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Mediating Asian Christianities: Agents, Practices, Concepts

The role of mediation has been crucial in the global dissemination of Christianity throughout history. The spread of Evangelical and Charismatic forms of Christianity in Asia so far has not only been underrepresented in the study of global Christianities, but was mainly approached as a Western phenomenon migrating to the East. The panel seeks to broaden the focus while looking at the formulation, circulation and dissemination of Christian practices and concepts within Asia and beyond. The four panelists will present different case studies that address the role of religious agents, practices, and concepts in the diverse processes of cultural mediation and negotiation. The first paper examines the confluence of economic and cultural capital with Christian “missions” in Singapore and discusses how a “Christian capital” moves and flows through the channels of globalization and global cities. Departing from the notion of Singapore as the “Antioch of Asia”, the second paper will discuss the role of Singaporean based missionary networks and practices in mediating and disseminating Christianity throughout Southeast Asia. Our third panelist will address the global dissemination and local adaptations of the concept and use of small groups in contemporary Christian practice from Dr. Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea to Asia and the US. The final paper will explore mediation and mediatisation practices used in spreading the so called “Gospel Revolution” from Singapore to the US, Israel and other parts of the world.

Capital Christianity:  Mediating Flows through Singapore Missions

Speaker: Robbie B. H. Goh (Singapore)

Missions has much in common with transnational flows of people, cultures and influences, and with the global cities that are nodes of such flows.  This is not surprising, given the causal and structural imbrications of missions and global capital: missions require funding, and are best co-ordinated from cities which are the hubs of people movements and flows of economic and cultural capital.  The history of European missions in the era of European colonialism, and of American (and to a certain extent Canadian and Australian) missions and Christian influences from the late 20th Century onwards, reveals something of these inter-penetrations. In the 21st Century, the rise of economic and diplomatic influence of parts of Asia coincides with Christian missions, networking and influence from some of those same regions, particularly South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and to a certain extent the Philippines and India.  The case of Singapore is particularly instructive: the small city-state, with no hinterland, population mass or natural resources exemplifies the “hub” positioning of competitive global cities.  With a Christian population of less than one-fifth of its total population, it is by no means a predominantly Christian nation.  Yet its active and evangelical Christian community has in many ways capitalized on the nation’s relative economic and cultural wealth to exert influence over many of the surrounding nations, and to position itself as a Christian (sub)capital of the region.  My paper examines the confluence of economic and cultural capital with Christian “missions” (broadly understood) in Singapore, looking particularly at the YMCA movement, and the work of the Methodist Missions Society (MMS).  In so doing, I hope to show how a “Christian capital” moves and flows through the channels of globalization and global cities.

“Reaching the Unreached”: Mission Practices and Strategies of Evangelical Christians in Singapore

Speaker: Matthias Deininger (Heidelberg)

Over the past few decades Singapore has become a culturally-significant hub for evangelical Christianity in Southeast Asia, with strong transnational links to other Christian centers in Asia and beyond (Goh 2009). The growing presence of evangelical Christianity in Singapore along with its emphasis on proselytism has fostered the emergence of both international and homegrown missionary organizations, training institutes, Bible schools, and mass media outlets (DeBernardi 2008). Commonly referred to as the “Antioch of Asia”, Singapore has thus developed into a missionary sending country and, today, serves as an important platform for Christian evangelism and mission outreach. Against this background this paper examines the dynamics of Singaporean missionary activities within Southeast Asia. Being a small island city-state with global aspirations this paper addresses the question of how the imaginary of Singapore as an “Antioch of Asia” reflects and impacts the self-understanding, practices and strategies of evangelical Christians and their global missionary zeal of transforming the world through evangelism. Based on preliminary findings from my ongoing field work, I will discuss both local and transnational mission practices in Singapore and look at the strategies Christians develop to effectively preserve their evangelical and outward-oriented identity in an environment where religion is strongly policed by the state.

Transcultural Dynamics of Contemporary Christian Small Group Practice

Speaker: Esther Berg (Heidelberg)

In the 1980s a new ‘trend’ emerged within a global Christian landscape: Catholic parishes, Protestant pastors and independent churches discovered and readily embraced small groups as means of revitalizing established communities, fostering congregational growth and planting new churches. At the same time this phenomenon was not limited to Christianity; other religious organizations too adopted small group practice. Also outside religious communities, people increasingly began to meet in small, supportive and self-help groups as response to and condition of what Eva Illouz (2008) and Katja Rakow (2013) have called a ‘therapeutic culture.’
As a global phenomenon this ‘small group movement’ is characterized by both locally specific appropriations of small group models as well as translocative connections of Christian agents, groups and organizations through the circuits of global Christian networks. Within such networks, models of small group practice are disseminated and circulated within Asia and beyond. In fact, central nodal points within these networks are increasingly found in Asia and the Global South. However, with respect to Asia, the social phenomenon of Christian small group practice is still underrepresented in the study of global Christianities. This paper will address the global dissemination and local adaptations of the concept and practice of small groups within the contemporary Christian landscape in Asia and beyond, especially drawing onto an ethnographic case study of small group practice within a contemporary megachurch in Singapore.

Bringing the Gospel Revolution from Singapore to the Ends of the World

Speaker: Katja Rakow (Heidelberg)

Christians have the commission to further the Gospel to the farthest ends of the earth (Acts 1,8). The missionary imperative is especially strong in Pentecostal Christianity, which is described by Allan Anderson as an “‘ends of the earth,’ polycentric, transnational religion.” (Anderson 2013). The last decade witnessed a missionary movement from the global South to the North and from East to West, which is described as “reverse mission” (Freston 2010) directed towards the secular West. Although African, Asian, and Latin American Pentecostals are usually only successful among migrants and diaspora communities in Western countries, the paper presents a case study of a missionary attempt emanating from Singapore that is quite popular among North Americans.
In November 2013, the Singapore based pastor Joseph Prince embarked on his first preaching tour through America, which intended to bring the “Gospel Revolution” from Singapore to the US. The paper portraits the practices of mediation and mediatisation during the “Power of Right Believing Tour” through the US and sketches the different ways of relating to the American and Singaporean context. In this particular case study, the primary forms of movement are not migrants or missionaries in the classical sense, but media products and celebrity pastors. Here, local institutions and their key actors can be understood as nodal points in Pentecostalism’s transnational networks. The case study will raise questions such as how these networks function as spheres of entanglement between local and global, particular and universal concerns of contemporary neo-Pentecostalism and how these networks are shaped by religious discourses as well as by commercial structures and practices.