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The Mission of Development: Religion and Techno-Politics in Asia.

Catherine Scheer, Philip Fountain, and R. Michael Feener, eds, The Mission of Development: Religion and Techno-Politics in Asia. Theology and Mission in World Christianity 10. Leiden: Brill, 2018. 267 pp.

The intersection between religion and development is vividly debated todav. Religious actors, faith-based organizations, policy makers in government institutions, and scholars aspire to understand, navigate, and shape this complex field. On the level of theory as well as on the level of implementation, there has been an increased awareness of the significance of religious actors in development. Within this general trend of more attention, however, we find conflicting views on the concrete role and impact of these actors. Thus, a clear need emerges for more in-depth analyses to evaluate the dynamics.

This volume responds to the mentioned desideratum and provides studies on historic and contemporary examples of faith-based development activities in Asia. Interestingly, the book focuses on Christian actors, mostly in the framework of missionary endeavours. The volume with its nine case studies offers an informative array of the quite diverse ways in which Christian actors have contributed to development. The essays examine specific examples from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand, and include Catholic, mainline Protestant, Mennonite, Evangelical, and Pentecostal actors.

The first chapter of the book, written by R. Michael Feener and Catherine Scheer, provides an introduction to the topic in general, as well as to the specific nine chapters that follow. As the subtitle of the book suggests, the editors direct the attention to the question of how Christian actors interact with the "techno-politics" of secular development interventions, while pointing out the Christian roots of humanitarianism in a broad sense.

The editors critically engage the dominant assumption that effective development primarily needs technical expertise. They question the de-politicization that has resulted from such assumption. As a conclusion from the diverse case studies, they underline the role of ethics in development. They highlight that while some of the examples show that Christian actors have contributed to an ethical perspective that empowers people to understand the political dimension of development, other examples reveal how Christian-led activities fostered technocratization and de-politicization.

The authors of the following nine chapters mainly come from cultural anthropology or religious studies' perspectives and are, for the most part, able to provide insightful thick descriptions of the specific actors they studied. It is important to note that a good number of the chapters not only look at the impact of Christian mission activities with regard to development within a specific country in Asia, but also trace the historic legacy coming from other parts of the world.

Enyi Hu's historic article portrays Christian missionaries from the American Student Volunteer Movement serving in the field of education at Yenching University in Beijing. While this article offers some valuable historic information, it also contains some irritating judgments, such as "liberal Christianity, a distinct sect," or the evaluative statement "These missionaries worshiped science as much as they did God." Gregory Vanderbilt skilfully examines the processes related to the Laymen's Foreign Missions Inquiry, which was published in 1932. He shows the impact and contestations around a team of "fact-finders" that included non-missionary and non-clerical professionals, and relates it to the Omi Mission in imperial Japan.

Four articles in the volume provide case studies from Indonesia: Maribeth Erb and Fransiska Widyawati outline why and how Catholic priests and activists in recent years have strongly spoken out against mining companies in Eastern Indonesia and show how they stand for a social justice agenda that is not afraid of confronting the local political establishment. Noemi Rui looks at the village development projects which the Indonesian Council of Churches started in the 1970s. She points out the tension between the people-centred bottom-up approach that was supposedly implemented in these projects, and the de facto collusion with the interests of Suharto's New Order regime at the time. She also traces the influence of the discourse on holistic development in the World Council of Churches on the discourse in the Indonesian Council of Churches. Erica M. Larson sketches the insights from her fieldwork at an elite Catholic school in North Sulawesi. She underlines that at this school, striving for development through excellence means building capacity not only in the sense of technical and professional expertise but also in terms of faith formation and character formation. Philip Fountain and Laura S. Meitzner Yoder analyze the agricultural development work of the Mennonite mission in Kalimantan and describe them as "quietist techno-politics." They show how the ethos of Mennonites in North America affected their activities in Indonesia.

Guiseppe Bollota provides a case study from Thailand, showing how within one church tradition different approaches to development are being used. While the official position of the Catholic Church in Thailand is aligned to government interests, an Italian nun contests such an approach and finds ways to subvert the official position by registering her work for slum children as an NGO. This seemingly technical move actually unveils the political dimension of the situation.

The development activities of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Cambodia are examined by Hui-yeon Kim. This Pentecostal church originates from South Korea and promotes Pentecostal spirituality together with the promise of an Asian modernity culminating in economic success.

The final contribution in the volume comes from Elena Shih and focuses on anti-human trafficking activities. She analyzes vocational training programs in Bangkok and Bejing funded by American evangelicals and promoted as a way out of trafficking. She unveils how these vocational training programmes are linked to missionary evangelism and coercive practices of social and moral control.

As each of the articles deals with a specific example in a given context, there is not one overarching narrative that runs through the whole volume. All those interested in working towards an ethic of faith-based action in development should take note of such in-depth historical and empirical studies on Christian engagement in techno-politics.

Simone Sinn

Hcumenical Institute, Bossey/ World Council of Churches, Switzerland

DOI: 10.1111/irom.12272
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Author:Sinn, Simone
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:90ASI
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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