Christianity in Asia

by Nina Nikolaevna Alexeeva, Lieven Ferdinand de Beaufort, Sripati Chandrasekhar, Graham P. Chapman, Pierre Gourou, Thomas R. Leinbach, Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan, Lewis Owen, Clifton W. Pannell, Aleksandr Maximovich Ryabchikov, A.M. Celâl Şengör, Joseph E. Spencer, Yury Konstantinovich Yefremov

Christianity in Asia consists of a wide range of phenomena. It includes the mission churches, denominations, and related institutions established by Western missionaries, numerous independent and indigenous movements (churches or sects established by Asian Christians, which are organizationally independent of Western churches), as well as the personal beliefs and ritual practices adopted by individuals influenced by Christianity but unaffiliated with any of its organizational forms. In order to understand the significance of this religious tradition in Asia, the study of Christianity must include both the history of transplanted Christian traditions and foreign missionary efforts as well as the diverse "native" responses to and appropriations of Christianity that fall outside the framework of the Western churches. A review of the literature indicates that the history and impact of the Western mission churches has received the overwhelming attention and efforts of scholars, but that in recent decades there has been a broadening of research interests and more serious consideration of what Asians have contributed to the development of Christianity in their own countries and in the region as a whole.

This article will focus on three principal areas of Asia: (1) the Far East (the countries bordering the Pacific Ocean), which have been profoundly influenced by the Confucian worldview and by Buddhism; (2) Southeast Asia, where the dominant influence has been Buddhist, though not without Hindu and Islamic factors; (3) the Indian subcontinent, the home of Hindu culture, though with areas in which Hinduism has been almost completely submerged by Islam.
The Far East
The history of Christianity in the Far East is not one story. The introduction of Christianity and subsequent patterns of development have differed considerably in China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. In some instances there have been repeated introductions in response to the changing political climate of these lands.
By the seventh century CE, Nestorian Christians had made their way from Mesopotamia (Iraq) as far as western China. The discovery by the Jesuits in 1623 of the famous "Nestorian monument" in the precincts of the old Tang dynasty (618–907) capital, Chang-an, has made available reliable information as to the origins, arrival (635 CE), and fortunes of those engaged in this tremendous adventure. This church survived for about two centuries.
The second Christian incursion came with the Franciscan attempt to establish a mission in Khanbaliq (Beijing), with the hope of the conversion of Kublai Khan (1216–1294), hopes frustrated by the turning of the peoples of Central Asia to Islam and not to Christianity. John of Monte Corvino (d. around 1330) arrived in Beijing in 1294, gathered around him Christians of the Uighur people (who had been converted to the Nestorian form of Christianity), and secured consecration as archbishop. Other missionaries had joined him; however, distance from the home church made their work difficult, and after about half a century the mission ceased to exist.
The third attempt was made by Jesuits in the sixteenth century. Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) and his colleagues secured the favor of the Chinese by their achievements in astronomy and by introducing striking clocks, learning Chinese, and adopting many Chinese ways. In the opinion of their critics, Ricci and his colleagues were prepared to go too far in their adaptation of the Christian gospel to Chinese custom and tradition. In 1744 the pope forbade all such accommodation to non-Roman ways. The mission maintained itself, with varying fortunes, for a century and a half. It never completely died out, but at the end of the eighteenth century it was hardly more than a shadow of what it had been. The discovery of the diary of Andrew Li, a Chinese priest who had been trained in the seminary of Ayutthaya (Thailand), in which the students, from many lands, were allowed to talk with one another only in Latin, has shed a great deal of light on this period of decline.
The fourth missionary incursion, Roman Catholic and Protestant, followed the infamous Opium Wars of 1840 to 1842, and the unjust Nanjing treaty. Missionaries gradually managed to establish residence in all the provinces of China as far as the borders of Tibet, the Roman Catholics relying on the protection of the emperor Napoleon III and the Protestants for the most part following the advice of Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission in making their appeals only to the regularly constituted Chinese authorities. The church grew slowly but steadily through the adhesion of individuals and families. But the Christian mission was always under suspicion as being associated with the hated imperialism of the Western powers.
With the failure of the so-called Boxer Rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century, many Chinese felt driven to seek new moral resources for the restoration of China; they found an answer in the teaching of Jesus Christ, though with more emphasis on the moral and social teaching than on the specifically religious content. An astonishing number of young people accepted baptism; many of them were later to be distinguished in China's national life.
Then, in 1949, the communists overthrew the government of Chiang Kai-shek and took over rule of China. Their attitude was one of hostility to all religions, though some Christians succeeded in making a deal with this hostile government. Churches were closed; the Christians were driven underground. Many observers believed that for the fourth time China had rejected the Christian message and that the church was dead, except perhaps for small house groups. When the government loosened its restrictions on the practice of Christianity in 1979, it became clear that the churches were very much alive and in some areas had even increased their membership. The government's estimate of the Christian population in 1982, in fact, was three million, or three times the membership in 1949.
The Roman Catholics are in a particularly ambiguous position because many Chinese have refused the allegiance to Rome that Rome demands. The Protestants have formed a national council, which has brought them together without eliminating denominational differences and without allaying the anxieties of those who feel that the council has made too many concessions to the Marxist rulers.
Since the 1980s the fortunes of Christianity in China have changed dramatically. The demographic shift of masses from rural to urban areas has been accompanied by the rapid growth of Christian churches, underground house churches, and independent Christian movements. As in India, Christianity has also met with considerable success among minority tribal groups. A study in 1997 discovered that in Fugong County in southwest China, an area where the Lisu minority is concentrated, about seventy percent of the people were Christian. There is considerable disagreement on the actual number of Christians in contemporary China. As of 2003, the government estimated that there were at least sixteen million Christians; the China Christian Council suggests a number of at least twenty-five million, whereas experts from outside of China suggest figures ranging from forty million to one hundred million. Whatever the actual number, it is clear that Chinese Christianity is in a growth phase and its influence is spreading widely throughout society.
The Christian situation on the island is complicated. For a century the main Christian mission on Taiwan was Presbyterian (Canadian in the north, English in the south). When the Presbyterians came to the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the mission, they asked themselves what they should do to celebrate the centenary and decided that, in the decade leading up to it, they would double their membership and double the number of their places of worship. Strong popular support achieved this goal.
During the period of Japanese colonial occupancy, and in the face of the strongest possible opposition from the Japanese, remarkable Christian movements began to take place among the peoples dwelling in the mountains. These people, who form a comparatively small percentage of the population of the island, speak their own languages and follow ancestral traditions entirely different from those of the lowland Taiwanese. In the twentieth century, entire communities have become Christian.
The whole situation on the island changed with the mass emigration from continental China that followed the collapse of the Kuomintang government. Chiang Kai-shek himself, with many of his leading followers, left their homes to begin a new existence in Taiwan, claiming that they, and not the Marxists, represented the true spirit and succession of China. This was by no means to the liking of the Taiwanese. Under the Japanese they had been compelled to learn the Japanese language; now they were compelled to learn the Mandarin form of Chinese, which is considerably different from the form of the Amoy dialect that the Taiwanese had traditionally spoken. With the continental Chinese came a proliferation of Christian churches and sects. Roughly one-third of the Catholics in Taiwan are Chinese who fled the mainland. In the last several decades of the twentieth century, the Pentecostal and charismatic renewal movements have been particularly influential. Roughly one-third of the 300,000 Taiwanese Protestants would identify themselves as Pentecostals or charismatic Christians.
Japan was almost wholly unknown to the West until Francis Xavier (1506–1552), with a small group of Jesuit colleagues, managed to land in the country in 1549 and remain for the greater part of three years. The Jesuit enterprise was crowned with astonishing success. Rulers were converted and were followed into the Christian church by their dependents. At the end of the sixteenth century it was reckoned that there were 300,000 Christians in Japan. Then the climate changed. During a period of terrible persecution, many missionaries died agonizing deaths, though a few recanted and denied their Christian faith. Almost all the faithful reverted to their previous religions; in 1638 it was concluded that "the Christian century in Japan" had come to an end with the elimination of the church. For more than two centuries Christianity was a proscribed religion. However, when at last in 1859 missionaries were able again to enter the closed land, they discovered with astonishment that a remnant of believers had maintained the faith in many of its essentials. Some of these so-called hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) rejoined the Roman Catholic church once it was reestablished in Japan, whereas many others continued to practice their own version of the faith in small isolated communities on the island of Kyushu.
Never, since the sixteenth-century Jesuit success, has there again been anything like a mass movement of Japanese into the Christian church. Japanese Christians are often marked by three characteristics: intense intellectual activity, with faith depending on thoughtful conviction rather than on emotional decision; a strong spirit of independence, as in the non-church movement of Uchimura Kanzō (1861–1930), which refused to be tied to any kind of denominational organization; and a steady determination not to be subject to Western domination.
During World War II, the government decided that only three Christian bodies, the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, and a Protestant amalgam called the United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyōdan), should be recognized. Some Anglicans, some Lutherans, and some Holiness churches refused to join the Kyōdan and lost all legal recognition, enduring varying degrees of official disapproval and even persecution. With the end of the war and establishment of religious freedom with the new constitution in 1947, some of the denominations that had been absorbed into the Kyōdan during the war withdrew and reestablished independent denominational identities. The Kyōdan remains the largest Protestant denomination, but smaller independent, evangelical, and Pentecostal groups tend to be more effective in attracting new members.
The Roman Catholic church in Japan has become an important source of support for many non-Japanese laborers and immigrants from countries such as the Philippines and Brazil, and their involvement in local parishes is creating new church dynamics and posing new challenges for pastoral care. Although church membership in modern Japan has never exceeded one percent of the population, the influence of Christianity remains significant in education, social work, and literature.
Korea has drawn much from Chinese culture and for a time was forced to endure Japanese rule, but the Korean language and many of the features of Korean life may have originated in Central Asia. After experiencing some rather ineffective attempts at Roman Catholic evangelization, the country remained entirely closed to foreign influences until the second half of the nineteenth century. Christian missionaries during that period were mostly Americans, notably Methodists and Presbyterians. The small Anglican mission distinguished itself by a special concern for the Korean traditions of language and culture.
After initial resistance, many Korean animists, whose adherence to Buddhism was largely formal, responded positively to the Christian message. From the start, the Korean Christians were encouraged to be independent and to serve as evangelists among their own people, the foreigners keeping in the background. In South Korea all churches are independent and self-governing, though many of them are linked to worldwide churches and denominations. The church has grown rapidly since the 1960s and is known for the development of mega-churches. The largest church in the world today, in fact, is the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, which claims over 700,000 members and a Sunday attendance of more than 200,000. The growth of the Korean church has also been accompanied by the development of numerous mission agencies and overseas missionary work. In the last decade of the twentieth century, the number of Korean missionaries serving overseas grew from 1,645 serving in 87 different countries in 1990 to 10,745 serving in some 162 different countries in 2002.
Little information is available regarding the fate of churches and Christians in North Korea. As far as is known, Christian churches have no visible existence under the Marxist regime. From occasional contacts that are possible between Christians in the south and relations and friends in the north, it seems that, as in China, Christians are maintaining their faith under conditions of extreme difficulty. Many Christians are active in the efforts for the political reunification of North and South Korea.
Southeast Asia
The countries which stretch in a wide semicircle from the Philippines to Pakistan represent a great variety of races, languages, religions, and forms of culture. It is extremely difficult to reduce them all to any kind of common denominator. It is true that they all have come, at one time or another, under strong Buddhist influence, and that three of these countries have adopted Buddhism as their national religion. With the single exception of Thailand, all have come under colonial domination and have thus been bound to the West in about equal proportions of adaptation and resentment. Beyond that, generalization is difficult, and it will be best to address each country separately, especially as the degree of Christian influence varies greatly from one country to another.
The Philippine Republic
The Philippine Republic is the only Christian nation in Asia. The Spaniards arrived in 1538 and remained in power for three and a half centuries. In the course of those years, almost the entire population was brought within the Roman Catholic church, though a Muslim minority remained in the southern islands.
With the victory of the Americans in the war with Spain (1889–1902), sovereignty passed from the Spaniards to the Americans. To some Filipinos this change seemed like deliverance, for there had been increasing resentment among Filipinos at the domination of Spaniards in every part of the life of the people, not least in the life of the church.
Roman Catholics constituted the majority of the people, though at times restless and discontented. One sign of this was the uprising within the church, which led to the formation of the Philippine Independent Church, often called the Aglipayan Church after its first leader, Gregorio Aglipay (1860–1940). This church came under strong Unitarian influence, but in later times it restored more orthodox Christian tradition and recovered a regular Episcopal succession through the American Episcopal Church. In the early 1980s the church claimed three million members, though this may be an overestimate.
With the religious freedom brought by the Americans, Protestant missionaries poured in; they converted many discontented Catholics. Almost all the main American Protestant bodies are represented. The first Episcopal bishop, Charles Henry Brent, well known for his creative connection with the Faith and Order movement, told his missionaries to go to the mountain peoples, whom the Roman Catholic church had never succeeded in reaching.
It took time for the Roman Catholic church to adapt itself to the new situation. But gradually the lesson was learned, and an indigenous episcopate was brought into being. The church has produced some fine scholars. Ecumenical relations are far better than they were, and, though a number of tensions still exist, cooperation among Christians has been carried further than in many other countries. The charismatic movement has also had an impact on the Catholic and Protestant churches in the Philippines, with an estimated seven million or more involved in some way.
Vietnam and Cambodia
Roman Catholic missions had notable success in Vietnam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, the Marxists took over, and many Christians fled from the north to the south. With the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975, Christians found themselves faced with the alternatives of accepting communist rule or again becoming refugees. Many died in their search for freedom. Because Cambodia was largely neglected by Christian missionaries, Cambodian Christians are few, and Buddhism has remained the major tradition.
Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka
Buddhism, wherever it exists, has proved resistant to Christian evangelism; Christians who are present in Buddhist countries in many cases have come from non-Buddhist peoples or communities. Thailand, squeezed in the nineteenth century between British and French dominions, has managed to preserve throughout history a somewhat precarious independence: its citizens would probably point to the Buddhist faith as the power that has preserved their country in its integrity. A Buddhist country ruled by a monarchy imbued with Buddhist tradition, Thailand is, however, a tolerant country, and the number of Christian missionaries increased greatly with the advance of the twentieth century. Conversions from Buddhism, however, have not been numerous. The majority of Christians in the country have come from the Chinese minority, not from among the Thais, and the total number of Christians represents less than one percent of the population.
Myanmar (known as Burma prior to the name change in 1989), after a century under British rule, obtained its independence in 1947 and declared Buddhism to be the national religion. Actually, large sections of the population are neither Burmese nor Buddhist; it is among these peoples that the Christian churches have made their greatest gains. Baptists are more numerous than any other Christian body in Burma. Their first great missionary, Adoniram Judson (1788–1850), who made himself a Burmese scholar and translated the Bible into that language, was imprisoned by the Burmese authorities and endured terrible sufferings from which he never entirely recovered. It was he who made contact with the Karens, a large non-Burmese group, and discovered among them a tradition concerning a sacred book which they had once possessed, and which one day would be brought back to them by white teachers.
This formed a point of entrance for Christianity, and Karens form a large part of the Christian population of Burma. Work has also been carried on successfully among the Chins, Kachins, and other peoples in the areas stretching up to the frontiers with China and India. Roman Catholic activity has also been vigorous. The best-known figure of the Roman Catholic church in Burma was Bishop Bigandet (vicar apostolic, 1856–1893), an eminent scholar whose works on Buddhism in its Burmese form are still author-itative.
Restrictions on the residence of foreigners in Myanmar have led to the withdrawal of all foreign Christian workers. The churches, forced to rely on their own resources, have suffered from a sense of isolation. But the Anglican Church, much smaller in number than the Baptists, has reported that its numerical progress is considerably more rapid than in the days when it was under the care and supervision of foreign missionaries. Christianity largely remains a religion of ethnic minorities (roughly five percent of the population), whereas the majority (eighty-nine percent) within Myanmar maintains their association with the Theravāda Buddhist tradition.
Sri Lanka is inhabited by adherents of four religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. But Buddhists prevail. The Buddhist priesthood has been extremely influential in political as well as in religious affairs. Serious attempts have been made to turn Sri Lanka into a Buddhist country and to make Sinhala the only official language. These attempts have led to grave dissensions between those who speak Sinhala and those who speak Tamil, among whom are many Christians.
During the Portuguese period, many inhabitants of the island became members of the Roman Catholic church. Under the Dutch a considerable number became Protestants; but, with the religious toleration introduced by the British at the end of the eighteenth century, a large majority of Protestants reverted to the Roman Catholic church, which embraces about four-fifths of all the Christians on the island. Since the 1980s a number of Pentecostal and charismatic churches and movements have been added to the traditional mix of Catholics and Protestants, and the older denominations have recorded gradual decline. Overall, the Christian population remains a small minority
Buddhism in Sri Lanka is marked by the excellence of its scholars and by the powerful influence of its teachings. A few Christians have become Buddhists, among them a former prime minister of the country. Christians in Sri Lanka have become aware of the vitality of their country's Buddhist tradition. A number of them have studied deeply and have qualified themselves as experts in Buddhism; such interreligious dialogue is perhaps more active in Sri Lanka than in any other part of the world.
Indonesia, a republic three thousand miles long and including about three thousand islands, stands somewhat apart from the rest of Southeast Asia, showing marks of Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic religions. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.
The Dutch, when they were dominant, carried on missionary work, with a good deal of success especially in Ambon and northern Sulawesi. Indonesia is the only country in the world in which there is a steady drift of Muslims into the Christian church. It seems that one cause has been the sharp reaction of many Muslims against the vengeance taken by Muslims against actual or suspected communists at the time of an attempted communist coup in 1965.
The most notable success has been obtained among the non-Muslim Batak people of northern Sumatra. Missionary Ingwer Nommensen (1834–1918), when he first saw beautiful Lake Toba in 1885, envisioned a time when the church bell in every village would call the faithful to worship. Since that time millions of Bataks have entered the Christian churches and evangelism continues. The skill and energy with which Indonesian Christians have freed themselves from Dutch and German influences is reflected in the sense of independence that marks Christians of that country, an independence which is being modified by an increasing willingness to enter into the life of the wider Christian world and to accept the help offered by other Christians.
The Indian Subcontinent
In 1757, at the battle of Plassey, the British established themselves as the strongest power in India. British unification of the subcontinent was complete in 1848. This unity lasted for almost a hundred years. In 1947 Muslims asserted their independence through the formation of Pakistan as an independent state (to be followed by the separation of East Pakistan), and the constitution, under the name Bangladesh, of a third independent state in the subcontinent.
The date at which the Christian faith first appeared in India has been the subject of many debates and still presents itself as a fascinating historical problem. It is certain that a Christian church has existed in Kerala (in southwestern India) for many centuries. The members of the various churches of the Thomas Christians are at one in their conviction that their church, in its original form, was founded by the apostle Thomas himself.
A number of scholars support the view that churches did exist in India not later than the second century; all but the most skeptical accept a date in the fourth century as almost certain. Through the centuries the church maintained its distinctiveness by retaining Syriac as the language of worship and receiving its bishops from Mesopotamia. Information for the medieval period is scanty; but when communication with the West was renewed, with the arrival of the Portuguese by the sea route in 1498, the church was found to be flourishing, Christians forming an accepted and respected element in Indian society. This ancient church remained, however, within the narrow compass of the region between the mountains and the sea, and, so far as is known, made no attempts to evangelize other parts of India. In fact, it made rather few attempts to convert local non-Christians.
When the Portuguese occupied Goa (1510) and made it the base for the establishment of their sea-borne empire, the situation was radically changed. The newcomers made no attempts to conquer extensive tracts of land as they had done in the Americas; but they did regard commerce and conversion to Christianity as intimately related to one another. By the end of the sixteenth century, as a result of special privileges for Christians and special hindrances for Hindus, the great majority of the population in the Portuguese possessions had entered the Roman Catholic church. In 1599, at the Synod of Udiyamperur (Diamper), the archbishop of Goa had persuaded the entire body of Thomas Christians to renounce the patriarch of Baghdad and accept the authority of the patriarch of Rome. Half a century later a third of the Thomas Christians, in rebellion against the autocracy of the Jesuits, reasserted their independence in the formation of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, in which they still have their home.
A new complexion was given to missionary work by the great adventure of the Italian aristocrat Roberto de Nobili (1606–1656 in India), who set to work to turn himself into a brahman in order to win the brahmans. Nobili's considerable knowledge of Sanskrit and extensive literary activity in Tamil left a permanent mark on the Indian church.
With the support of the king of Denmark, the Protestants entered the field in 1706 in the small Danish territory of Tranquebar. Protestant missionary Christian Friedrich Schwartz served in India from 1750 until 1798 and left the indelible impression of a serene and gentle radiance upon Europeans and Indians alike.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, growth both for Roman Catholics and for Protestants was slow. The great period of expansion began in 1858, when the British government took over rule in India from the East India Company. Christians of many nations entered into the work, which in fifty years spread into almost every corner of India except in those areas where independent Indian rulers refused permission for any kind of Christian propaganda in their domains.
Three features of this period deserve special mention. First, the immense educational effort of the missionaries, aided by financial support from the government, produced a large Christian middle class, educated and professional, which prepared the way for the development of independent Indian churches. Second, the underprivileged "outcastes," seeing no hope of a better future under the Hindu system, began to press into the Christian churches. This movement was disapproved of by a great many missionaries and by the majority of educated Indian Christian leaders, but the pressure would not be stayed. These "untouchables" (dalits), in fact, represent well over half of all Protestant and Roman Catholic church members. Third, many among the aboriginal peoples, having no wish to be incorporated into the Hindu caste system, saw in the Christian way a greater freedom than they could hope to enjoy elsewhere. Some whole peoples have become Christian and others greatly Christianized.
In the twentieth century, the great change was the transfer of power from foreign agents to indigenous leaders. The first Indian Anglican bishop, V. S. Azariah, was consecrated in 1912; the first Indian bishop of the Latin rite, Tiburtius Roche, was consecrated for Tuticorin in 1923. Rome showed its recognition of the maturity of the Indian church by the appointment of the first Indian cardinal, Valarian Gracias of Bombay, in 1953. The four fully united and independent churches of South India, North India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have manifested an independent ecumenical spirit.
In the early 1980s, Christians numbered less than three percent of the population in India, much less in Pakistan and Bangladesh. But it may be argued that Christian teaching has had an impact upon contemporary Indian ethical thought. The government of independent India has abolished by law "untouchability." This righteous action owes much to the passionate advocacy by missionaries of the rights of the underprivileged. The Sarda Act, which raised the age of marriage for both boys and girls, was brought forward by Hindu reformers; these reformers were building on the work of Christians whose opposition to child marriage was well known.
British rule came to an end in 1947. When the change took place, both those who welcomed it with enthusiasm and those who viewed it with considerable alarm accepted it without question; not a single missionary left his or her post for reasons of political change. Nevertheless, political change was bound to affect the lives and prospects of Christians in a number of ways. While the Indian constitution contains a statement in favor of religious freedom, Christians often find life more difficult than it was in earlier days.
Pakistan has from the start been riven by dissensions. In any Muslim state Christians face a number of difficulties; Christians in Pakistan may have to face the possibility of increasing difficulties.
In 1948 the World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Council convened in Manila a meeting of leaders in the East Asian churches. The result of the meeting was the formation of the East Asia Secretariat, without any authority but with the expressed aim of promoting fellowship and mutual understanding. This was the beginning of a process which has proved highly productive. The Asian churches have come to feel that they ought to belong to one another. They have, for instance, held a meeting to discuss the problems of Christian faith and order in an Asian setting.
The missionary movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth century aimed at the development of an indigenous church in Asia defined by the "three selfs": self-control, self-support, and self-propagation, but usually understood as a duplication of the denominational expressions of churches in Europe or North America. There has been an overall decline in the number of missionaries related to the old established mainline churches and denominations of Europe and North America, although evangelical churches in the West maintain a strong missionary presence in Asia where legally permitted. Whereas there remain many examples of dependence on Western church theologies, creeds, and polities, most churches in Asia are under the direction of native rather than foreign leaders, and many new independent and post-denominational forms of Christianity have emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
The transplantation of "normative" theologies from the West has largely been replaced by a serious concern to develop new forms of theological interpretation and Christian practice rooted in local cultures. Catholics refer to these theological developments as "inculturation," whereas Protestants usually use the term "contextualization." Just as Greek philosophy and categories shaped the early development of Western theologies, the Asian religious traditions—Hindu, Buddhist, and Confucian, for example—represent important resources for these new theological initiatives. Heroic and largely successful attempts to nurture a specifically Asian Christianity have been made. The full flowering of Asian theology may be yet to come, just as the full flowering of Christian thought and expression in the Syriac, Greek, and Latin languages did not begin until three centuries after the ministry of Jesus Christ. What has become abundantly clear is that Asians were not passive recipients of transplanted Christianity, but active agents who reinterpreted and reconstructed the Christian faith in terms that made sense to them.
In most of the multi-religious Asian societies considered here, Christians remain a minority group. In this situation, many church leaders have realized the importance of understanding the values and traditions that shape the larger majority with whom Christians must cooperate in order to build and sustain a civil society. Representatives of many churches and Christian institutions have invested considerable effort in dialogue with people of other faiths and established research and study centers that sponsor various activities and publications aimed at interreligious understanding. Inter-Religio, a network of sixteen Christian institutes and centers from eight countries in East Asia, is one example of this important development.
As has been the case in other non-Western contexts, the study of Christianity in Asia was initially burdened by a Eurocentric and North American orientation, and studies tended to focus on transplanted mission churches, missionary leaders, and institutions. A growing number of scholars are now seriously considering some additional ways in which Asians have engaged and reshaped Christianity throughout this region of the world.
There are short summaries on all the countries dealt with in this survey in the World Christian Encyclopedia, edited by David B. Barrett (Oxford, 2001, second edition). Whereas this is a useful resource, readers should know that the membership data and figures for Christians tend to be on the high side. For statistical data on Catholics in Asia, see Bryan T. Froehle and Mary L. Gautier, Global Catholicism: Portrait of a World Church (Maryknoll, N.Y., 2003). An important reference work that serves as a useful guide to contemporary scholarship and bibliographical materials both on mission churches and indigenous Christian developments is Scott Sunquist, ed., A Dictionary of Asian Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2001). An indispensable resource on theology in Asia is John England, et al eds., Asian Christian Theologies: A Research Guide to Authors, Movements, Sources. Vols. 1–3 (Delhi, 2003). For recent events and developments in China, the best source is the periodical literature; see, for example, The China Quarterly, No. 174 (June 2003). Other useful resources include Daniel H. Bays, ed., Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Stanford, Calif., 1996); Alan Hunter and Kim-Kwong Chan, Protestantism in Contemporary China (Cambridge, U.K., 1993); Samuel H. Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. I, Beginnings to 1500 (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1998); and Nicolas Standaert, ed., Handbook of Christianity in China, Vol. I (Leiden, 2001). On Japan, see Mark R. Mullins, ed., Handbook of Christianity in Japan (Leiden, 2003), and on Korea and Japan, see Mark R. Mullins and Richard Young, eds., Perspectives on Christianity in Korea and Japan (Lewiston, N.Y., 1995). For a study of independent indigenous Christian movements, see Mark R. Mullins, Christianity Made in Japan (Honolulu, 1998). For India, see James Massey, Roots of Dalit History, Christianity, Theology and Spirituality (Delhi, India, 1996) and Stephen Neill, History of Christianity in India, 2 vols. (Cambridge, U.K., 1984–1985). On interreligious dialogue and relations in Asia, see Wesley Ariarajah, Hindus and Christians: A Century of Protestant and Ecumenical Thought (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1991); Judith M. Brown and Robert Eric Frykenberg, eds., Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India's Religious Traditions (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2002); Walen Lai and Michael von Bruck, Christianity and Buddhism: A Multicultural History of Their Dialogue (Maryknoll, N.Y., 2000); and Peter K.J. Lee, ed., Confucian-Christian Encounters in Historical and Contemporary Perspective (Lewiston, N.Y., 1991). An important book for locating recent trends in Asia within the larger context of world Christianity is Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2002).

Stephen C. Neill

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