Asking the Big Questions: A Statistical Analysis of Three Missiological Journals

By Liston, Gregory J. | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Asking the Big Questions: A Statistical Analysis of Three Missiological Journals


Liston, Gregory J., International Bulletin of Missionary Research


OPinions and discussions about how we should be researching missiology are extremely common: voices from the South need to be given more prominence; (1) the Bible should be the primary basis for missiological reflection; (2) a missiological encounter with Western culture is essential. (3) The question that naturally arises from such discussion is how we actually are researching missiology. The objective of this article is to answer this question through examination of several leading missiological journals. The aim is to obtain a broad understanding of the what, where, why, who, which, and how of recent missiological research.

The methodology utilized was to select three prominent academic missiological journals and to analyze their major articles for the period 2003-7, broadly categorizing these articles in terms of subject matter (what), regional focus (where), authorial demographics (who), theological perspective (which), and methodological approach (how). (4)

The three journals selected were Missiology, the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR), and Missionalia. The first two journals have an international focus. Missiology's subtitle is "An International Review," and it describes itself as multidisciplinary, interconfessional, and practical. (5) The IBMR is described as "the very best in missionary research and sound biblical reflection on the Christian world mission." (6) These two publications are among the leading international journals in current missiology. Missionalia originates in and focuses on Southern Africa. (7) It was chosen as a point of contrast to the two U.S.-based international journals, for it provides a perspective on academic missiology in the global South. Given that we stand at "the threshold of a new age of Christianity, one in which its main base will be in the Southern continents, and where its dominant expression will be filtered through the culture of those continents," (8) this contrasting perspective is of particular interest.

Subject Matter Focus--the "What" Question

What subjects are currently interesting missiological scholars?

Where are they placing their research efforts? Samuel Escobar's analysis of contemporary missiological subject matter in "The Iguassu Dialogue" provides an excellent starting point. (9) From his initial framework, two categories were grouped together because of subject matter overlap and eight others were added, giving us the final set of eighteen categories. (10) (See table 1.)

Of course, many articles (43 percent) focused on more than one subject. (11) In these cases, primary and secondary subject matters were recorded. This dual categorization enables us to do an additional "weighted" analysis that takes into account articles that deal with more than one subject. (12) (See figure 1.)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Compared with the margin of error ([+ or -] 2.3 percent), the differences between the primary and weighted subject matter analyses are negligible. Secondary subject matter essentially mirrors the primary in terms of prevalence, confirming that within these limits we have an accurate understanding of subject matter prevalence for the analyzed sample.

We can divide the subject areas into four groups. First, commonly encountered subjects across the three journals. These include contextualization, missions' organization, and old religions. Second, subjects that are somewhat common across the three journals. Poverty and inequality, the new balance of Christian presence, Pentecostalism, and the theology of mission get reasonable cover age. Third, somewhat common subjects, but occurring variably. Most of the variance across journals can be explained by the editorial focus. For example, articles about biblical patterns for mission and theological education were virtually absent from the IBMR. And Missionalia had no "global church" articles (perhaps because migration to Southern Africa is not that common), but Southern Africa's history of anti-apartheid advocacy led to politics and mission (particularly prophecy) being a common topic.

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