As part of my studies at Fuller, I’m currently reading Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Because this doctoral degree is essentially focused in intercultural, mission and leadership studies, our professors want us giving some of our time to the field of anthropology, or the study of peoples.
This work has been excellent thus far. Not because it simply lays out bullet-point beliefs of other peoples or religions. Rather, Hiebert’s work emphasizes the point of how people have come to hold the worldview they hold.
I believe Hiebert has hit on something that goes deeper than simply understanding a group of people’s beliefs. Knowing a handful of religious beliefs that Muslims or Hindus hold to won’t really be as effective as understanding language development, myths and stories, rituals, patterns of behavior and more amongst these people. And, of course, this takes on a whole different shape when we consider the differences between American-born Muslims and Middle Eastern-born Muslims or Canadian-born Hindus and Indian-born Hindus.
I am no anthropologist and do not want to pretend I am. However, studying people is a fascinating discipline to me. And by studying, I mean something beyond the mere gathering of information. Of course, that is a slice of the pie, no doubt. But spending time with, listening and learning about the intricacies of others, reveling in their stories, observing life that’s different from your own perspective, this is much more effective in truly understanding other people. Even more, as Christians, we must guard against merely seeing them as our mission-projects, but rather as fellow humans to be enjoyed and loved.
In our world today, we are no longer surrounded by only those who think like us, eat like us, dress like us, go to the same shops as us, are part of the same religion as us. Our local neighborhoods are becoming more and more globalized. How can we be better neighbors to these unique gifts in our lives? Perhaps they even have much to teach us.