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Christianity FAQ


  What Do Our Neighbors Believe?  

CHRISTIANITY Islam | Judaism
Where is the religion found today?
by Kendra Hotz

Christianity has spread across every region of the globe. At first it grew and flourished primarily in regions that belonged to the Roman Empire: Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. During the medieval period (500-1500), Roman Catholicism spread into western Europe, while Eastern Orthodoxy spread into Russia and the Slavic nations. At the same time, most in the Near East and North Africa converted to Islam. The third main subgroup, Protestantism, emerged in Europe in the 16th-century and spread, as did Roman Catholicism, wherever European colonialism spread during the modern period.

For this reason, it is easy to imagine Christianity to be a phenomenon of the western and northern hemispheres, a faith tradition for Europeans and North Americans of European ancestry. But the Christian faith has always been remarkably adaptable. Africans brought to North America as slaves, for example, fused a new-found faith with their own cultural traditions to shape a distinctive African-American expression of Christianity that persists even today.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen the rapid growth of Christian faith traditions rooted in indigenous cultures beyond Europe and North America. The growth of Christianity in the emerging world represents not so much an official break with Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, or European/North American Protestantism as it does a response and adaptation of the faith to cultural contexts very different from the ones in which those traditions developed, including experiences of colonialism and of marginalization by economic structures that privilege industrialized nations.

We can gain a sense of the reach of the Christian faith by drawing on some statistics gleaned from the World Christian Database, a repository of population statistics related to religion that is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In places like Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania, Christianity dominates the religious scene. 76% of Europeans, for example, and 93% of Latin Americans identify themselves as Christian. In North American the figure reaches 83%, with 80% of the residents of Oceania affirming the Christian faith.

In Africa, nearly half of the population, 46%, is Christian. In Asia, less than ten percent of the population is Christian; even so, numerically, there are more Christians in Asia, nearly 351 million, than there are in North America, which has about 277 million. There are also more Christians in Africa (411 million) than there are in North America. Likewise, in spite of the perception of Christianity as a religion of the northern hemisphere, and in spite of its much longer historical presence in Europe, there are nearly as many Christians in Latin America (517 million) as there are in Europe (553 million).

The Christian faith, then, is both broadly and deeply diverse. There is more than merely a scattering of Christians outside of Europe and North America. In fact, the majority of Christians live outside of those regions. In recent decades, leaders in Christian denominations in North America and Europe have become increasingly aware of the breadth and diversity of Christian traditions outside of the North and West, and have become appreciative especially of how worship practices that emerge in different contexts might enrich and correct their own traditions. As a result, it is no longer unusual to find a congregation in middle-America singing a hymn to a traditional African folk melody or offering a prayer composed by a Latin American priest.

Copyright ©2007 Kendra Hotz

Kendra G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor (with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections (2006) and coauthor of Transforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).

What Do Our Neighbors Believe?
This excerpt from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra Hotz, and John Kaltner is used with permission from Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.
To purchase a copy of WHAT DO OUR NEIGHBORS BELIEVE? visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith visitors and registered users.



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