'A miracle from Nairobi': David B. Barrett and the quantification of world Christianity, 1957–1982
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This dissertation analyzes the role of quantification in the history of Christian mission by placing David B. Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia (1982) in its historical context. It argues that Barrett’s unique mixture of education, professional background, and geographical location in Africa helped him develop an understanding of world Christianity based on its newly-discovered diversity and fragmentation at the end of the British Empire. The Encyclopedia presented a comprehensive quantitative assessment of membership in all branches of the Church and helped shape contemporary understandings of world Christianity. In making explicit connections among world Christianity, mission history, and the social scientific study of religion, this dissertation sheds lights on the history of religious data in relationship to world Christianity. This study shows that Barrett was part of a long history of missionaries who produced church-based, scientific scholarship. It illustrates the ubiquity of such scholarship throughout the history of mission, demonstrated through an analysis of missionary quantification from the Jesuits to Barrett, including the Christian roots of American sociology. This analysis contends that American sociology in the 1960s—when Barrett received his Ph.D. in religion from Columbia University—was fundamentally shaped by the history of missionaries who produced social scientific research. The Encyclopedia was conceived, developed, and produced in Africa. Barrett’s location in Nairobi, Kenya, with the Church Missionary Society during the rise of African nationalism and decolonization informed his perspective on world Christianity. Much like the African Independent Churches he studied, Barrett broke off from the missionary establishment and threw his support behind “heretical” African groups. This analysis of Barrett’s experience in Kenya suggests that the growth of African Christianity was fundamental to reshaping definitions of world Christianity. This dissertation contributes to existing scholarship by historically placing the World Christian Encyclopedia in its theological, geographic, political, and social contexts. This study shows that Barrett was the first person to quantify religious adherence of all kinds and to equally represent all of world Christianity in one book. Further, the Encyclopedia indicated that a new era of world Christianity had come, and its center of gravity had moved from white Europe to black Africa.