Season 3 - Episode 328
What happens when Christianity enters a new market? Throughout history, Christians have shared the gospel around the world, and the way people receive that message is inevitably informed by their own customs and culture. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi, the Frederick E. Roach Professor of World Christianity in Baylor’s Department of Religion, examines interpretations of the Christian movement and shares trends that shape the transmission of the faith across the globe.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and our guest today is Dr. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi. Dr. Cardoza serves as the Frederick E. Roach Professor of World Christianity in Baylor's department of religion. An interdisciplinary scholar and historian in the fields of world Christianity and mission studies, Dr. Cardoza researches interpretations of the Christian movement around the world on both institutional and popular levels, the socio-cultural interplay between Christians and other faiths and more. He joined the Baylor faculty in 2018 after eight years at Southern Methodist University, the last year there serving as the director of the doctor of ministry. He's a native of Puerto Rico and has a great deal of research going on throughout the summer and we really appreciate you taking the time to join us. Dr. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi, thanks so much for joining us on Baylor Connections today.
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:Thank you, Derek. It's an honor and a pleasure to be with you and with the Baylor family.
Derek Smith:Dr. Cardoza, I just gave the website version of your academic and research focus. As we begin to dive in, can you help us just unpack that a bit and visualize what that means to you?
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:Certainly. Actually that's a great question. Let's think about what's the usual knowledge that many, many Christians and non-Christians have actually regarding Christianity. That is that Christianity basically is a Western religion, and that the missionary work of Christianity basically moved from what we call the centers, the old centers of the Christian religion, again, in the West, Western Europe, what we also call the global North. Basically, the imagination is one that Christianity moves in one direction. Well, world Christianity actually not only challenges, but it breaks down that incredibly powerful assumption. So as a discipline, what I do is actually provide new perspectives about Christianity's vitality outside of the Western and the old centers of the Christian faith. For instance, there used to be a language, Derek, about having the... sending churches, sending churches and therefore sending missionaries to the non-Western world, and those churches in the non-Western world were categorized as receiving churches. Well actually, the world Christianity discipline breaks that assumption, because historically, we know that Christianity moves in not only that direction, but in multiple directions. This has become more clear in the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century because of the demographic shift of the Christian religion. Which means that the vitality and growth of Christianity is not any more in the old centers of the Christian faith, we'll say Western Europe, USA, Canada, but rather the new centers are to be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Latin America, in Asia and in the Pacific. In a way, it's imagining the success of missionary work from the West, and yet at the same time is recognizing that as Christianity has moved towards the global South, it's taking its own agency, it's taking its own taste, it's taking its own rhythms in a way that actually provide windows and opportunities to see the Christian religion with a new perspective, with an understanding of new agents of the Christian faith. The other piece that I think is important when you mentioned the way in which the website describes what I do, is that one of those big changes has to do with the way in which Christianity in the global South, safe to say again, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Pacific interplays with other religions. When we talk about the movement of the Christian religion towards the global South, one of the fascinating dynamics that we discover is that Christianity suddenly is engaged in a context where you have multiple religious alternatives. You might have Islam, you may have primal traditional religions, you may have Afro-Caribbean religion, indigenous religions, or folk religions. Therefore, the way in which Christianity and its agents, and both its foreign missionaries and its national missionaries, the way that they began to engage with their context is certainly very, very different than the story that we have been told of basically Christianity coming to a South American country and basically eradicating everything that was there. That's not the case. We know, Derek, that that's not the case anymore. That actually Christianity from its beginning as an early church, always interacted and interplay with its context, with its religious context, its social, cultural, linguistic context. Finally, I would say that one of the critical pieces about this socio-cultural interplay is the fact that in a way it's giving us an opportunity to actually look at what's going on today, and that using the experience of today to actually reinterpret our own... the history of the Christian tradition. This is the other piece that I do. Knowing the current demographic shift of the Christian religion, knowing its interactions with those contexts, I also as a historian, use that experience in order to revisit the way in which Christianity has been written, the way in which the story of the faith is being told. She also offers us examples to rediscover our own faith in our own context.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. That paint say a deep picture. Let's dive into that a little bit. Something that really stuck out for a lot of people and certainly myself, is that idea of when Christians, for lack of a better term, inter a new market, how it interplays with the people there. What dynamics are some of the most important? What aspects of that interplay proved to be most meaningful in that transmission and reception aspect?
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:First of all, let's keep your language because I think it's a language that a lot of people can understand. Christianity, let's think about Christianity as a product. Christian missionaries from the United States particularly brought the Christian Protestant expression of Christianity to the Caribbean. When they offered this product called Protestant Christian faith, one of the challenges is, can you offer a product in a context where you already have other products that people actually like and enjoy? That's a first step. Actually, that first step, it's like it's creating the product in relation to other products. Think about it as Christianity becoming a cereal. In the United States, one of the things that I'm always amazed about the United States is the fact that you go to H-E-B or any supermarket, and you have this gigantic aisle of cereals, but you have so many choices. Think about it in that same way with the Christian religion as it begins to be grounded in a particular aisle of cereals of a Caribbean context. When you get there, the question that you face is, how can I make Jesus accessible to the Puerto Ricans or to the Caribbeans that come to this aisle? Actually, we have discovered that in order for Christianity to actually become "an appeal", [inaudible] to appeal to a new population, first thing, it has to take upon itself the language of the people. Actually, if you think about it very closely, Christianity is one of the crucial religions, world religions that does not have an official language. You can be Christian in any mother tongue. You can be Christian in your vernacular. Secondly, it needs to appropriate, it needs to embrace ways of speaking about Jesus, the gospel, God, with idiomatic expressions of the people, and this is very, very important for the Christian religion and throughout its history. Christianity has, I say, religion has appropriated idiomatic expressions of the divine. A third characteristic is the fact that Christianity is a religion that is very biographic. If you look at the New Testament, you have the biographies of Jesus. The story of the Christian faith has to intersect with the story of the people. Can you imagine if I began speaking to our audience, to our Baylor audience let's say in Spanish? I began to speak and probably just a very few number of people might understand what I'm saying. Or let's imagine that I began to use very strong idiomatic expressions coming from my country. You need to have that kind of linguistic cultural religious connection that is going on there. So those are three very important aspects that actually helped Christianity be grounded in a new context. Now, in order for those processes to be healthy, that's where you need theology. How do we translate Christian... How do we use translations in order to communicate the story of the gospel? How much of other idiomatic expressions can be used in order to make the connection? Those are a theological questions that we usually don't think about, but that's the way in which you begin to have this interplay in order to make Christianity be part of a context. Let's put it this way. Christianity is seasoned with the spices of a particular context. When it's seasoned with those spices, Christianity actually becomes unknown, becomes vital and has no expressions.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Dr. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi here on Baylor Connections. As you paint that picture, we can envision the way the faith has grown around the world in years past. But certainly as you've talked about it, it's still growing and thriving in many places that might be unfamiliar to many of us. As you look around the world today at areas where Christianity is thriving and growing, what are some of the correlations that you see? What are some of the commonalities that are most fascinating to you?
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:I think that some of the commonalities that I find very exciting about, let's say Christians in Cuba and Christians in Waco, is a passion to do good, a conspiracy for goodness for the communities. I also see a passion for worship. Worship is so, so critical. What is interesting, it's both different because you have it in different languages, you have it with different musical styles, and yet at the same time, somehow worship can bring us all together. There's something that brings us all together in coming together to praise God. Another commonality that we usually are not fully aware of is the increasing number of women in local Christian communities. Derek, the future... Well not the future. The current expressions of Christianity are coming from traditional Christian women of color. I find amazing the connections that the women in the church and in the faith have with each other. They have an ability to cross cultural interact, understand their dilemmas, their challenges, and they are rebuilding the church in a way that is uniquely prophetic and uniquely inclusive I would say. It's fascinating to see that the vitality of the Christian religion is actually in the women's hand. There was a time in which the most important theologian was a white Euro-American person. That might be the case still because of the power, the dynamics of power. Yet in terms of the grassroots level, women. Now, think about this, Derek, in terms of the demographic shifts. Most churches in the United States, what they're losing is the youth. Most churches in the global South, what they have is youth, and this youth is particularly very strongly feminine. You already are seeing some interesting differences, and yet at the same time, that is the future of the Christian religion.
Derek Smith:In your role, you're a historian, sociologist, anthropologist, and I know you've studied the ways these demographic changes have impacted things in the past. Probably as we look at the impact of traditional women of colors prominence in the faith's transmission, there's a lot of that story that's going to unfold. As you think about that as a scholar, what could their impact be on the vitality of Christianity around the world?
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:First of all, one of the things that is incredibly powerful about the demographic shift in relation to the agency of women, what are the priorities that global South women are bringing forth in terms of the mission imperatives of the faith? For instance, women are concerned about distribution of food. Women are concerned about the education of their children. Women are concerned about community building and hope. Women are concern about environmental, about projects that are environmentally sustainable. Women are concerned not so much about power, they're concerned about righteousness, about justice. When you begin to look at those priorities in the history of women's engagement in Christian mission, it's quite amazing that they are setting a new stage for the way in which theological and ethical imperatives are guiding the life of the church. In my experience in interfaith dialogue, when they engage in interfaith dialogue, they have a sense of respect, a sense of seeking a common need in the community in order to bring wellness, healing, improvement to the community in the name of the gospel. In other words, competition is not the keyword when engaging with what does it mean to do Christian missionary work, it's collaboration, it's working together so that the goodness of the gospel can be celebrated. Derek, it's amazing the power that they have at the popular level and what they can do at the popular level. I think they're making an incredible change.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Dr. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi here on Baylor Connections. What drew you to Baylor for this role?
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:Well, there were two things that drew me to Baylor, and one of them was the department of religion itself. Let me tell you, Derek, the department of religion is a top department with faculty. I've got colleagues who have a deep heart for teaching, and they also have great minds and they're doing amazing research. To be part of a department that actually is able to integrate teaching and top-notch research is very exciting, very, very exciting. That's one of the reasons why I came. The second reason why I came is because we have here at Baylor an interesting opportunity. As a Christian university, we and with so many sociologists anthropologists, historians, religious scholars that are committed to the Christian religion, people in world religion, so forth and so on. We can really create something. I call it something really juicy, really good in terms of world Christianity studies. I think that in our history area in the religion department, we're moving towards that direction. Some of our students are already working in the fields of Pentecostalism, global Pentecostalism, even our students doing reformation studies are working with issues of the encounter with Jews and issues related to the Turks during this time in the 16th century, the conquest of the Americas. I mean we are actually in the process of creating a new way of understanding the history of the Christian religion with an emphasis in the world Christian movement, with an emphasis in the way in which Christianity throughout its history is actually a world religion.
Derek Smith:Dr. Cardoza, As we head into the final couple of moments here, you have painted such a great picture of the work that you do, and we even got to ask you about the role your Puerto Rican heritage played in your studies, or the fact that I met you through the context of baseball. Your son, Esteban, plays for the Baylor baseball team. I know great Puerto Rican baseball heritage there, so I know there's a lot of kind of exciting ways probably that that background has influenced what you do.
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:Certainly. My father played baseball. I've got cousins who played in AA Puerto Rico. I played just a little bit, I couldn't hit the curve ball so I leave it out.
Derek Smith:Many people can't.
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:I just knew that I look good in a uniform. My wife (laughs)
Derek Smith:It does work well then, the games were good.
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:Yes. I think that baseball in our family is important. It gives us a sense of discipline, and it gives us a sense of enjoying and being entertained by doing in a disciplined way what we love to do. It's a way in which baseball has transmitted in our family a sense of responsibility, accountability, readiness, and urgency. That's the way I will put it. I think that is portrayed, in my family's portrayed, in my wife's family is portrayed, in my sons to... Like you said, Esteban is here at Baylor, Carlos is a manager for the minor leagues for the Texas Rangers. Juan who is that Houston, he doesn't play any organized sport, but he has a sense of discipline, accountability, and a sense of empathy that I think it comes from actually being around teamwork. Teamwork creates collaboration, Derek, and I think that in today's academic world and in today's world period, collaboration is needed.
Derek Smith:Well, that's very exciting. I wish we had more time. I hope in the meantime that your summer research goes well, and that things go smoothly as we face COVID-19, that maybe we'll see you on campus and then back at baseball again one of these days.
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi:Yes. Thank you so much, Derek. I do appreciate the invitation. Thank you so much.
Derek Smith:Well, I've enjoyed it very much as well. Thank you so much Dr. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi, the Frederick E. Roach professor of world Christianity in Baylor's department of religion. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.