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Scholars launch platform to research Asian Church's social roles

Social scientists studying the role of religion in shaping Asian societies have overlooked the role of the Catholic Church

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 01, 2021 04:32 AM GMT

Updated: October 01, 2021 04:51 AM GMT

Scholars launch platform to research Asian Church's social roles

A nun trains a child to eat with a spoon inside a nursery school run by the Dominican Sisters in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. (Photo: AFP)

A group of international scholars has joined with the National University of Singapore to launch an organization to help research the role of Catholics in shaping the socio-cultural developments in Asia.

Scholars and researchers based in Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, the United States and France have come together to launch the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics (ISAC) on Oct. 1.

The Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore hosts the new platform that seeks to foster social scientific research on Catholics in contemporary Asia, organizers said.

Catholic scholars say over the past decades universities around the world have shown an interest in studying the role that religions play in the shaping of Asian societies.

In multiple places, research centers have appeared to investigate the influence of Hinduism, Shintoism, Islam, or Chinese Buddhism in contemporary Asia.

However, “social scientists have paid little attention to Catholicism. Academia is acting as if this religion is not relevant to understand the transformations of Asia,” said French theologian Michel Chambon, who is part of the initiative.

The initiative seeks to help researchers from various places and disciplines to generate new collaborations and research projects, he said.

Besides organizing conferences and workshops to discuss the lived realities of Asian Catholics, the initiative will also offer small research grants to early career researchers, generate a searchable database on Asian Catholicism, and support the digitization of historical material that matters to Asian Catholics.

The ISAC aims to become a platform for social scientists to exchange ideas, seek collaborations, and offer advice to enhance the collective understanding of Asian Catholics and global Catholicism.

It also seeks to stand as a resource for researchers, students, journalists and the general public, offering up-to-date information on scholarly activities and scientific publications relating to Asian Catholics.

In partnership with Asia’s largest independent Catholic news service, UCA News, it also produces podcast series bringing scholarship on Asian Catholics to non-academic audiences.

Chambon, also a cultural anthropologist and writer, said the important role that Catholicism and Catholics have played in Asia remains largely unexplored and unknown, prompting the idea of ISAC.

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He said multiple pressing issues “provide an impetus for the academic community to study how Asian societies and global Catholicism intersect. Even if Catholics are numerous in some parts of Asia, their regional and global influences can remain difficult to perceive. Yet, they are part of one of the largest and most institutionalized religions that actively influences world affairs.”

Asian Catholics are embedded in networks that transcend national, linguistic and regional boundaries, Chambon said, adding that they often face various forms of hostility and discrimination calling for international attention.

“They question how Asian nation-states define themselves and construct frameworks of coexistence for religious and ethnic diversity.”

In addition to manifesting the rich and complex history of Christianity as well as the current mutation of world Catholicism, Asian Catholics are actors of contemporary globalization and they stand as unique witnesses to understand the current evolution of Asia and the Church, he said.

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