A magisterial sweep through 1500 years of Christian history with a groundbreaking focus on the missionary role of migrants in its spread.
Human migration has long been identified as a driving force of historical change. Building on this understanding, Jehu Hanciles surveys the history of Christianity’s global expansion from its origins through 1500 CE to show how migration—more than official missionary activity or imperial designs—played a vital role in making Christianity the world’s largest religion.
Church history has tended to place a premium on political power and institutional forms, thus portraying Christianity as a religion disseminated through official representatives of church and state. But, as Hanciles illustrates, this “top-down perspective overlooks the multifarious array of social movements, cultural processes, ordinary experiences, and non-elite activities and decisions that contribute immensely to religious encounter and exchange.”
Hanciles’s socio-historical approach to understanding the growth of Christianity as a world religion disrupts the narrative of Western preeminence, while honoring and making sense of the diversity of religious expression that has characterized the world Christian movement for two millennia. In turning the focus of the story away from powerful empires and heroic missionaries, Migration and the Making of Global Christianity instead tells the more truthful story of how every Christian migrant is a vessel for the spread of the Christian faith in our deeply interconnected world.
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In Beyond Christendom and other writings, Hanciles did so much to define an emerging field. Now, it is wonderful to see him applying his insights about migration and mission to an earlier era—nothing less than the first three-quarters of Christian history, the years before 1500. This is a remarkably ambitious goal, which he accomplishes with great success. Throughout, we must be impressed by his range of scholarship, and his acuity, as he roams through so many diverse eras and locales. He never lets us forget the links and parallels that bind those early centuries to our own day. This is an adventurous transnational history, which demands to be read and cited.
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