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Twentieth-Century Global Christianity: A People’s History of Christianity Volume 7

Fortress Press, 2008
RRP: $57.95

Alex Haley once said that “history is written by the winners” and to a large extent that has been true. However, one of the greatest changes in the discipline of historical study over the past century has been its broadening out from academia to the people, and an understanding that people’s stories, from both the winners and the losers, those who are normally silent must be included in the rendering of history.

In much the same way, the history of Christianity has been written by the ‘winners’ – white, male, clergy – and from an institutional perspective. The last of a series of seven volumes this book aims to redress this imbalance, approaching the history of Christianity in the twentieth century ‘from below’. It explores the religious lives and practices of ordinary Christians from across the world, probing Christian encounters with popular culture, social change, ecumenical dialogue and more.

The editors do not claim they have produced a comprehensive history of the Christian church in the twentieth – rather it is “the early harvest of this new approach”. Among the offerings are chapters on the Catholic Church in China, both open and underground; ordinary Christian’s response to the Holocaust; the popularity of apocalyptic fiction in the USA; and the need for existential ritualizing in postmodern Sweden, the world’s most secularized nature.

While Twentieth-Century Global Christianity is interesting, both in its scope and content it is not a history written by ordinary Christians for ordinary Christians. It is a history written about ordinary Christians by academics, albeit a broader range of academics that might have been included in the past. Where then are the voices of the people?

Reviewed by Karyl Davison