Over the past century or so, worldwide Christianity has definitively moved South. In 1900, Christianity firmly rooted in Europe and North America, while by the mid-21st century it will find by far its greatest strongholds in Africa and Latin America. Arguably, the secularization that has been such a marked feature of European life is now making inroads even into the United States. But while so much is familiar, it’s still tempting to position North and South in the familiar terms of a generation ago, as rich and poor spheres, of developed and developing worlds. Arguably, such views no longer make much sense, as the world’s economic and political arrangements have moved far beyond such simple dualities. Alongside the traditional developed world are now a series of rising nations that should by 2050 or so be matching or overtaking the familiar Euro-American leaders.
So much is well known to global observers, but no commentators, to my knowledge, have absorbed the religious implications of this new geography. Most tellingly, we are not here studying a stark dichotomy between advanced, wealthy North and impoverished South, but rather the categories inbetween.
Over the past decade, we have heard a great deal about the so-called BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China – an idea that has dominated US strategic and diplomatic thinking. For a while there, you could not pick up a US policy document without being BRIC-ed to death. Others point to alternative constellations of emerging powers, including South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey. But whatever list we compile, we also have to pay attention to the enormous religious consequences of this new global map, which includes some of the world’s leading centers of both Muslim and Christian populations.
Not long ago, I did a presentation that explores these religious implications, which indicates why the emerging economic order matters so much for students of global Christianity. The paper (as a pdf) is called BRICs of Faith: New Categories in Religious Geography.
I hope you’ll check out the whole paper, but briefly, here’s my conclusion: Scholars of Christianity have struggled to escape from the traditional obsessions of the Euro-American churches, the world of the rich and powerful, to acquaint themselves with the very different realities of Africa, with the world of the poorest. Perhaps, now, we need to think of another set of unfamiliar circumstances: that of the almost rich, almost powerful, and increasingly Christian.