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World Christianities overview

World Christianities

The study of World Christianities focuses upon the diverse forms of indigenous Christianity around the globe, found both in the present-day as well as in the past.

An interdisciplinary area of research

The subject uses a variety of historical, anthropological, sociological, theological and scriptural approaches. As such, World Christianities sits closely alongside other research and teaching areas in the Faculty of Divinity, including History of Christianity, Religious Studies and the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme (CIP).

The highly interdisciplinary character of the subject also links World Christianities to a number of institutions, resources and centres outside of the Faculty of Divinity. These include the Faculty of History, the Department of Social Anthropology, the Centre for African Studies, CRASSH, and the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide and, in particular, the last’s library and archives.

Why ‘World’?

There are three senses in which this subject, as taught and researched within the Faculty of Divinity, addresses the circulation of Christianity across the world:

  • The study of global Christianity is intrinsically linked to the Western-initiated Christian mission movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.
  • Yet, more than merely a top-down movement of faith from Western metropole to colonial periphery, Christianity is also polycentric in nature. Each region of the world possesses its own authority in how it interprets and makes Christianity its own.
  • Finally, Christianity is now, and has long been, a religion of transregional and transoceanic movement and flow. Lateral exchanges and connections took place between Christian practitioners and institutions across the globe, often with little or no reference to a Western centre, establishing alternative hubs of spiritual power in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Why ‘Christianities’?

The research and teaching of the subject in the Faculty of Divinity addresses the tension between Christianity as a single, unified faith, on the one hand, and the polyvalent expressions the religion adopts in its varied settings, on the other. Emphasising the inherent plurality of the religion means a focus on:

  • The importance of geography, culture, language, politics and the environment in shaping the diverse character of Christianities across the world.
  • The enormous influence that some forms of Christianity have exerted upon the practice of the faith globally, as well as the resulting definitions of what counts for certain believers as ‘orthodox’ faith.  
  • The mechanisms through which both Christian heterodoxy and orthodoxy have been created, including: 
    • Bible translation
    • the production and dissemination of sacred literature
    • the agency of local converts
    • the establishment of pilgrimage routes and religious architecture
    • embodied worship styles and practices
    • the use of new media in religious life

Undergraduate and graduate teaching

Undergraduates who wish to pursue their interest in the study of World Christianities can choose between two courses on offer in the third year of the Theology and Religious Studies Tripos.

The first is Themes in World Christianities, Paper B7, a broad survey of Christianity in its contemporary setting across the globe. The paper is assessed by coursework. The second paper is Christianity and Society in Africa and its Diaspora, 1800-2000, Paper D2E, a historical approach to the emergence of this important form of Protestant Christianity over the last hundred years. The paper is assessed by unseen exam.

MPhil students can take one or two options in the new World Christianities pathway in the Theology and Religious Studies MPhil, with an option also of writing a dissertation in this area.

Individuals interested in undertaking doctoral research in any area of World Christianities are encouraged to contact Emma Wildwood (). 

People and their research interests

See our World Christianities specialists.

News and events

The subject runs a termly World Christianities Seminar co-hosted between the Faculty of Divinity and the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.

The Faculty of Divinity is co-leading an interdisciplinary Faculty Research Group at CRASSH, that runs over the course of 2013/2014. The topic of the group is Locating Religion: Mapping World Christianities in the Modern Era.

Seminars at the Centre of African Studies often feature speakers who address topics in the study of World Christianities, as do seminars run by the World History Group.