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Research Project: The „Charismatization“ of Christianity in Pakistan and its effects on life realities of Pakistani Christians.

An overview of goals, methods, research interests, and current state of a doctoral research project of the Center for Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at the Protestant University Wuppertal/Bethel (Germany) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Henning Wrogemann.

Motivation and Research Interests

 

The aim of the project is to show the increasing “Charismatization” of Christianity in Pakistan. The research refers primarily to the classical protestant mainstream churches which go back to European or North-American mission activities in the second half of the 19th and the 20th century. However, it also touches the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan as well as independent churches and movements.

 

Christianity in Pakistan is relevant as a topic for missiological research for several reasons.

  • First of all, this study has to be seen as part of the worldwide research on Pentecostalism which is a growing field of interest but does, so far, not consider Pakistan at all.
  • A second reason is the general relevance of the state of Pakistan. Demographically it is the sixth biggest country of the world and the second biggest nation with a Muslim majority. It is the only state which was basically founded because of Islam. As a state with a considerable number of nuclear weapons, it is still hardly able to control most of its own territory militarily and politically. However, it is situated at the highly conflictive borderline between two religious traditions, Islam and Hinduism. It can be assumed that the relationships between the religions within Pakistan will also have an effect on  international relations, be it to the big Hindu neighbour in the East or the so-called Christian West, particularly the United States which is very active in the region.
  • A third reason for looking at Pakistan very carefully is the fact that it is an explicitly Islamic state with a Christian minority of something between 3 and 5 million people. These people are subject to state discrimination and sporadic (non-governmental) persecution and violence. The observation how Christianity reacts and develops under such circumstances and what the mental and behavioural effects of a recognizable “Charismatization” are, is not only important in itself but may even allow to draw some careful conclusions with regard to situations and trends of Christian minorities in other Islamic countries.

 

This research does not work with a specific definition of Pentecostalism, because its focus is not on Pentecostal movements – whatever they may be -  but it limits itself just to look at the “Charismatization” of the Church and the Christian life in its real (biblical) sense. That means, it is asking for the meaning of the biblical “Charismata” in Christian understanding and life. It looks at the expectation and prayer for and the actual practice of supernatural experiences as described in and understood from 1. Cor. 12 and 14, Rom. 12 and in the narratives about signs and wonders from the Gospels and the Book of Acts, but also found in the spiritual environment of folk religion and pagan traditions.

 

As a marker for „Charismatization,“ this study uses the meaning and role of spiritual healing in the name of Jesus Christ. This includes exorcism since disturbances of physical well-being are often regarded as an effect of evil spirits which have to be cast out for recovery. Basically two reasons have been regarded as decisive to select healing and exorcism as phenomenological criteria for “Charismatization”. Firstly, narratives about healings and even resurrections of dead people are regarded as highly important for the international expansion of Pentecostalism. Secondly, different from other phenomenological criteria, healing and exorcism in the name of Jesus are comparatively hard criteria: either they play a central role in the belief system and practice or they don´t. While other criteria like tongues, prophecy, enthusiastic worship etc. are either just marks of a specific group within Pentecostalism or are difficult to be clearly identified or differentiated from natural variances of emotional openness to devotional practices.

 

 

Methodological approach

 

The study is designed as a explorative, cross-sectional analysis. Neither with regard to quantitative data, nor with regard to comprehensiveness of the methodological instruments applied, nor with regard to the findings, is it expected to come to complete and final conclusions. It is rather intended to explore the field and make the findings accessible to future, more specialised research.

 

The research bases on four theses which cover different sectors.

  • According to thesis 1 a “Charismatization“ has taken place not only in independent churches but also in the Roman Catholic Church as well as  - and that is the focus of the research – in the classical protestant mainline churches in Pakistan.
  • According the thesis 2 this can be seen as a result of an increasing global exchange which expresses itself in two aspects:
    • Influences of global players of the worldwide charismatic community can be traced with regard to form and content.
    • Modern communication technology and media play a considerable and increasing role.
  • According to the third thesis the „Charismatization“ will continue to grow for three reasons:
    • “Charismatization” helps particularly urban Christians to develop a more self-confident identity of not being merely a helpless Christian remnant in a society becoming increasingly Islamised, but of being part of a worldwide, dynamic movement.
    • The charismatic belief system fits well into persisting folk-religious understandings and worldviews of the power of blessing and cursing, of evil spirits and the experience of spirituality.
    • Practising and focusing on healing and exorcism meets a real need, particularly among the rural poor. Rampant poverty and a weak and sometimes hardly existing government health system makes spiritual healing and exorcism for many poor the only option and hope for survival.
  • According to thesis 4, the “Charismatization” influences Christians with regard to their perception of inter-religious relations and makes them bolder with regard to the Muslim majority and thereby increases their willingness to witness. This is basically because of two reasons:
    • The feeling of being part of a worldwide dynamic movement increases the self-confidence of Christians, who normally tend to have an inferiority complex because of feeling stigmatised, since the majority of Christians in Pakistan stem from a cast of “untouchables”.
    • The charismatic understanding of an invisible cosmic spiritual warfare which is going on between the Holy Spirit and the powers of darkness and the continuing proclamation of God’s victory by believers, leads to a more optimistic view of the actual inter-religious conflict.

 

Instruments

 

The author has visited Pakistan on a regular basis since 1991 and worked mainly with Pakistani Christians and churches. Unstructured observations and talks during these two decades have generated important ideas for this research project and opened decisive access for the implementation of this study.

According to the explorative character of the study, the instruments applied were first of all a comprehensive analysis of literature from within and without Pakistan which deals with all the issues relevant to this context.

In addition, four research trips were implemented in 2011 and 2012 to carry out the following activities:

  • Identification of literature which was either only available in Pakistan or is still unpublished on the computers of resource persons;
  • Analysis of forms of behaviour e.g. by visiting Christian conferences and looking at Christian bookshops to see what kind of books are being sold and what catches the attraction of ordinary Christians;
  • Participatory observation in church services, charismatic conventions, healing conventions, theological seminaries, holy places like shrines, temples, Mary grottos, etc.
  • Semi-structured interviews with resource persons, healers, preachers, and people who looked for healing or experienced healing.
  • A Likert questionnaire had been developed and applied to check the attitudes of all protestant students of Master of Divinity in Pakistan, the highest possible theological degree which can be acquired in that country, in order to understand the positions of the future generation of Pakistani theologians with regard to the subject of this study.

 

Current state

 

The research project was completed in January 2014 and published in German language in April 2015:

Detlef Hiller: Das neue pakistanische Christentum. Die "Charismatisierung" des Glaubensverständnisses und der Glaubenspraxis pakistanischer Christen untersucht anhand der Bedeutung von "healing and deliverance", Missionswissenschaftliche Forschungen, Bd. 31, Erlangen 2015 (ISBN 978-3-87214-361-7).

Contributed by:

Detlef Hiller

Essen, Germany
Kichliche Hochschule Wuppertal / Bethel - Institut für interkulturelle Theologie und interreligiöse Studien
last modified 2015-04-15 09:40