Sunday, February 10, 2008

mapping Christianity

From Philip Jenkins in Books & Culture, a review of Martin Marty's The Christian World: A Global History-- and more broadly, "New maps, old maps"...

Christianity is rapidly reverting to its normal and proper place in the world. After some curious centuries in which the faith was largely the preserve of Europeans and their offspring overseas, Christianity is once more returning to its ancient homelands, in Africa and Asia, as well as to Latin America and Oceania. The fact of that modern-day global spread is no longer surprising, but many still do not appreciate the historical context. So grounded is Christianity in the Western inheritance that it seems almost revolutionary to contemplate this globalization, with all its potential impact on theology, art, and liturgy. Some even ask whether this new global or world Christianity will remain fully authentic, as European norms seem to represent a kind of gold standard.

But such questions appear quite ironic when we realize how unnatural the Euro-American emphasis is, when seen against the broader background of Christian history: another, earlier global Christianity once existed. For most of its history, Christianity was a tri-continental religion, with powerful representation in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and this was true into the 14th century. Most conventional histories of Christianity omit a thousand years of the story, at least as it affected vast stretches of territory—several million square miles, in fact. Christianity became predominantly European not because this continent had any obvious affinity for that faith, but by default: this was the continent where it did not fall to ruin....

As a useful alternative image, we can turn to the symbolic world maps that Christians commonly used through the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, which depicted the three continents as fairly equal lobes joined together in Jerusalem.

In the print version of the review, Jenkins (or the editor) provides one such map-- with Europe, Asia and Africa as three spheres, emanating from Jerusalem.


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