of God from the heart by following Jesus' example, and who transcends divisions between institutional Christian churches and Islamic mosques. According to some of the imandars, this understanding allows for participation in any mosque (or church) because mosque prayers are simply outward and hold only relative value.
In the mosque liturgy, a crucial point in which social and ritual identity come together is the collective confession, tawhid, that is, the utterance of the Islamic creed, which implies a ritual recognition of Muhammad as prophet of God. According to some imandars, they simply stop after the first half of the creed, which affirms the sovereign status of God. Instead of adding "Muhammad is the Prophet of God," they silently add "Jesus is the Spirit of God." The theological heterodoxy of this statement is clear, and those imandars who argue for such a step also acknowledge that the majority of Muslims do not agree with this substitution. With this understanding, participation in namaz prayer in mosques might be tolerated by majority Muslims but could hardly be said to be welcomed.
Theological reflection among imandars. Even if the imandars insist on their Islamic identity, there are marked differences with the Bangladeshi Muslim community at large. We see this clearly in their Christological reflection, which is suspended between the notion of Jesus' prophethood and his sacrificial death.
The notion of Jesus' prophethood emphasizes his embodiment of spiritual and ethical qualities such as nonviolence, compassion, and vicarious suffering--that is, his nispap (sinlessness). Like a popular wandering, saintly Sufi pir (Muslim saint), Jesus is therefore "spiritually powerful" and able to act as intercessor for the imandar. From their New Testament readings, they furthermore affirm Jesus as "messenger of truth," just like Muhammad. A basic concern among the imandars is that Jesus is "alive'--a fundamental fact that both Islamic and Christian tradition agrees upon, according to the imandars. The spiritually powerful and continuous life of Jesus both depends on and demonstrates the unique relation between Jesus and God. Therefore Jesus is not just a prophet but the prophet par excellence, it is argued. Even if the conceptualization of Jesus' prophethood emphasizes similarity with Muhammad's as "messenger of truth," Jesus is viewed as hierarchically superior to Muhammad on the basis of his spiritual power and continuous life.
Interestingly, the unique relation between Jesus and God is revealed in the imandars' understanding of Jesus' death as simultaneously gift and sacrifice. The imandars use the Urdu theological term qurbani to describe Jesus' death. (5) The term corresponds somewhat to the English "sacrifice," but it also means "offering." To view Jesus' death as a sacrifice mainly highlights mediation or reconciliation, an idea well known from Christian theological tradition. But if Jesus' death is also considered an offering, it becomes a gift. According to their own logic and values, this divine gift to the imandar makes a return obligatory; without a return, the value of the gift diminishes. The imandar is not able to offer himself completely, but he must act as if he was sacrificing himself. In this way, the imandar accepts the mediation between God and himself through the death of Jesus, and he also returns the divine gift. The return of the gift is conditioned by love, that is, by the intimate personal relation between the imandar and Jesus.
Summing up, it is clear that the conceptualization of Jesus' significance to a large degree has counterparts in popular Bangladeshi Islam: the notion of prophethood, intercession, spiritual power, moral innocence, and mediation by a pir of the divine. For the imandars, to become "faithful" refers to an Islamic theological virtue, and to become a Jesus imandar is a Bengali style of religiosity--but it has a Christian subject matter, which becomes clear in the presentation of the imandars' Christology. The meaning of the imandars' Christology transcends the qur'anic universe, and the notion of Jesus' being superior to Muhammad distances the imandars from Islamic theology. Ultimately, their interpretation of Jesus' death as gift and sacrifice most clearly distances the imandars from the majority of Muslims and definitely transcends qur'anic Christology. From my point of view, this ultimately places the imandars outside the Islamic theological universe and within the broader Christian tradition.
Christ Bhaktas in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
According to the popular history of Christianity in South India, Mylapore (now located in modern Chennai) is the place where the apostle Thomas was martyred and buried in the first century. His witness was not in vain, and Christianity has long been present in the region. Whereas the majority of India is Hindu (80.5 percent) and Muslims make up a large minority (13.4 percent), more than 24 million, or 2.3 percent of India's population, belong to one of the various Christian denominations. (6) Interestingly, Christianity is to a high degree an urban phenomenon in Tamil Nadu, and among the megacities of the Indian subcontinent Chennai holds a solid lead when it comes to the number of mainline as well as charismatic churches, revival rallies, and public prayer halls. Furthermore, the majority of Christians in India are of humble origin, in terms of both caste and economic status.
In contrast to the typical urban, poor, and low-caste Christians, the group of Khrist bhaktas (devotees of Christ) that I had the chance to follow during my fieldwork were all from a higher-caste Hindu background. A large part of the material I gathered deals with the fact that the bhaktas consider themselves to be doubly estranged, both in relation to their Hindu birth communities and in relation to Christian communities. Caste questions and Hindu cultural background deeply influence the form of faith the bhaktas express. I focus here on how bhakti (devotion) is understood and utilized as communal ritual, personal ideal, and theological method.
Bhakti liturgy. The group of Christ bhaktas met irregularly in a private home, but the meeting included a number of basic elements. In contrast to the jama'at meetings, women were welcome not only in principle but also in practice, and several women attended the bhaktas' meetings. After having met one of the participants a number of times, I was invited to participate in the group's devotional meeting. Sarasvat, the leader of the group, was an elderly gentleman who dressed in saffron robes. He prepared the room for the evening's meeting by removing all the furniture and by drawing a large kolam (a traditional Hindu geometric pattern) on the floor with white rice flour. He also placed a traditional brass lamp on the floor and arranged a small pot with incense sticks, betel leaves, coconuts, bananas, milk, flower garlands, and a small book stand with a Bible on top. After lighting the lamp, the living room was completely transformed into a room for paja (worship).
After several participants had arrived, Sarasvat announced the first bhajan (devotional song), which could be a simple chorus repeating "sharanam, sharanam Deva" (surrender, surrender to God). Other bhajans praised with equally simple poetry Jesus as muktiswa (giver of salvation) and satyaguru (true teacher), or they simply mentioned names and descriptions of Jesus--as Sweet, Love, Healing, Comfort, Auspicious, Holy, Beauty, and so forth. After an ample time of singing meditative and melodious bhajans, Sarasvat would normally give a sermon, often in the form of a darshan (literally, "sight," here "beholding" of a deity). He would, for instance, ask the bhaktas to imagine walking to a temple in early morning, sitting down at Jesus' feet, adoring his loving and beautiful face, touching his hands, asking him to see the reflection of his face in their hearts. This "experience of Jesus' love" was often pointed to as the goal of all bhakti. Coconuts, milk, and bananas were used by the bhaktas to celebrate Communion. Sarasvat would distribute bananas and milk or break the coconut, collect the coconut milk, and show the white interior to the bhaktas, announcing that "Christ was broken for you." The banana or coconut and milk would then be distributed among the bhaktas so that they could receive Jesus' mahaprasad (literally, "large gift," here meaning spiritual nourishment in physical form).
Although rather exotic at first glance, with its extensive use of Hindu elements and symbols, the bhaktas' liturgy is also very familiar in its focus on Jesus as Christ. The kolam drawn on the floor is a cosmological map popularly known as a demon trap because the intricate design confuses the feverishly active but stupid demons. In connection with the religious ritual, it serves to sanctify the space by keeping away demons. The singing of bhajans draws on a Hindu devotional form of ancient origin. Bhajans are simple but often soulful songs expressing in emotional language the relation between the devotee and the divine. They typify the bhaktas' approach to the divine, for bhakti, as an all-Indian form of religiosity, emphasizes devotion in contrast to jnana (philosophical knowledge) or karma (meritorious deeds). Also, the use of coconuts and bananas in Hindu religious practice is well known, for the breaking of one's hard shell and the offering of one's innermost sweet is ritually enacted in every temple visit by breaking coconuts and offering bananas. Coconuts and bananas are offered to the god, and the temple priest offers them back again to the devotee, now as a prasad (divine gift) to be enjoyed for spiritual renewal. By receiving the divine prasad in Communion and consuming the sacrificial death of Christ, the bhakta is transformed and purified.
Bhaktias personal devotion. In order to obtain a fuller understanding of bhakti among the bhaktas, it is helpful to look into how bhakti is viewed in terms of personal devotion and interior reality. As a personal form of piety, bhakti is primarily pictured in relational terms: genuine surrender must be "clearly felt" and must be "inward," it is often said. The bodily metaphors found in bhajans convey an ideal of intimacy: one should feel the "touch" of Jesus Christ, "see" him, "sit" in his presence, preparing one's body, mind, and character for him, "touching his feet" in respect and adoration. The underlying logic of the darshan reveals the same tendency, for it teaches that one develops a genuine spirituality not "outwardly," through religious rituals, but only "inwardly," through experience and intimacy with the divine.
In a discussion Vinod, one of the bhaktas, argued for a distinction between selfish and unselfish spirituality. Whereas selfish spirituality is characterized only by a quest for individual experience of God and individual liberation, unselfish spirituality includes knowledge (jnana) and action (karma) in the wider community. The institutional forms of religion tend to cater to selfish spiritualities, he argued, while the bhaktas opt for a warm and unselfish spirituality outside of structured religious life. This is completely in line with the all-Indian concept of bhakti, which distinguishes between a lower, impure type of bhakti and a higher, purer type, characterized by absolute affection for the perfect, untarnished by selfish motives. Even if it is clearly the bhaktas' own ideal, it might be questioned whether bhaktas in fact display a higher and purer type of bhakti than occurs in the institutional Christian churches. We cannot overlook the fact, however, that the choice of bhakti as an authentic Indian religious style in itself is a critique of the institutional Christian churches and their Western theology.
The bhaktas are also critical of Hindu culture and especially of Hindu ritual life. The daily ritual practice of Hindus depends on caste and birth community, but all bhaktas report problems because of lack of observance of daily family rituals. Critique of idolatry is harsh, and the Hindus' naive understanding of the nature of divinity is criticized; nevertheless, several of the bhaktas report that they feel free to participate in certain family rituals because the others "don't understand" the Sanskrit slokas (two-line verses from the Bhagavad Gita) and because the ritual is "meaningless." The non-sense, or emptiness, of the traditional Hindu rituals thus sanctions the bhaktas' participation. The bhaktas' relation to Hindu ritual and Hindu social identity might therefore be characterized as highly syncretistic and, at the same time, subject to the bhaktas interior relationship with Jesus Christ.
Theology of the bhaktas. Bhakti is instrumental not only in ritual and personal identity but also as theological method. Bhakti answers the question, How can one understand what is beyond understanding? Sarasvat argued that bhakti leads to sharanam (total and unconditional surrender), which in turn makes possible an intimate relation with God; this relation is fundamental for salvific knowledge because, apart from a relation, one cannot know anything about God. Thus the bhaktas grasp through devotion what is beyond intellectual understanding; that is, through bhakti they approach and "get to know the love of Jesus." Bhakti is an inward experience with God, while theology is an outward expression of this experience.
Although the bhaktas criticize Hindu religious life, they are more positive toward Hindu philosophical terminology and theology. God is described as Supreme Being and Eternal Being and identified with Brahman, the unchanging, supreme existence, immanent and transcendent in Vedantic theology. However, the Brahman terminology is--purposefully and tellingly--stretched beyond its limits when the bhaktas in their bhajans sing of "our saving friend" Jesus Christ as "incarnated Brahman" and "incarnated divine wisdom, knowledge and compassion."
As noted above, the bhaktas' Christological understanding centers on Jesus as giver of salvation (muktiswa) and true teacher (satyaguru). As muktiswa, Jesus is said to be the jaya-deva (mangod) who can destroy sin's poison, vanquish temptations, and heal all infirmities. This vanquishing and destruction take place through his "lifting up of himself," that is, in Jesus' death on the cross. This statement is not as trivial as it might first seem: Jesus becomes victorious through his incarnated weakness, and ultimately through his self-sacrifice. The eternal and impersonal Brahman sacrifices itself through incarnate weakness and in the suffering of the person Jesus Christ, with whom the bhakta can enter into a loving relation. This understanding seems to underlie the bhaktas' dynamic interpretation of Communion.
A related aspect of the bhaktas' Christology is their notion of Jesus as satyaguru (literally, "guru of truth"). In Hindu tradition, a guru is needed both to to strip the cover from false knowledge and to mediate divine insight. The title "satyaguru" denotes both the location of true knowledge and the imparter of this knowledge. The guru is therefore said to embody spiritual wisdom to a degree that opens up devotion to the guru. The bhaktas' understanding of Jesus as guru thus refers to his personification of wisdom and life, which makes appropriate a devotional response, because Jesus discloses the falsehood of sin and gives eternal life to the devotee. According to the bhaktas, salvation is from ignorance, sin, and death and to a blissful union with the divine through Jesus, the personified love, life, truth, and knowledge.
Summing up, the term "bhakti" refers to a complex and manifold phenomenon in the history of Indian religions. Over the centuries bhakti has been elaborated by various theologians and spiritual masters, but all agree that bhakti is open to everyone, offers spiritual perfection, and leads to divine blessing. Bhakti thus always carries an association of enthusiasm, fervor, and love. While drawing on this well-known style of Hindu religious life, the Christ bhaktas clearly center their devotion on Jesus Christ, the incarnated divine transcendence. For the bhaktas, bhakti becomes the solution to both the social and the theological limbo they find themselves in.
Through bhakti religious style, the Christ bhaktas emphasize aspects of Christian tradition that have largely been neglected by modem, liberal Western Christianity, such as faith as devotional love, and spiritual contemplation as imbibing the beauty of Christ. In this way, the style adopted by the bhaktas might be said to translate Hindu religiosity into the Christian theological universe and thereby enlarge Christian understanding. Again, Christology seems to be the area in which the bhaktas disagree with orthodox Hindu schools: the Christ whom bhaktas make their focus of devotion is said to be the personal and immanent form of the transcendent and absolute God. Unlike monistic Hindu theology, which teaches that transmigration of one's soul occurs through fulfillment of dharma (law; literally, "that which upholds"), Christ bhaktas teach that liberation depends solely upon their relationship to Jesus and his personal qualities. Pure and sublime bhakti is not only a means to obtain salvation but is in itself realization of transformation through intimate relation with Jesus. Whereas orthodox Hindu schools have no place for distinguishable personality in relation to the ultimate and absolute Brahman, Christ bhaktas realize transformation in relation to a distinguishable personality outside themselves--Jesus Christ.
At this point I return to the initial missiological question of contextualization and syncretism: Do these two case studies illustrate authentic contextualization, or are they examples of illegitimate syncretism?
To sum up, faith in Jesus is experienced and expressed in concepts that we can easily identify as Islamic and Bengali, and as Hindu and Tamil. The new contextual meaning clearly emerges as a translation of elements from Islamic and Hindu culture into a Christian theological universe. On a fundamental level, the translation might be characterized as interreligious because it takes place in the meeting between religious traditions and theological universes. The translation is not restricted to material or linguistic levels but affects liturgy, personal religious ideals, and theological understanding. It is thus accompanied by a significant recombination and reinterpretation of various elements in the interaction between Islam or Hinduism and Christianity, as epitomized in the imandars' and bhaktas' Christology.
Furthermore, we could term the process "interreligious hermeneutics" because it involves determination of sameness and difference between one's own faith and experience and that of another religious universe. We can distinguish a number of hermeneutical strategies, showing how determination of sameness and difference takes place on a number of levels. It is noteworthy that, in the strategies exercised by the imandars and bhaktas, the meaning of other religious traditions is neither wholly positive nor wholly negative. Both the imandars and the bhaktas use several interpretative strategies, each in relation to certain ideas or elements of the other religious traditions. They are at the same time exclusivists, inclusivists, and pluralists, but they are so on different levels and in relation to various elements. A typology of this process would make it clear that the result of the translation is not simply "syncretistic" or "authentic."
The translation process is deafly syncretistic in the sense that it mixes and blends concepts and meanings. We should view the outcome of the syncretistic process as perfectly authentic, however, in the sense that the centrality and exclusivity of Jesus Christ is affirmed in both cases.
From Interreligious Hermeneutics to Missiology
How do empirical studies like these inform our missiological reflection? I see fruitful results in three areas.
First, they show the significance of contextual studies. Formerly, under the influence of dialectical theology, Protestant missiology separated Christian mission from human religious experience as expressed in other religious traditions. (7) In recent decades, however, this tendency has been criticized as demeaning, not only of other religious traditions but potentially also of other racial and social groups. The movement for contextualization in missiology, which insists that the meaning of God's sending of himself for any context is known only in particular contexts, not only differs methodologically from earlier approaches but also is driven by a different theology of mission. These two field studies point toward the validity of a contextual type of mission theology that remains open to the experiences and interpretations of people who are called by God in his universal calling, inside or outside of institutional churches.
Second, such studies point to the positive role of Christian mission. The theology of mission has often had to face the accusation that mission subverts the integrity of other cultures and faiths, that mission involves "spiritual colonization of the mind" and "production of a modem self" more than "salvation the soul." (8) In response to such a critique, I find it interesting to consider the imandars' and bhaktas' discovery (or recovery?) of interiority. Both groups clearly argue for a new importance of the self, a new sense of interiority--but what are the roots of this interiority? If the imandars and bhaktas displayed a new understanding of themselves dependent upon modem notions of interiority, one might argue that their cultural and spiritual integrity had been subverted or colonized. But how can such an explanation be maintained if the imandars' and bhaktas' deepened sense of subjectivity is based on their experience of conversion, forgiveness of sin, and divine renewal?
Finally, these studies reveal the value of Christian conversion for interreligious interaction. Recent critique of mission has argued that in a context of religious pluralism, insistence on one religious truth hinders genuine interaction and dialogue. (9) Again, I find the imandars' and bhaktas' religious practice informative: rather than hindering such dialogue, it seems that their commitment to Jesus Christ actually facilitates it. It is on the basis of their commitment to and experience of Jesus as Christ that they engage in interpretation of their former religious tradition. Rather than being a hindrance, their commitment provides them a lens through which they are able to offer a theological perspective on other religious traditions.
Missiology and Theology of Religions
In an age of globalized Christianity in a religiously plural world, understanding the meaning of other religious traditions can no longer be separated from understanding the meaning of the Christian church. That is, a missiological theology of mission and a systematic theology of religions must be intimately related to each other: the former focuses on the meaning of God's sending of himself and of the Christian church, and the latter focuses on the meaning of the various religious traditions. Empirical investigation of actualinterreligious hermeneutics can help keep these two aspects of Christian theology in creative tension, which enables missiologists to advance the understanding of what constitutes genuine contextualization in the continuous historical unfolding of Christianity in a multitude of contexts.
(1.) The field studies reported in this article are presented and discussed more thoroughly in Jonas Adelin Jorgensen, Jesus Imandars and Christ Bhaktas: Two Case Studies of Interreligious Hermeneutics and Identity in Global Christianity (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2008).
(2.) The material for this article consists of data gathered by participant observation and personal interviews. I was able to observe a number of religious groups and to interview 35 men and 8 women from a Muslim background, and 18 men and 5 women from a Hindu background. The fieldwork was carried out in October-December 2002 and January-October 2004. The first part of the fieldwork was made possible financially by the Areopagos Foundation, and the second part by grants from the Danish National Council for Humanities, the Julie yon Miillens Stiftelse, and the Sigurd Andersen og Hustrus Stiftelse.
(3.) The percentages are those given by Jose Kuttianimattathil and John C. England, "Contextual Theological Reflection in Bangladesh," in Asian Christian Theologies, vol. 1, ed. John C. England et al. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2002), p. 170; the population count is the figure given for Bangladesh in 2005 by the U.N. Web site.
(4.) Namaz (Urdu) or salat (Arabic) is one of the pillars of Islam.
(5.) Cf. Arabic qurba and Hebrew korban (see Mark 7:11).
(6.) The percentage of Christians in Tamil Nadu State is significantly higher: 6.1 percent, or nearly 3.8 million out of a total population of 62 million, according to the official Indian 2001 census. For details, see www.censusindia.gov.in / Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/ religion.aspx.
(7.) E.g., Hendrik Kraemer, Religion and the Christian Faith (London: Lutterworth Press, 1956), pp. 392-406.
(8.) E.g., Peter van der Veer in the introduction to a volume he edited, Conversions to Modernity (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 1-22.
(9.) E.g., John Hick in his Problems of Religious Pluralism (London: Macmillan, 1985), pp. 28-45.
Jonas Adelin Jorgensen, Assistant Research Professor in Systematic Theology at the Theological Faculty, University of Copenhagen, teaches global Christianity, mission theology, and theology of religions. He is the author of Jesus Imandars and Christ Bhaktas: Two Case Studies of Interreligious Hermeneutics and Identity in Global Christianity (Peter Lang, 2008).--email@example.com…