World Christian Encyclopedia Online

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Authors: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo

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This in the online version of the 3rd edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, which documents the changing status of World Christianity over the past 120 years from historical and social scientific perspectives. It records the continued shift of Christianity to the Global South and contains estimates for religious and nonreligious affiliation in every country of the world, including detail on Christianity to the denominational level. This reference work features comprehensive descriptions of all Christian traditions, including current information on the uniqueness of Christian experiences around the world.

The online version is fully text searchable, contains cross references and additional photo material.

More information:
  • Authors & editors
  • Collaborators and contributors
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgments
  • Methodology and sources of Christian and religious affiliation
  • Preface to the third edition

    The World Christian Encyclopedia represents the most comprehensive attempt to quantify adherents of Christianity and other world religions. The 50-year sustained effort strikes many as impossible: documenting affiliation to 18 religious/nonreligious traditions in the past, present and future, plus detail on Christianity down to the denominational level in each of the world’s 234 countries. The scope and depth of its contents make it one of the most-quoted books in World Christianity and mission studies. Since the publication of the first edition in 1982, no other reference work in World Christianity has matched it in global comprehensiveness. For the third edition, we sadly note the passing of our two previous editors, David B. Barrett (1927–2011), the original founder of the project, and George T. Kurian (1931–2015), encyclopedist extraordinaire, and second edition editor. The third edition is built on the strong foundation of these two pioneers.

    The Encyclopedia’s three editions represent distinct stages of quantitative research in World Christianity. David Barrett produced the first edition (1982) from a church-based research centre in Nairobi, Kenya. The second edition (2001), produced by Barrett and Todd Johnson, came from an independent missions research centre in Richmond, Virginia, USA. Johnson and Gina Zurlo’s third edition (2020) is based in an academic context at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA, USA). Several important discoveries were made since the first edition about Barrett’s work in Kenya from 1957 to 1985 – the genesis of this vast research agenda. Zurlo’s dissertation from Boston University (2017) uncovered the history of the first edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, Barrett’s motivations for undertaking global research on religion and the development of the method that has been improved and is still in use today. These discoveries encouraged Johnson and Zurlo to reflect on the tradition of the Encyclopedia, in particular, what should remain the same and what should be reconsidered for the third edition.

    The third edition hearkens back to the simplicity of the first edition. Its single volume highlights the most salient points about religious belonging around the world and, for the most part, only includes findings that are unique to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Given the advent of the internet, it was unnecessary to present certain kinds of data from the second edition, such as extensive demographic information on countries and long lists of cities, languages and peoples. Furthermore, like the first, the third edition strikes a balance in presenting information on Christianity in a way that reaches both scholarly academic and church-based audiences.

    The most important consistency among all three editions is dedication to the numbers. Every known denomination in every country of the world was contacted for new information on their affiliates for the year 2015. In-country experts and church leaders helped verify figures and review data, especially in difficult access countries. In this sense, the core of the Encyclopedia remains the same with reliable, well-researched quantitative data on Global Christianity and other religions. At the same time, this edition enhances its presentation of Christianity around the world by moving beyond the standard categorisation of the previous two editions. Each country’s narrative text includes information on what is unique to Christianity in that context, such as theological education, gender, health care, climate change, violence, politics or other contemporary trends. As a result, the third edition is more contextualised to the lived experiences of Christians around the world.

    Women were noticeably absent from the first two editions, which largely focused on the institutional history of Christianity expressed in the founding of denominations, church splits and theological debates. However, when tasked with finding new photos of Christian ‘activities’ around the world, the photo editor inadvertently made an important observation about World Christianity today. While church history largely highlights the activities of prominent men, a more grassroots approach reveals the activities of everyday women. Indeed, the vast majority of new photos included women involved in education, health care, worship, prayer and other kinds of Christian service. As a result, the third edition takes more seriously the contributions of women in historical and contemporary World Christianity. As much as possible, this volume includes important women in Christian history, plus activities of women in churches today ranging from ordained ministry to social service. This attempt, plus the inclusion of women in the full-colour Global Overview, represents only a starting point for future research on women in World Christianity.

    Multi-language country-level bibliographic research revealed another important trend concerning World Christianity as an academic discipline. Significant scholarship is available for large countries – more than could be represented in this volume – such as the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Nigeria, Kenya and so on. Yet, many places around the world are barely visible in scholarly research, such as island nations in Oceania and the Caribbean. More can be done to shed light on the history of Christianity in all places around the world.

    Some aspects of the Encyclopedia’s production became easier in the time between the first and third editions. Amazing ease of communication via email, phone and video chat allowed for quick transmission of information, as opposed to the eight or even 12 months between David Barrett’s letters to and from Nairobi in the 1970s. The amount of information online is staggering, though it requires expertise to know what is helpful and what is not. Finding new, public domain photos was relatively straightforward with open source databases such as Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. Furthermore, the online World Christian Database (Brill) hosts the Center’s data and has been updated quarterly since 2003, which significantly cut down the amount of time needed to update quantitative data in the Encyclopedia. As a result, the third edition was completed in five years as opposed to 14 (1st edition) and eight (2nd edition) years.

    At the same time, many changes in the nature of World Christianity have made this kind of demographic research more difficult. Traditional denominational structures are much looser than they used to be, with a significant amount of double-affiliation between traditions (e.g., many baptised Catholics are now Pentecostals) and blurrier lines regarding church membership. Historic Protestant denominations are losing members to Independent churches unconnected to any kind of structure or network, which are much harder to track. Reports of massive growth in underground Christian communities in Asia are difficult to verify. Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity is experiencing the fastest growth, but for many reasons these churches, especially in Africa, can be difficult to contact.

    At nearly 1,000 oversized pages, it is hard to imagine that more could have been done. Yet, the great complexity and ever-changing nature of World Christianity makes it increasingly difficult to contain it in a single volume. The authors wish that more could have been included related to Christianity and gender identity, political involvement, environmental issues, violence and war, disability awareness and other pressing issues of contemporary society. As has always been the case, it is our hope that the World Christian Encyclopedia serves as a starting point, not the final word, on World Christianity today.

    South Hamilton, Massachusetts, 2019 Todd M. Johnson & Gina A. Zurlo