Threat to future of vital global Christian study centre in Edinburgh

By staff writers
November 16, 2006

Threat to future of vital global Christian study centre in Edinburgh

-16/11/06

As religion and its prospects becomes ever more a headline-grabbing issue, fears are being expressed by academics, writers and historians over the future of one of Europeís most important collections of materials on the global spread of Christian faith - the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (CSCNWW), housed at New College, the divinity faculty of the University of Edinburgh.

The Centre and its library hold books and documents, including the Andrew F. Walls collection, which are considered of equal value to those housed by the Vatican, and in the USA by the Yale University Library in New Haven, Connecticut.

But if current plans to let go of a building and reduce staff go ahead, it may not survive much beyond 2006, say critics.

Ironically, many mission archives, materials on popular African and Asian Christianity and a United Mission to Nepal collection came to the Edinburgh Centre because they were in danger elsewhere.

Dr Walls is perhaps the twentieth centuryís most prominent historical missiologist, a specialist in the study of the expansion and change of world Christianity at a time when the faith has re-centred on what is being called ëthe Global Southí.

ìIt would be an absolute tragedy for scholarship and for our attempts to understand continuing changes in the world Christian movement if the CSCNWW collection and its specialists staff support was lostî, a concerned academic told Ekklesia. ìIn fact this is an expanding field.î

The key problem appears to be financial. New College rented premises next to its own buildings to house the Centre in the 1980s. Thomas Chalmers House is owned by the Free Church of Scotland, which has its own offices immediately next to the CSCNWW. The agreement about rent ends in late April 2007, and University is believed to be unable to pay a new, higher rent.

Members of the Ecclesiastical History Society (EHS) are among those who have expressed deep concern. The Centre has also been without a director at professorial level since the departure of the highly respected Dr David Kerr, and there are fears that it will be lost amidst changing academic as well as fiscal priorities.

There are some 30 postgraduate Edinburgh students whose work is currently linked to the Centre, and many other local students ñ as well as teachers and researchers across the world ñ who are dependent on it.

The Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World will be important in the forthcoming centenary of the Edinburgh 1910 international mission conference, which paved the way for the development of the twentieth century ecumenical movement for Christian involvement in the search for global unity.

Among the bodies to emerge from this movement was the World Council of Churches (WCC) which brings Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and some indigenous churches under one umbrella, cooperating in certain key respects with the Roman Catholic Church.

ìThis isnít any old libraryî, Ekklesia was told by an EHS member this week. ìIt is a collection of world importance. I am not sure that Edinburgh University and New College are acting as urgently as they should be or that they appreciate the true significance of the Centre. Iím hopeful the Free Church of Scotland will be sympathetic, when they realise what the problem is.î

Professor Vicki Bruce, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh, who has ultimate responsibility, was unavailable for comment when Ekklesia rang, and referred on to the Faculty of Divinity.

An administrative staff member in the Faculty of Divinity said that the issue was ìup in the airî but confirmed that New College will be vacating Thomas Chalmers House next year. Professor David Fergusson, head of school, who is in the United States at the moment, says that there is no threat to CSCNWW - but the issue remains disputed among those concerned.

Note: Since this story was published, New College has issued a statement about this matter
(17 November 2006). We stand by our report and its reputable sources, and will continue to monitor developments - including one crucial issue not yet in the public domain.

Among the key teaching and research areas resourced by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World are the history, thought and practice of indigenous Christian communities; Christianity and culture; Christianity and religious pluralism (with special attention to indigenous religions and Islam); Christianity, liberation and development; and Christian mission in history and in contemporary global perspective.

Threat to future of vital global Christian study centre in Edinburgh

-16/11/06

As religion and its prospects becomes ever more a headline-grabbing issue, fears are being expressed by academics, writers and historians over the future of one of Europeís most important collections of materials on the global spread of Christian faith - the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (CSCNWW), housed at New College, the divinity faculty of the University of Edinburgh.

The Centre and its library hold books and documents, including the Andrew F. Walls collection, which are considered of equal value to those housed by the Vatican, and in the USA by the Yale University Library in New Haven, Connecticut.

But if current plans to let go of a building and reduce staff go ahead, it may not survive much beyond 2006, say critics.

Ironically, many mission archives, materials on popular African and Asian Christianity and a United Mission to Nepal collection came to the Edinburgh Centre because they were in danger elsewhere.

Dr Walls is perhaps the twentieth centuryís most prominent historical missiologist, a specialist in the study of the expansion and change of world Christianity at a time when the faith has re-centred on what is being called ëthe Global Southí.

ìIt would be an absolute tragedy for scholarship and for our attempts to understand continuing changes in the world Christian movement if the CSCNWW collection and its specialists staff support was lostî, a concerned academic told Ekklesia. ìIn fact this is an expanding field.î

The key problem appears to be financial. New College rented premises next to its own buildings to house the Centre in the 1980s. Thomas Chalmers House is owned by the Free Church of Scotland, which has its own offices immediately next to the CSCNWW. The agreement about rent ends in late April 2007, and University is believed to be unable to pay a new, higher rent.

Members of the Ecclesiastical History Society (EHS) are among those who have expressed deep concern. The Centre has also been without a director at professorial level since the departure of the highly respected Dr David Kerr, and there are fears that it will be lost amidst changing academic as well as fiscal priorities.

There are some 30 postgraduate Edinburgh students whose work is currently linked to the Centre, and many other local students ñ as well as teachers and researchers across the world ñ who are dependent on it.

The Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World will be important in the forthcoming centenary of the Edinburgh 1910 international mission conference, which paved the way for the development of the twentieth century ecumenical movement for Christian involvement in the search for global unity.

Among the bodies to emerge from this movement was the World Council of Churches (WCC) which brings Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and some indigenous churches under one umbrella, cooperating in certain key respects with the Roman Catholic Church.

ìThis isnít any old libraryî, Ekklesia was told by an EHS member this week. ìIt is a collection of world importance. I am not sure that Edinburgh University and New College are acting as urgently as they should be or that they appreciate the true significance of the Centre. Iím hopeful the Free Church of Scotland will be sympathetic, when they realise what the problem is.î

Professor Vicki Bruce, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh, who has ultimate responsibility, was unavailable for comment when Ekklesia rang, and referred on to the Faculty of Divinity.

An administrative staff member in the Faculty of Divinity said that the issue was ìup in the airî but confirmed that New College will be vacating Thomas Chalmers House next year. Professor David Fergusson, head of school, who is in the United States at the moment, says that there is no threat to CSCNWW - but the issue remains disputed among those concerned.

Note: Since this story was published, New College has issued a statement about this matter
(17 November 2006). We stand by our report and its reputable sources, and will continue to monitor developments - including one crucial issue not yet in the public domain.

Among the key teaching and research areas resourced by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World are the history, thought and practice of indigenous Christian communities; Christianity and culture; Christianity and religious pluralism (with special attention to indigenous religions and Islam); Christianity, liberation and development; and Christian mission in history and in contemporary global perspective.

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