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  • Globalization and the Re-Shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands
  • John Barker
Globalization and the Re-Shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, edited by Manfred Ernst. Suva: The Pacific Theological College, 2006. ISBN 978-982-348-020-6; xx + 866 pages, maps, photographs, bibliography, notes, index. US$50.00.

This massive volume builds on and in some ways surpasses an earlier survey by Manfred Ernst, Winds of Change: Rapidly Growing Religious Groups in the Pacific Islands (1994), which was sponsored by the Pacific Conference of Churches. Like the earlier study, Globalization is generally concerned with the reasons for the increasing popularity of relatively new conservative Christian denominations, mostly at the expense of "mainline" churches descended from the mission organizations that entered the region in the nineteenth century. Both volumes rely heavily on government censuses and church membership counts to chart a shift that has been underway since the end of the Second World War but has greatly accelerated in many Pacific nations over the past quarter century. In the new volume, Ernst enlarges on his earlier argument —that the rising popularity of conservative Christianity in the region has to be understood in terms of globalizing forces that have served to undermine the older solidarities of village and kin in exchange for the uncertainties of rampant capitalism, and have, at the same time, promoted a kind of American cultural imperialism embodied by groups like the Mormons or Seventh-Day Adventists. As well as providing a broad picture, both books rely on Island nation case studies to give readers a better sense of local trends as well as the identities, activities, and attitudes of local churches and para-church organizations.

Here the similarities end. Winds of Change opens with a very useful gazetteer of "new religious groups" (the largest of which, as Ernst acknowledges, are only "new" in terms of their increasing popularity). Taking up almost a third of that earlier study, the survey provides background information on each denomination and supportive para-church organization, including basic beliefs, structure, funding, activities, cooperation with other sects, and distribution. This is replaced in Globalization by a short introductory chapter on the historical background of Pentecostal and Fundamentalist churches, which, regrettably, says next to nothing of the Mormons or about the key role played by para-church organizations in evangelizing activities on the global stage. The main innovation of the new study is the expansion of the national case studies from six to fourteen countries, with the significant addition of Papua New Guinea. The case studies are based on statistical research and hundreds of interviews with church officials, carried out by a team of ten scholars working from a standard framework devised in May 2002. Taking up nearly 80 percent of the text, they provide an essential resource for anyone interested in the contemporary shape and dynamics of Christianity in the region. The countries covered include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji in Melanesia; Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, and Pohnpei in Micronesia; and Sämoa, American Sämoa, Tonga, Niue, and French Polynesia [End Page 624] in Polynesia. In addition, Klaus Hock contributes a chapter surveying non-Christian religious organizations serving the Indian population of Fiji.

The case studies roughly conform to a basic scheme. Each opens with background information on a variety of subjects, usually including geography, population, land tenure, health and education, history, and politics. This is followed by a statistical survey of recent trends of religious adherence, based on government censuses, church surveys, or some combination of both (with the exception of the chapter on Pohnpei, in which the statistics, for some reason, are incorporated into the survey of denominations). The next and usually longest section is taken up with profiles of denominations, touching on their local histories, patterns of growth, social and political activities, and, when known, interactions with other sects and ecumenical organizations. Most of the case studies conclude with a short summary and outlook on the problems and prospects of Christianity in the island state under review.

The case studies make for fascinating reading. As one would expect, the length of the chapters varies according to the populations of the countries...


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pp. 624-626
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