Demography drives religious change. That bald comment is too obvious to be worth making, but it’s surprising how little attention demographic factors receive in most histories of religion, particularly of Christianity. That neglect means we miss a very large part of the story.
This has been a dreadful year for the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. Across the continent, churches are suffering from sexual scandals of a kind long familiar in the United States. European media commonly present the picture of a systematic church crisis and ask how—or if—the church can recover. Will the scandals irreparably destroy Catholic authority?
Once upon a time, Europe lived in an age of faith, which found buoyant expression in the massive popularity of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage shrines flourished across Europe, some drawing millions of followers each year, and new pilgrimage destinations emerged regularly to meet the demand.
What has Seoul to do with Kampala? In the 1980s, the term “Global South” gained currency as a means of describing those parts of the planet outside the advanced regions of Europe, North America and Japan. Various writers, including myself, noted the dramatic rise of Christian numbers in that vast region.
In the 19th century, European and North American missionaries spanned the world, bringing the light of the gospel into what they thought were the dark corners of heathendom. In many regions, though, the natives did not react as the newcomers expected.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.