01: The growing phenomenon of congregations from the U.S. linking up with churches in the global South for purposes of missions, social activism, and cross-cultural understanding is given in-depth treatment in the new book Sister Churches (Oxford University Press, $29.95) by Janel Kragt Bakker.
These partnerships or “twinnings” between congregations are substantial; Bakker estimates that 18 percent of U.S. Catholic parishes are partnered with Third World churches, while that percentage may be higher among Protestants; of the 173 presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (USA), up to 115 of them have partnered with a presbytery outside of the United States. The idea of mission partnership flourished particularly in the mainline and post-Vatican II Catholic orbits as it helped underline the Western churches move away from a one-sided and paternalistic missionary outreach to non-Westerners.
In evangelical churches, the growth of short-term missions in the U.S. was another avenue to building relationships with congregations that visitors first encountered in their mission trips. Among conservatives in the Episcopal Church, these partnerships were also a way to override their liberal denominational leadership and gain support from like-minded Anglicans in the global South.
Bakker, who conducted ethnographic studies of 12 church partnerships in the Washington, D.C area, found that it is congregations themselves and informal networks more than parachurch organizations or denominations that initiate and build sister church relationships. The book examines diverse kinds of partnerships but most of the congregations studied share a “missional” outlook, meaning that they are outward-focused and are concerned with meeting the needs of others; they also tend to be more centrist, linking ministry to spiritual and physical needs rather than on the ideological left or right.
Bakker finds that sister church relationships tended to mitigate the more temporary effects of short-term missions as it created more durable bonds that were seen as beneficial to the congregation (although the author only studied the American partner congregations in these relationships). She allows that these partnerships can tend to patronize the more disadvantaged partner church, as well as create divisions within congregations, particularly if they engage in controversial projects that involved political advocacy.
02: As the fastest-growing global Christian movement, Pentecostalism is the subject of a mounting number of books, but Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century (Indiana University Press, $28) stands out for its far-reaching analyses of its present and future prospects. The anthology, edited by Robert W. Hefner, covers various Pentecostal expressions in Brazil, Africa, China, the former Soviet Union, India, as well as including theme-based chapters on gender, politics, and education.
David Martin, a pioneering sociologist of global Pentecostalism, maintains his view that the movement is an alternate route to modernity and middle-class achievement for people (especially women) on the margins of society. He suggests that there is considerable mobility within the movement itself, with many going from strict groups to less restrictive ones (house churches or charismatic mainline churches) and others cycling out of Pentecostalism altogether (roughly half of Pentecostal converts fall away).
Paul Freston provides another incisive chapter on the future and limits of Pentecostal growth in Brazil. The movement is approaching a ceiling on its explosive growth during the past two decades due to natural institutionalization (less fervor among cradle members) but also to broader patterns of non-affiliation (a growing population displaying similar urban and youth demographics), Catholic resistance, even a new attraction to Calvinism (while retaining some Pentecostal practices), and ineffectiveness in the socio-political arena.
Other contributors argue that there has been an overestimation of the prospects of Pentecostalism, even in Africa where most sectors of Christianity are growing and not just the Pentecostals. But the movement is still surging, particularly in China (increasingly indigenized and just reaching the cities) and India (especially among Dalits), with new social and economic implications, such as the formation of an entrepreneurial class.
03: Consumerism in religion has featured prominently in works on the U.S., but Religion in Consumer Society: Brands, Consumers and Markets (Ashgate, $99.95) demonstrates that this development is present in a wide variety of faith traditions and societies. The anthology, edited by Francois Gauthier and Tuomas Martikainen, includes case studies from the more expected precincts of American megachurches and New Age groups in Sweden but also examinations of consumerism in Italian monasteries and Tibetan Buddhism.
In the introduction, the editors (with Linda Woodhead) focus less on whether consumerization and branding of religion are negative or positive trends but rather argue that religious brands and markets symbolize the social networks, lifestyle and meanings of people today.
But the chapters also show the resistance and conflict that emerges at the intersection of faith and the marketplace: the Church of Sweden’s uneasy adaptation of management techniques; Tibetan Buddhists’ attempt to preserve pure tradition while creating new therapies and courses for practitioners to consume; and the loss of austerity in monasteries that have to cater to crowds of people seeking retreats and consumer items (from wine to CDs of prayers) to survive.
04: Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe (Brill, $180), edited by Rudy Blanes and Jose Mapril, documents and analyzes the new religious pluralism that has quietly transformed the southern European countries of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece.
While most attention to new ethnic and religious pluralism has focused on northern Europe, the south has a long history of diverse religions, even if the dominant churches controlled such heterodox expressions, and now serves as a gateway to new immigrant religious groups. The contributions look both at immigrant religions resulting from population flows from former colonies—Brazilian charismatic Catholics moving to Portugal or Dominican Republic Voodoo practitioners migrating to Spain—and new populations, including Sikhs, Roma or Gypsy Pentecostals, and Albanian Muslims.
The book focuses on the responses of these societies and their governments to these new diversities, which can result in stigmatizing and “racializing” religious minorities (such as Muslims and Sikhs) but also creating new religious markets and spaces in these societies.