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date: 19 June 2018

Christianity in Asia

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

The 21st century has often been touted as the “Asian century,” largely because of the remarkable rise of China as a formidable economic power. But there are other developments afoot; foremost among them is the rising numbers of individuals who identify as Christians. Apart from the Philippines and Timor Leste, Christians are a minority in all Asian countries, but over the last two decades a marked increase, especially in India and China, has led to predictions that, by 2025, the number of Asian Christians, now estimated at 350 million, will rise to 460 million. Given Christianity’s often troubled history in Asia, this increase in Christian followers is an intriguing development that calls for further investigation. The arrival of Christianity in Asia coincided with the European arrival in the late 15th century. Christianity has been associated with the West, an association that became more entrenched with the imposition of colonialism in the 19th century.

The multiple ways in which millions of men and women in Asia have incorporated “being Christian” into their own identities thus offers an intriguing history. To some degree, it may be attributed to a growing acceptance of Christian “inculturation,” which allows for ritual adaptations to the local environment. In some cases, too, Christian churches are seen as a voice for marginalized and otherwise powerless communities against non-Christian governments. However, there is a general consensus that the extraordinary rise in Christian numbers in Asia, especially among youth, is due (as in Africa and Latin America) to the presentation of the Christian message via technologically sophisticated techniques that emphasize global links while drawing on underlying beliefs in divine healing and the power of prayer. Regarded with some caution by mainstream theologians, this dramatic and participatory style represents the new face of Asian Christianity.