A History of the Churches in Australasia

A History of the Churches in Australasia

A History of the Churches in Australasia

A History of the Churches in Australasia

Synopsis

This pioneering study of Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Christianity opens up new perspectives on Christianization and modernization in this richly complex region. The reception of Christianity into Pacific cultures has produced strongly Christian societies. Based on research in widelyscattered archives, this book not only deals with regional interactions but pays careful attention to developments in microstates, and to the variety of indigenous religious movements, which were earlier regarded as deviations from Christian orthodoxy but are now seen as significant adaptations ofChristian teaching. In Australia and New Zealand too, European Christian beginnings have been given local emphases, producing Churches with distinctive identities. Lay leadership is emphasized - not only in the Churches but as part of the Christian presence in the realms of politics, business, and culture. The broad liturgical, theological, constitutional, and pastoral developments of the 19th and 20th centuries are mapped, as a context for the strikingchanges which have taken place since the 1960s. The dynamics of religious change and conflict, the ambiguities of religious authority, and the destructive effects of Christian colonialism on indigenous communities, especially Australian aborigines, are all frankly dealt with. The decline of the institutional impact of the Churches in Australia and New Zealand is explored, as is the growth of partnership between government and Churches in education, social welfare, and overseas aid and development. Interchange in personnel and ideas is strikingly illustrated in themissionary activities of the regional Churches and their cultural impact. The author's involvement in Church and community leadership, ecumenism, and theological education makes this volume in The Oxford History of the Christian Church a valuable addition to the series, describing both continuities with world Christianity and little-known local developments.

Excerpt

Writing a history of this very complex region with huge distances between island groups is a task for several lifetimes. Populations vary from 2,000 in Niue to 4,000,000 in Papua New Guinea, with substantial populations also in Fiji (775,000), Solomon Islands (368,000), the two Samoas (223,000), French Polynesia (218,000), and Vanuatu (164,000). Many Polynesians and Melanesians have migrated to Australia, with 19 million people, New Zealand, with almost 4 million, and New Caledonia, with 200,000, and to the capitals of their own island groups. The indigenous peoples of the region had c.1,500 languages, and richly varied cultures shaped by particular contexts, even when there were shared regional and cultural features. Inevitably, the writing of history involves some contemporary agendas, which subordinate local attitudes to time and place, because of the need to make larger constructs like 'Polynesia' and 'Melanesia'.

The interests of colonizing powers have thus been given more historical weight than the important perspectives of micro-states, tribe, and clan, though the number of Pacific Islanders and Aborigines able to write academic history from within their own culture is growing, and is offering new perspectives. Given the secular assumptions and wide range of angles from which history can be written, the religious experience of Pacific and Aboriginal peoples can be further minimized by social scientists and historians who see little significance in religion. In this fascinatingly varied region, islands range from mountainous ones like New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea with rich mineral resources, to coral atolls where only a subsistence life is possible. Many of these islands are stunningly beautiful, but their people must live with unpredictability caused by cyclones, along with many diseases which are life-threatening, notably malaria. Understanding such societies poses many problems for those with a 'western' viewpoint.

That has been a problem since the first European explorers of the region. Study of world religions was in its infancy in the eighteenth

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