The big space of the ocean is a pleasing thought as I complete my final day in quarantine on re-entry to the UK. I have been able to have ocean thoughts because one distraction during quarantine has been putting the final touches to our forthcoming volume on Christianity in Oceania.
This is part of the series with Edinburgh University Press that is taking us on a world tour to take account of the presence of Christianity in every part of the globe. In the great “liquid continent” of Oceania, it is a very mixed picture. Australia and New Zealand have strong Christian history but are secularizing fast while the Pacific islands historically have their own traditional religions but today are strong in their embrace of Christian faith. Then there are the “first nation” peoples of New Zealand and Australia whom some suggest now hold the key to the future of Christianity in the two “big islands.”
A concern that unites everyone is climate change – and especially the implications of rising sea levels for the low-lying coral atolls of the Pacific. This provokes a rethink which is rather chastening for Christianity. Traditional religion was marked by a strong sense of how all of creation is interwoven and interdependent. Much of this was lost with the coming of Christianity, which coincided with unprecedented exploitation and abuse of the natural world. Island Christians are turning again to their ancestral traditions to find resources to meet current challenges and to rethink the meaning of their faith.
Migration is another major theme to consider. Pacific people have been migrants from time immemorial. Today Christian migrants from all over the Pacific are revitalizing churches in Australia and New Zealand. Yet questions arise about the future of the islands when in some cases more than half the population have left. Meanwhile ethnic and religious diversity is on the rise as migrants from many different parts of Asia make their homes in New Zealand or Australia. This brings new dynamics to church life as it does to society as a whole.
All this and more is explored in Christianity in Oceania, due to appear in August this year – https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-christianity-in-oceania.html