domingo, janeiro 27, 2008

An emerging consensus about world history? (William H. McNeill)

Every scale of history requires teachers to leave things out. Only so can the past become manageable, meaningful, and interesting. But how to choose what to include and what to skip over? For national history the question is fairly easy: politics is what defines a nation, so acts of the national government take precedence; and social, economic, and cultural history can be fitted into the political narrative that holds everything else together. Detailed choices of what to include and exclude and how to evaluate the political record may still be difficult, but the basic frame and pattern of the national past remains political simply because that is what makes it an object of historical integration.

Courses in Western Civilization, which became standard supplements to national history in American schools and colleges in the 1930's, were constructed on a different basis. Not politics but elite culture was taken to be what defined Western civilization, since ideas and art were what lived on across the centuries among the various peoples who shared that civilization. Exact choices of what ideas and what art to pay attention to remained problematic, but since arbiters of taste had already fixed upon an array of 'classic' authors and artists, sampling and summaries could be embodied in courses and textbooks without much difficulty. And since it is easy to excite the young by looking at famous works of art and by reading passages from famous authors who dealt with religious, political, and social questions still alive in American society, Western Civilization courses were and still are very successful.

After World War II, when the course of public affairs made it obvious that Americans shared the world not just with Western Europeans but also with the four-fifths of humankind who are not heirs of Western civilization, the need for teaching world history became obvious. But how? What to leave out? Neither politics nor any single elite culture spanned the whole wide world. A new principle was needed for selecting and ordering the overwhelming body of information clamoring for attention. Finding it took half a century, but perhaps a new consensus is beginning to emerge among a handful of world historians as the new millennium dawns around us.

That principle may be described as ecological: asking what it was, in successive ages, that was conducive to human survival and the expansion of our collective control and management of the world around us. And what, from time to time, acted in the opposite direction, depopulating some localities and disabling or diminishing various local civilized societies.

From such an angle, energy flows captured and exploited by humans for their own purposes becomes fundamental--the basis for everything else human societies do. And population growth and decay serves as a rough index of the ups and downs of human ecological success. But what drove the overall, expansive process? The answer several historians seem to be converging on is this: we owe our success to a unique capacity to communicate with one another, establishing agreed-upon meanings that are readily susceptible to change but always shape everyday behavior and sustain cooperation, both willing and coerced, among ever larger numbers of persons.

If this is true, we can hope to understand our unique history within the world as a whole by concentrating on the web of communication that sustains every social group, but also seeps across all linguistic and cultural boundaries of the entire globe. Intensified communication through voice and gesture presumably set in among hunting and foraging bands of emergent Homo sapiens and accelerated when fully articulate language allowed our ancestors to create a world of agreed-upon meanings to guide their everyday behavior, thereby inaugurating what David Christian calls "collective learning." For whenever experience fell short of expectation, people were provoked to adjust their ideas, alter behaviors accordingly, and every so often they did get better results.

Changeable behavior, therefore, became chronic; and whenever something new really worked, it tended to spread far and wide among neighbors and neighbors' neighbors thanks to face to face encounters. To begin with, these occurred mainly on festival occasions when small local groups came together for dance and song and to arrange exogamous marriages. But strangers also met whenever isolated wanderers showed up. Most often such wanderers were restless young men who found difficulty achieving adult status at home because of land shortages or other reasons, but sometimes they had new skills or ideas to impart to strangers they encountered. Later on, organized raid and trade extended and intensified contacts among strangers, and in more and more parts of the earth this sufficed to set an autocatalytic process of historical change in motion. The rise of cities and civilizations resulted; and since strangers chronically mingled together in cities, the effect was to intensify social frictions and accelerate the pace of change. Thereafter transport and communication sporadically extended their range and carrying capacity, eventually locking local civilizations into a single global network. That network in turn became tighter and tighter down to our own time when such novelties as TV, internet, and e-mail are actively at work altering human consciousness and affecting human behaviors everywhere in ways we can only surmise.

Throughout world history, cooperation and conflict simultaneously prevailed within and between innumerable human groups. The rise and dissolution of such groups – i.e., the political history of humankind – is far too multifarious to provide a basis for world history courses. The same is true of the innumerable forms of art and ideas that different societies elaborated and passed on across the centuries. Still, thresholds of human accomplishment are apparent and worth emphasizing. Such changes, for example, as the ways human communities entered into symbiosis with domesticated plants and animals – a process that changed both parties profoundly, and in Eurasia and Africa diversified human society by permitting pastoralists to live on open grasslands and to begin to interact with settled villagers through raid and trade.

Subsequent landmarks in this always awkward relationship between pastoralists and farmers deserve attention, too. Notable among these was the invention of war chariots and then of cavalry tactics that expanded the power of Eurasian horse nomads. These tactics were then reversed by the eventual invention of reliable hand guns that destroyed nomad military power. These changes occurred first in Eurasia, then in Africa, and even in North America, where the rise of horse nomadry occurred only when Plains Indians learned from Spaniards in Mexico how to ride and shoot from horseback.

Then, beginning about 100 BCE slender but persistent caravan linkages between China and western Asia were inaugurated. Thereafter, they were never broken off for long until railways and automobiles came along. But goods and ideas that passed along the caravan routes of Central Asia were soon supplemented by lethal epidemics spreading along the same routes. Heavy die-off especially in China and Europe ensued, and decaying public order soon reinforced population losses. The collapse of the west Roman and Han Empires registered this set-back at the two extremities of Eurasia. Like the heavy loss of life that took place in the 14th century, when bubonic plague spread along the same pathways, the epidemics of the second to sixth century CE were probably the greatest checks that human societies suffered before imported diseases began to decimate native Americans and other previously isolated peoples after 1500. Surely, therefore, these devastating lethal epidemics (along with a few examples of more local ecological disasters) and the social devolution that followed in their wake also deserve the attention of world history teachers.

On the opposite side of the historical ledger, we ought also to recognize the acceleration of invention and economic expansion that shipping brought to Indian Ocean and Mediterranean shores, undergirding classical Greek, Roman, and Indian history. Then beginning about 200 BCE, camel caravans capable of crossing desert terrain linked much of Asia and part of Africa far more closely than before. The innovations that camel caravans disseminated – new crops, new ideas, and much else--in turn supported the cultural and technical flowering of the first centuries of the Muslim era. This was followed by an even stronger surge of invention and cultural creativity in China beginning about 1000 CE – gunpowder, printing, porcelain, silk production, etc. – when cheap canal transport and the collection of taxes in money compelled millions of peasants to enter the market, selling and buying specialized commodities. Then in the time of the Mongol Empire, Chinese accomplishments were at least partly disseminated across most of the Old World – along with bubonic plague.

These successive intensifications of the Old World's interactive web were then followed by the incorporation of the Americas and other previously isolated lands into the expanded vortex of technical and cultural change we call modernity. In the Modern Era, the pace of change only increased. In Europe, natural science began to change minds and affect practical technologies even before tapping fossil fuels on a wholesale scale (first coal, then oil and gas) launched a spectacular expansion of industrial production and a no less spectacular acceleration of transport and communication beginning in the 18th century. An unparalleled population surge among disease-experienced populations of Eurasia (and crippling die-offs elsewhere) accompanied this resort to fossil fuels in what was at first only a small part of Europe. Between them, these twin increases in human power and numbers still dominate our world.

Overall, we remain caught in an on-going process of accelerating change: who can foresee the consequences? The temporary ascendancy of western Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries is obvious; their retreat before newly powerful American and Russian states and societies and the rise of Japan, then of China and India in the twentieth century are equally apparent. Throughout, communication and local responses to novelties of every kind affected and often distressed human lives everywhere. But we human beings have always had to cope with change, and by doing so became the ecologically dominant species we are. We may even be said to have specialized in changeable behavior so as to get whatever it is that we want. And, as specialists in change, we can perhaps even hope to survive the enormous and obvious perils ahead – political, ecological, and social.

In the meanwhile, courses in world history constructed around these notions about what mattered most in times past can help to prepare our children to live more wisely (and modestly?) in the world they will inherit, and perhaps can actively interest them by showing how humankind's amazing adventure in times past arose from common everyday experiences and innumerable successful responses to disappointed expectations.

Further Reading: David Christian - Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). William McNeill and John McNeill - The Human Web: A Bird's Eye View of World History (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).


sábado, janeiro 26, 2008

O Protestantismo em Portugal (III): os grupos protestantes portugueses [2000]

Três dos maiores grupos denominacionais portugueses (Pentecostais, Baptistas e Irmãos) integram a Aliança Evangélica Portuguesa (A.E.P.), cujos estatutos foram oficialmente reconhecidos em 1935, quando ainda era uma pequena associação de membros individuais (só após 1974, depois de uma “refundação”, se tornou representante de grupos denominacionais); em termos de relações internacionais, a A.E.P. está filiada na Aliança Evangélica Europeia e na Aliança Evangélica Mundial, que são constituídas por grupos denominacionais congéneres. No entanto, cada um dos grupos denominacionais está longe de ser unitário, em grande medida pelo facto de serem herdeiros da tradição congregacional; mesmo as congregações que prescindem parcialmente da sua autonomia associando-se a organismos denominacionais de cooperação ou representação não podem ser consideradas integrantes de uma “Igreja” nacional com unidade institucional (assim, por exemplo, a Convenção Baptista Portuguesa, C.B.P., não é uma Igreja nacional mas a reunião das congregações baptistas que nela se fazem representar). No universo das congregações protestantes de muitas denominações conhecidas em Portugal (ver, para a maioria, ALMEIDA, Prontuário), a maior parte integra o grupo pentecostal, dentro do qual as Assembleias de Deus são a esmagadora maioria: a Convenção das Assembleias de Deus em Portugal reúne mais de quatro centenas de congregações, distribuindo-se as restantes por dez outras denominações da A.E.P. (Assembleia de Deus Missionária, Assembleia de Deus Universal, Nova Vida, Igreja Apostólica, Igreja de Deus, Associação das Igrejas de Cristo, Igreja de Deus Pentecostal, Igrejas do Livramento, Igreja Metodista Wesleyana e Vida Abundante) e duas não-filiadas (a Congregação Cristã em Portugal, com cerca de cem congregações, e a Missão Evangélica Maranata, com quinze). Os Baptistas são o segundo maior grupo, estando as suas várias organizações integradas na A.E.P.: a maioria está reunida na C.B.P., que representa nove dezenas de congregações, seguindo-se a A.I.B.P. com treze, a Igreja Baptista de Carreiros (doze congregações no norte), a Associação dos Baptistas para o Evangelismo Mundial (ramo da organização internacional com o mesmo nome, com dez congregações) e dezasseis congregações independentes. Os Irmãos, por seu lado, são um conjunto de mais de cem congregações que cooperam na Comunhão de Igrejas dos Irmãos de Portugal e, tal como os Baptistas, têm organizações vocacionadas para o apoio às várias congregações dentro do seu grupo denominacional, como uma Comissão Missionária que ajuda o trabalho dos obreiros e os organismos juvenis no norte e no sul; entre os Baptistas, existe desde 1945 a Associação Baptista de Evangelização que dá apoio humano e logístico às congregações, tal como a Associação Baptista do Norte e o Grupo Missionário Evangélico da Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society dos Estados Unidos da América. Existe ainda, desde 1976, uma Ordem de Pastores Baptistas que realiza retiros, seminários e, em geral, visa a formação do corpo ministerial do seu grupo denominacional. No conjunto da A.E.P., além destes grupos, existe pouco mais de uma centena de congregações que se distribuem por várias pequenas denominações, de que se destacam a Acção Bíblica (com perto de duas dezenas de congregações, está em Portugal desde a década de 1930 e dedica-se em grande medida à colportagem), a Igreja do Nazareno (com cerca de vinte congregações, evangeliza em Portugal desde 1973), a Igreja Evangélica de Filadélfia (iniciada em 1960, tem cerca de duas dezenas de congregações sobretudo orientadas para a evangelização da etnia cigana), o Exército de Salvação (instalado em Portugal em 1972, conta oito congregações), a Igreja Evangélica Luterana Portuguesa (fundada em 1959 a partir do trabalho missionário de Rudolfo Hasse, tem apenas três congregações) e um grupo de comunidades congregacionalistas que não se chegou a ligar aos Presbiterianos, reunido na União das Igrejas Evangélicas Congregacionais Portuguesas (dezoito congregações no centro e sul do País). Fora da A.E.P., além das duas denominações pentecostais já referidas, estão algumas centenas de congregações, das quais mais de cem pertencem à União Portuguesa dos Adventistas do Sétimo Dia e mais de cinco dezenas à Igreja Cristã Maná (denominação de origem portuguesa fundada em 1984 e dirigida pelo pastor Jorge Manuel Guerra Tadeu, é um dos grupos pentecostais mais bem sucedidos depois das Assembleias de Deus). As Testemunhas de Jeová reúnem hoje (segundo números por si fornecidos) cerca de cem mil fiéis em Portugal, dos quais metade serão membros activos das comunidades locais; estas, cerca de 700 actualmente, estão presentes em praticamente todos os concelhos do continente e das regiões insulares. A Igreja de Jesus Cristo dos Santos dos Últimos Dias, que tem um trabalho missionário de cerca de 25 anos em Portugal, tem vindo também a implantar-se no País. No campo pentecostal, a Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, de raiz brasileira, introduziu, mais recentemente, uma original evangelização de grande visibilidade, através de meios de comunicação audiovisual e grandes assembleias de fiéis, conseguindo um crescimento rápido e substancial. O outro organismo de cooperação e representação interdenominacional existente em Portugal é o Conselho Português de Igrejas Cristãs (C.O.P.I.C.) que reúne as três Igrejas sinodais, I.L.C.A.E. (episcopaliana), I.E.P.P. (presbiteriana) e I.E.M.P. (metodista) desde 1971 e representa o sector protestante mais sintonizado com o movimento ecuménico internacional (está integrado no Conselho Mundial de Igrejas); entre as três denominações que o compõem, o C.O.P.I.C. representa pouco mais de setenta congregações, das quais cerca de metade são presbiterianas, um quarto metodistas e outro quarto episcopalianas – cada uma das três Igrejas tem uma unidade institucional nacional em que as várias congregações integram um corpo eclesial uno sujeito a um Sínodo que representa clérigos e leigos e elege o governo colegial da Igreja (daí a designação de “Igrejas sinodais”). A I.L.C.A.E. é a única destas denominações que reconhece e mantém na ordenação episcopal a continuidade histórica da Sucessão Apostólica, estando unida à Comunhão Velho-Católica desde 1965 e, desde a sua fundação, à Comunhão Anglicana a que, entretanto, só aderiu formalmente em 1980. Estão ainda presentes em Portugal, de há longa data, várias capelanias protestantes estrangeiras, as mais importantes das quais na capital: a Igreja Evangélica Alemã (luterana, reconhecida em 1761), a Igreja da Escócia (presbiteriana) e a anglicana Igreja de São Jorge.

[«Protestantismo» (vol. P-V-Apêndices, pp. 75-85), Dicionário de História Religiosa de Portugal (dir. Carlos Moreira Azevedo), Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores, 2000-2001.]

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