Christianity in Southeast Asia: Comparative Growth, Politics and Networks in Urban Centres
|Name of Recipent||Dr Terence Chong
Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute
|Project Title||Christianity in Southeast Asia: Comparative Growth, Politics and Networks in Urban Centres|
|Type of Grant||Social Science Research Thematic Grant|
The project seeks to understand the growth of Christianity in Southeast Asia, specifically, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam, and its impact on these multi-cultural and multi-religious societies, as well as the role of religion in shaping political and public discourse. The study will be the first of its kind to involve a comprehensive survey of contemporary Christianity in Southeast Asia, and will also examine the transnational connections that have influenced the growth of Christian churches in each locality.
The project will study how regional megachurches adopt a capitalist ethos and at the same time, harness local histories and politics for socio-political and cultural change. In studying the beliefs, teachings, strategies, and practices of the megachurches, their local, national, and transnational networks will be examined.
Of specific relevance to Singapore would be the project’s study of how the growth of Christianity in our neighbouring countries might affect our multi-cultural and multi-religious society, and the implications of the transnational connections of Christian churches on the sense of national identity and global outlook of its Singaporean congregations.
1. Independent Pentecostal churches in Jakarta and Surabaya are using retail spaces in shopping malls for several reasons such as difficulties in getting permits for building churches and the ready infrastructure and amenities of shopping malls.
2. Independent Pentecostal churches in Singapore do the same but for different reasons such as limited land space.
3. Some Christian churches in Southeast Asia are expanding by establishing overseas branches in other parts of the region and beyond. They do so not only to spread the Gospel but also to overcome perceived demographic limits to Christian growth in their countries.
4. Another key driver of expansionism is the strong association of spiritual growth with financial and congregational growth. Many of these churches strive for greater expansion and tangible growth because they believe it wins favour and blessings from God.
5. These overseas Pentecostal branches are usually less syncretic than churches of other denominations in terms of reconciling theological teachings with folk practices.
6. They are also heightening competition for converts with local churches. Not only do overseas branches reach out to new converts, they are also actively seeking out Christians who may not be completely fulfilled at their current church.
7. Non-Catholic megachurches in the Philippines have been expanding their political influence by engaging political elites, galvanizing the grassroots, and ‘ministering to the middle’.
8. Megachurches in the Philippines engage elites through electoral endorsements and the fielding of church leaders for political office. This allows church agendas to be pushed as national policy.
9. Megachurches in the Philippines galvanise grassroots by sending their members out on the streets for political causes. Objectives tend to be narrow and urgent, and relative success depends on the manoeuvres of politicians.