Felix Wilfred (Ed), the Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia

By Ariarajah, S. Wesley | The Ecumenical Review, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Felix Wilfred (Ed), the Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia


Ariarajah, S. Wesley, The Ecumenical Review


Felix Wilfred (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 657pp.

The radical changes taking place in developments within the Christian tradition are often referred to as "the center of gravity of Christianity moving to the south." No doubt, while the hold of Christianity on the traditionally Christian nations in the West is loosening, there is considerable growth of the faith in the global South. This has led to the evolution of new courses in seminaries and universities on "World Christianity," "Christianity in Asia and Africa" and the "Future of Christianity." The interest, however, has often been more in the growth of Christianity in the South than in the long and fascinating story of early expressions of the faith in these regions, the socio-political and cultural struggles the churches face in the midst of many religions and cultures, and the contributions these churches have made over the centuries to the understanding of the Christian faith in different contexts. Anyone who attempts to teach Christianity in Asia, as I have sometimes done, has to search for resources in order to try to do full justice to the subject.

The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia, edited by Felix Wilfred, one of Asia's outstanding scholars and thinkers, will therefore be received with great enthusiasm by those working in these fields of study, as well as by anyone who wishes to have an informed understanding of Christianity in Asia. The editorial board and the contributing scholars have been drawn from all parts of Asia and from those who have had extensive scholarly engagement in Asian studies. Drawing on the scholarship of persons from over 20 countries, the book lays out the manifold expressions of Asian Christianity in worship, theology, spirituality, inter-religious relations, missions, and the political and social processes that have shaped, and continue to shape, Christianity in the extremely complex and richly diverse land mass designated as Asia. The volume has also been successful in taking account of the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Charismatic expressions of Christianity in Asia.

The major strength of the volume is that it does not conform to the normal genre of encyclopedia or dictionary that attempts to be exhaustive, giving facts, figures and explanations related to each Asian country. As its editor puts it, it is a volume that "has a perspective and its own opinions on various questions and issues concerning Asian Christianity, and they are held together by an overall vision and architecture. To put it differently, the Handbook is hermeneutical in nature. Its principal aim is not so much to inform the readers on Asian Christianity as to help them follow its journey of many encounters, analyze and interpret them in the context of global Christianity as well as in the context of other disciplines of humanities and social sciences" (5).

The main strength of the volume lies in its considerable success in realizing this stated goal. The contributors provide not only a scholarly account of the subjects dealt with but, more importantly, their own analyses and interpretations, with which the reader may or may not agree. Further, the main emphasis is not on the reality of the Christian communities, but more on the social processes that have affected and shaped their existence and the Christian encounters with the socio-political, cultural and religious contexts of Asia. In this sense, the work does not pretend to be an authoritative handbook of facts and figures, but is rather a research tool and a comprehensive guide for anyone who wishes to study an aspect of Christianity in Asia. In the same spirit, the last part of the volume has a number of essays on possible future trajectories of Asian Christianity.

The volume is divided into five parts. Part I, which is predominantly a historical portrayal of the presence and spread of Christianity into Asia, has chapters on the roots of Christianity in the five sub-regions: West Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Central Asia and East Asia. …

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