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2009 Yale-Edinburgh Group Conference examines “Mission, Law, and Custom”

Eighteen years ago the Yale-Edinburgh Group was one of the first entities to introduce the term World Christianity as a designation for the exponential growth of Christianity in the non-western world.  The Group brought attention to the startling shift in the nature of Christianity, noting that in 1900 over 80 percent of professing Christians were white and Euro-American while today over 65 percent of professing Christians live in the Global South or East.

Since that time, the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and Non-Western Christianity has met to examine the radical shifts taking place in Christianity and in particular to look at the growth of the religion within indigenous contexts and often with an indigenous perspective.   This year was no different, with more than 60 professors, graduate students, archivists, and independent scholars from throughout the world—including the United Kingdom, India, Korea, Myanmar, Poland, and Switzerland—meeting to present and discuss papers on the theme “Missions, Law, and Custom.”

Brian Stanley, newly appointed director of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, delivered the keynote address at the July 2-4 gathering.   He presented the Day Associates Lecture on the topic “From the ‘Poor Heathen’ to ‘the Glory and Honour of all Nations’: Vocabularies of Race and Custom in Protestant Missions, 1844-1928,” highlighting the shift that took place in how the western missionary movement referred to those they were working so diligently to reach. 

The Yale-Edinburgh Group was formed in 1992 under the leadership of Lamin Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of World Christianity at YDS, and Andrew Walls of the University of Edinburgh.  The aim was to facilitate discussion and exchange of information about historical aspects of the missionary movement and the development of world Christianity. It meets annually, alternately hosted by the Divinity School and by the University of Edinburgh.

The Group’s conferences typically address themes that allow viewpoints from the fields of political, social, diplomatic, and religious history to converge to reassess the significance of the missionary movement and its worldwide effects.  Next year represents the centennial anniversary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh.  In light of this historic occasion, the Group will meet in Edinburgh and discus the theme “Consultation and Cooperation in the History of Missions.”

More information about the Group is available at http://www.library.yale.edu/div/yale_edinburgh/2010theme.htm.

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