In a new review, just published at the publishers’ site for JCA, Graeme Lang reviews Pentecostal Megachurches in Southeast Asia: Negotiating Class, Consumption, and the Nation.
Published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, this collection is edited Terence Chong, who has published in JCA several times. His most recent article was “Filling the Moral Void: The Christian Right in Singapore,” in 2011.
There has been a rapid expansion of mega-churches in some parts of the region. Marked by entertainment “lively stage performances and ecstatic worship punctuated by ‘speaking in tongues’.” As Lang notes, these “churches still represent only small minorities in each of these societies, but their growth, and the size of some of these churches, pose questions for our understanding of religions in Southeast Asia.” In essence, why are some segments of the population attracted by such pop-culture performance religion.
Lang thinks the collection offers some useful insights:
For example, the frequent adoption by megachurch preachers of the so-called “prosperity gospel” – that fervent Christian faith would be associated with economic success – appealed to both lower-class members seeking upward mobility during the early growth of some of these churches, and later to new-middle-class members seeking affirmation and religious justifications for their achievements. The low barriers to membership, with little or no Biblical knowledge required except the embrace of the church’s slogans and salvation formulas, was another source of appeal.
The reviewer also sees some gaps in the book. He’d have liked an overview chapter and he also wanted some comparisons with North America and South Korea, where similar developments of performance churches. Even so, he feels the book is “rich in historical and ethnographic detail and should be useful for scholars and students seeking to learn more about these varieties of Christian religiosity in Southeast Asian cities.”