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Studies in World Christianity 12.2 (2006) 164-182

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The Necessity of the Particular inthe Globalisation of Christianity:

the case of China

Introduction: The Concept of Globalisation

In the past few decades scholars have been applying the concept of secularisation to the study of religion, claiming that 'secularisation' was the response of religion to the process of the modernisation of the world. However, during the past two decades it has become obvious that religion has not been declining in modern societies; on the contrary, it has been reviving and growing in new forms, such as those within the New Age Movement or the New Religious Movements. The so-called 'resurgence of religion' today underscores the fact that religion remains an active agent, playing a significant role in the contemporary world(Berger, 1999).

The concept of globalisation has been widely used in many fields of study. Why should we apply it to the study of religion? The eminent British sociologist Professor J.A. Beckford once suggested three reasons why 'globalisation' is an important concept for the study of religion:

First, it is a good concept through which to filter virtually any information about religion, it helps to suggest connections among things that might otherwise have escaped notice, and it stimulates serious opposition. That is its heuristic value. Second, it situates religion close to the center of decisive social processes and, as such, ensures that the religious dimension receives due recognition in the analysis of the forces shaping human societies today. That is its substantive value. And, third, globalization cuts across all the social sciences and forces a consideration of religion from different disciplinary points of view. That is its strategic value
(Beckford, 2000: 491).

The general concept has been used in many ways. Sociologists of religion have employed it to explore both the role of religion in a global society and [End Page 164] how religions respond to the process of globalisation (Beyer, 1994). Some have focused on religion as a passive or anti-modern response to this process; others have attempted to address the more proactive elementsof religion in modern global society (Te'treault et al., 2004). Still other scholars have referred to globalisation as another form of Americanisation or as the resurgence of Western imperialism by the United States of America.1 If that is the case, it is perhaps time for us to re-examine mission history from the perspective of globalisation.

In the present study I shall limit the scope to the missionaries' propagation of Christianity as a promoter of a globalisation process and focus on the interplay between that process and the indigenisation of Christian faith as a local response to globalisation.2 I shall use Christian higher education in China as a case study and argue that the modern conceptof globalisation allows us to see history in quite a different way. It can broaden our perspectives on the study of Christian missionary movements, and the missionaries' experiences can in turn help us betterunderstand some of the crucial issues we are facing in the process of globalisation.

What Does 'Christian Higher Education in China' Refer To?

Christian missionaries established many educational institutions in China which eventually acquired the status of colleges or universities. These institutions were situated in the major cities of the country. Here I am especially referring to the thirteen Protestant universities which are well known in the missionary history of China. They were:

  1. Yenching University in Peking (Beijing)
  2. Shangtung Christian University (Cheeloo) in Jinan
  3. University of Nanking (Jinling) in Nanking (Nanjing)
  4. Ginling Women's College in Nanking (Nanjing)
  5. University of Shanghai (Kujiang University) in Shanghai
  6. St. John's University in Shanghai
  7. Hangchow University in Hangchow (Hangzhou)
  8. Soochow University (Dungwu) in Soochow (Suzhou)
  9. Central China University (Huazhong) in Wuhan
  10. West China Union University (Huaxi) at Chengdu
  11. Fukien Christian University in Foochow (Fuzhou)
  12. South China Women's University (Huanan) in Foochow (Fuzhou)
  13. Lingnan University in Canton (Guangzhou). [End Page 165]

Most of these universities were founded in the early twentieth century but were...


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