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Joel Carpenter

Now What?

Revivalist Christianity and Global South politics.

Across three great regions of the world—sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and southern and eastern Asia—two trends are rearranging the social and political landscapes. One of these, the growth of democracy in civic life, politics, and governance, has attracted the attention of some of the most prominent scholars of public affairs. The late Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard famously called this movement "the third wave" of democratic revolutions in modern history. This trend is anything but inevitable, however. Despite dramatic advances, democracy in many lands is fragile, and there have been many setbacks, as any reader of the "world" section of the daily news can attest.

The other development, which until recently was nearly invisible to most scholars and pundits, is Christianity's dynamic development in these regions, which is causing a seismic shift of the faith's place and role in the world. Christianity, it turns out, is not just the fading tribal religion of the Europeans.

The faith is practiced worldwide, in many more places and languages than any other religion. The great majority of Christians now live outside Europe and North America. Just as the nations of the Global South and East are the most interesting places to study democracy these days, so too the main questions about Christianity increasingly arise from its new heartlands in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One of those questions, which has received surprisingly little attention, is what these two trends have to do with each other. A number of political scientists, including Huntington, have noted that a re-energized Roman Catholicism, with a new theological purchase on freedom, has been a critical force for democratization, especially in parts of Latin America. What about some of the other dynamic Christian movements, notably the Pentecostals and other evangelicals? By the year 2000, twelve percent of Latin Americans identified as Protestants, and two-thirds of them were Pentecostals. ...

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