Global ReOrient:Chinese Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements in the Global East

The international symposium “Global ReOrient: Chinese Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements in the Global East” was held at Purdue University on October 30-31, 2013. Sixteen renowned and emerging scholars from the U.S., Asia and Europe presented their papers on Chinese Pentecostal/charismatic movements and churches in Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and North America. About 50 participants attended the symposium, including researchers from far away places of Indianapolis, Chicago, California and Canada who traveled to Purdue University specifically for the symposium. The symposium was organized by the Center on Religion and Chinese Society and co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, International Programs, Religious Studies Program, Asian Studies Program, and American Studies Program at Purdue University. Dr. Irwin Weiser, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, made welcome remarks to the participants.

“How many Chinese Christians are Pentecostal or charismatic?” This is a question raised by Professor Fenggang Yang in his opening remarks. He briefly introduced the rapid growth of Christianity among the Chinese in the world, and pointed out that while there have been many scholarly studies of Pentecostalism in the Global South, there has been a lack of scholarly research on Christianity in the “Global East” where both the economy and Christianity have been growing rapidly. He expressed the hope that this symposium would help to call for scholarly attention to the study of Chinese Christianity in general and Chinese Pentecostal/charismatic movements in particular.

Professor Allan Anderson of the University of Birmingham, a renowned expert of Pentecostalism in Asian and elsewhere in the world, spoke about the challenges, theories, and methods of researching Chinese Pentecostalism. Professor Daniel Bays of Calvin College, a renowned historian of Chinese Christianity, assessed the appropriateness of using the term “Pentecostal” in describing Chinese Christianity, suggesting that scholars should be cautious and selective when applying this term. Professor Gordon Melton from Baylor University, a renowned scholar of religions in America who in recent years has done extensive research on Chinese religions, examined the interactions of American Pentecostal missionaries and Chinese Christians in the early 20th century and analyzed the characteristics of Chinese Christian Pentecostalism.

Professor Donald Miller of the University of Southern California, a renowned sociologist who has organized a massive program that includes multiple projects to study global Pentecostalism, pointed out that Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity has been a major force of the Christian growth in the contemporary world. He summarized some common characteristics of Pentecostal/charismatic churches. Applying his concept of the “New Paradigm Churches,” he examined the characteristics of China’s rural and urban house church movements. He also invited Zhang Kai, a Chinese lawyer and currently a visiting scholar at our Center, to share his experience of defending persecuted Chinese Christians in China.

Professor Hsing-Kuang Chao from Taiwan and Dr. Kim-Kuang Chan from Hong Kong, both well-known scholars of Christianity in Chinese societies, presented a survey study of Christianity in Taiwan and a case study of a charismatic mega-church in Singapore, respectively. Professor Karrie Koesel of the University of Oregon, an emerging and active scholar, presented her study of charismatic churches in the government-sanctioned “patriotic association.” Several researchers examined various aspects of the True Jesus Church. Others presented case studies of Pentecostal/charismatic churches in various Chinese societies and communities, an analysis of the Local Church led by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, and a description of Catholic charismatic practices in mainland China. Finally, Dr. Joy Tong, co-organizer of this symposium and an affiliated Research Fellow of our center, presented a case study of a Chinese charismatic church in the United States, analyzing the social and cultural factors for leadership roles of the woman pastor.

The special evening program of the first day showed a video collection of visual, musical and performing arts of Chinese Pentecostals around the world, compiled and edited by a Purdue graduate student Pamela Sari. Pastor Bobby Chaw, one of the founding leaders of the City Harvest Church in Singapore, showed an introduction video of this mega-church, discussed its historical development, and answered questions from the participants.

During the reflection and conclusion session, several senior scholars commented that this was one of the best organized conferences they had attended, and this was probably the first conference in the world focusing on Chinese Pentecostal/charismatic movements. The participants expressed the hope for publishing a collected volume of the papers. They also urged the Center on Religion and Chinese Society to continue to organize this kind of symposia in the future.