- Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America Ed. by Albert L. Park and David K. Yoo
Encountering Modernity does, as it claims, offer a refreshing take on this theme, which is more usually covered on a country-by-country basis. It recognizes the common experience of East Asia, especially during the period of the Japanese Empire, but also throughout the modern period when Asians, through migration and exile, extended eastward across the Pacific to Hawaii and North America. This regional approach is particularly appropriate given the book’s focus on Christianity, which is inherently missionary and global. Although it is not a complete treatment of the theme, this book provides several examples of transnational links between Christian churches and organizations and their significance for modernization. The bias toward Korea is also an important corrective. The peninsula is so often neglected in comparison with its larger neighbors China and Japan, and yet in many respects it is key to understanding East Asia as a whole.
The book consists of an introduction and eleven chapters by different authors, almost all established scholars and most based in the West. It is divided into four sections relating Christianity to economy, society, social activism, and national identity. The contributions are each of high quality and have been well edited to produce a common format, bibliography and index. However they cover a very wide field encompassing not only the geographical spread of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan with their American diasporas, but also a historical period stretching from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Since each chapter focuses on a particular national group, the publication depends on the editors’ introductory chapter to deliver the regional and transnational perspectives that they claim. This introduction does effectively bind the essays together and provides a rationale for the book, but it needs further development to draw out the insights of each chapter and fully deliver what is promised.
It is not possible to discuss each individual chapter here, but highlights include: Albert L. Park’s linking of the Protestant cult with initiatives for [End Page 180] industrialization in early modern Korea; the careful analysis of Korean mega-churches in relation to economic change by Eun Young Lee Easley; and Gregory Vanderbilt’s insightful yet disturbing explanation of the wartime development of “Japanese Christianity.” The excellent chapter by David Ownby that rounds off the book drives home the volume’s significance. Ownby reviews the literature—both Western and Chinese—on the explosion in the number of Protestants in reform-era China, who may now comprise as much as ten percent of the Chinese population, and who are supported by diaspora Koreans. As Ownby points out, this is “a phenomenon worthy of the attention of sinologists, students of world affairs, Christians and students of Christianity, and the Chinese authorities” (p. 279).
A particular strength of Encountering Modernity is its use of some current studies of Christian mission and world Christianity, resources which are often neglected by scholarship influenced by secularization theory and post-colonial criticism. It shows the relevance of this material to economic and social affairs. Furthermore, in their treatment of mission, the authors are careful to give more attention to local sources rather than missionaries, including East Asian scholarship as well as interviews (Joseph Tse-Hei Lee; Carolyn Chen), sermons (Garrett L. Washington) and magazines (David K. Yoo). In this way, they focus on the local reception rather than the global propagation of Christianity and on its appropriation by Asians for the causes of independence, modernization and self-development, even in countries where numbers of actual conversions have been low. The authors also recognize that Christian mission is not only a Western colonial enterprise when they acknowledge East Asian influence on the West—a point made especially in Mark R. Mullins’ chapter on Kagawa Toyohiko.
A book of this size can cover only a fraction of the neglected field of the study of religion in East Asia’s encounter with modernity. Many more...