World Christianity Conference 2024 - Princeton Theological Seminary
World Christianity Conference 2024

This year Afe AdogameRaimundo Cesar Barreto Jr., and Soojin Chung, director of the OMSC, convened the fifth World Christianity Conference, which got its start in 2018. For years, co-founders—Afe AdogameRaimundo César Barreto, Jr., and Richard Young—considered the possibility of hosting the international, interdisciplinary conference somewhere located in the Global South. This year was their opportunity to do so. 

With a theme of “Revisiting Women and Gender in World Christianity,” the fifth conference was held at the University of Ghana in Accra, Ghana from March 11-15. It was co-organized by The World Christianity & History of Religions Program (Department of History & Ecumenics) at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Overseas Ministry Study Center (OMSC), and the Department for the Study of Religions at the University of Ghana.

Adogame, Maxwell M. Upson professor of religion and society, notes that the theme was on par from both a contemporary and historical perspective.

“We look at the discourse within the field of Christianity,” Adogame says. “We look at what themes have not been given sufficient attention and that’s why we came up with revisiting women and gender because the place and role of women, and also women scholars, have been largely neglected. So we thought that it was high time to prioritize that as a theme.”

The 2024 conference, which had 220 in-person and virtual attendees, was special for a variety of reasons. When considering Christianity and the demography of churches today, it’s not disputable that women are largely represented, Adogame says. Because not much has been written about women scholars or their contributions, they’ve also been largely undermined when considering the mobility and transmission of Christianity. This conference’s theme, panel discussions, lectures, and activities aimed to address the disparity.

Multiple conference chairs led virtual and in-person sessions that explored topics such as Women, Wives, and Witnesses: The Role of Korean and Burmese Women in Asian Christianity, Women Negotiating Religious Spaces, Gender and Agency in African and African American Politics and Spirituality and Gender and Methodology in World Christianity, to name a few. 

The three Gerald H. Anderson lecturers were all women. Dr. Ivone Gebara (Pontifical Roman Catholic University of São Paulo) spoke about the Slow Destruction of the Patriarchal Temples in the “Good News” of Women; Dr. Egodi Uchendu’s (University of Nigeria, Nsukka) lecture explored Women and Gender in African Christianity; and Dr. Kwok Pui-Lan (Candler School of Theology at Emory University) discussed Paradigm Shifts in the Study of Women and Gender in World Christianity. Like previous conferences, the conveners also created a space for doctoral students’ voices to be heard during a graduate student panel. It’s a mentoring strategy and an essential component that has made the World Christianity Conference even more appealing. 

Another highlight of the week included a visit to Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle. 

“They are very important in the history of Christianity,” Adogame says. “It’s where enslaved Africans were transported to the western world. And this played a very important role in the discourses we had during the conference.” 

While the theme, “Revisiting Women and Gender in World Christianity,” isn’t new in the discourse of World Christianity, conference organizers took this notion a step further by deepening the reflection on gender in this burgeoning field says Barreto, associate professor of World Christianity.

“The simple fact of being able to name gender as a topic and having that conversation in the global south was meaningful,” he says. “One of the most special moments of the conference was the ceremony where we acknowledged the work of Mercy Amba Oduyoye, one of the most important African women theologians and the founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.” 

Dana L. Robert, scholar, and teacher of World Christianity, was also honored for her contributions during the conference. She is one of the pioneers of the field of World Christianity, and in particular, her contribution to understanding the role of women in World Christianity was highlighted during a session honoring her. Over an academic career spanning forty years, she has published more than a dozen books and more than 120 articles on World Christianity and mission history.

World Christianity Conference

For Chung, a highlight was the sheer number of women participants, which is typically uncommon where academic conferences are concerned, she says. 

“They gave me personal testimonies, after the conference, that they felt a sense of liberation because they felt seen and their voices heard,” Chung says. “This is a really understudied field, but women play such an oversized role in the field of World Christianity and that was adequately highlighted by our plenary speakers. And, in the panels and papers that have been written.”

As the editor of the International Bulletin of Mission Research, one of Chung’s goals is to publish papers that were read at the conference because it’s yet another way to amplify the voices of local scholars who rarely get to make it into North American journal publications, she says. 

Chung was also particularly touched by the Ghanaian hospitality. “They were genuinely happy that we’re there and their sense of welcoming us and showering us with love and support just made us feel so welcomed,” she says. “We really cherish this partnership.” 

In fact, a University of Ghana convener, Rose Mary Amenga-Etego, will be a resident scholar at the OMSC next year, Chung says. It’ll give her an opportunity to return the hospitality and continue this partnership with the university. 

Over the years, the conference has seen much participation from the Global South. This makes sense, especially considering that Christianity is largely practiced in the Global South and the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted from the Global North to the Global South, Adogame notes.

While the conveners are still relishing their time in Ghana during this year’s conference, they are simultaneously looking forward to what’s to come. Next year, the conference will be held at Princeton Seminary. The following year, there are plans to host it in Brazil. 

“We hope that as we continue these conferences, both in Princeton and elsewhere, we’ll continue to explore contemporary themes,” Adogame says. “We’ll continue to look at issues that have local and global relevance.” 

Another hope that’s been percolating for a couple of years includes opening a center for World Christianity at Princeton Seminary, he says. 

“We’re really hoping that in the near future, we’re able to establish this center for World Christianity here, and this will be a further attraction for scholars worldwide to visit Princeton and share their work with us and also spend time with us in a way that we can achieve some kind of academic cross fertilization,” Adogame says. 

For Barreto, moving the conference is also about reflecting the diversity in the field, especially considering the places where Christianity is growing the fastest—Africa, Latin America, and Asia. 

“Our hope is to really make this conference worldwide, not only in title and not only by listening to a variety of voices and perspectives coming from all over the world, but also by making it accessible to everyone,” he says. “I think this move resonates with the mission of Princeton Seminary. The conference is actually connecting us with the world and my hope is that we will continue to do that in the best way possible so we can use the platform and the resources that we have to make an significant impact on the global church.”

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