Take & Read: Global Christianity

September 27, 2016

The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman, by Galawdewos, edited and translated by Wendy Laura Belcher and Michael Kleiner (Princeton University Press, 544 pp., $39.95). This richly in­formative book is unexpected in many ways. In the 17th century, Cath­olic missionaries were trying to reshape the ancient church of Ethiopia into more European forms. That attempt provoked fierce resistance and bloodshed, and one doughty figure in the defense of tradition was the nun Walatta Petros. This book translates a contemporary life of this heroic African woman who struggled (successfully) to defend her culture and faith against proto-colonialist invasion. In following the dramatic main narrative, we learn about the customs and faith of the great Ethiopian church, all of which is profoundly important for understanding that tradition as it exists today. The editors present the life in accessible terms, and they are highly responsible in dealing with matters of sexuality that could otherwise have proved controversial.


Looking Back, Moving Forward: Trans­formation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost, by Girish Daswani (University of Toronto Press, 280 pp., $27.95 paperback). So much writing about evangelicals and Pentecostals focuses on the born-again moment and the experience of conversion. But what then? How does that change affect one’s life? Exactly what is “transformed” by the spiritual rebirth? Anthropologist Girish Daswani addresses these questions by looking at members of a thriving Ghanaian church, the Church of Pentecost, based mainly in London. Besides explaining the issue of lifestyle change, the book offers a fascinating range of life stories and experiences, which combine to tell us much about the appeal of charismatic Christianity to contemporary Africans. An excellent contribution to the study of migrant faith, this book also has much to say about spirituality and religious practice more broadly defined.


Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions and the Making of a Filipino Universal, by Deirdre de la Cruz (University of Chicago Press, 320 pp., $30.00 paperback). Containing one of the world’s largest Catholic populations, the nation of the Philippines matters enormously for anyone interested in the future of Christianity worldwide. Although very diverse, Philippine Catholicism has a strong tradition of passionate devotion to the Virgin Mary, and often she is portrayed in local styles. Pilgrimage and pilgrim shrines are key to understanding Philippine faith. It is valuable, then, to have this excellent ethnography of the country’s Marian devotion. De la Cruz studies the phenomenon both in its past and present manifestations, with a strong sense of its contemporary adaptations. One of the major themes is how that faith has gone global through the use of new media, which reinforces the physical presence of Philippine diaspora communities around the globe. This is an excellent case study of the globalization of Christian faith.


Jesus of Korea: Savior of the People, by Paul Hyoshin Kim (Fortress, 270 pp., $29.00 paperback). The rapid expansion of Korean Christianity in the past 40 years has been a deeply impressive story, but what exactly sparked that spiritual explosion? The great change is often dated to the 1970s, but this readable work by the late theologian Paul Hyoshin Kim focuses on the interactions of Western missionaries and Korean converts in the years around 1900. These missionaries and converts transformed the Euro-American Jesus into a figure who spoke successfully to Korean concerns and traditions. The “American Christ gradually became embedded in the soil of Confucian Choson to become the Jesus of Korea.” The intellectual exchanges during this transformation are moving. That they occurred at the height of imperial ambition worldwide makes those achievements all the more worthy of attention.


The Street Is My Pulpit: Hip Hop and Christianity in Kenya, by Mwenda Ntarangwi (University of Illinois Press, 206 pp., $25.00 paperback). Many of the growing centers of Christianity worldwide are megacities marked by wrenching poverty. Of necessity, Christian ministries often operate in a world of gangs and underclass cultures. Ntarangwi focuses on Juliani, a highly successful figure in Kenyan youth culture, to describe the role of popular music in urban Christian outreach. This refreshing and highly informative book addresses a vital area of culture and worship that remains profoundly understudied in the West. May it spawn many imitators.