The Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics is a collaborative project hosted by the Asia Research Institute to foster social scientific research on Catholics in contemporary Asia. With the aim of facilitating dialogue and contributing to already existing research in the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, and other places, this new platform intends to expand and deepen conversations investigating the lived realities, the socio-cultural contributions, and challenges faced by Asian Catholics at the local, national, and regional levels. While this Initiative takes a multidisciplinary approach, it particularly encourages research on contemporary Asian Catholics from the perspectives of anthropology, art, environmental studies, economy, gender studies, political sciences, and sociology.

Multiple pressing issues provide an impetus for the academic community to study the ways in which Asian societies and global Catholicism intersect. Catholics living in Asia are often members of minority communities. Either within the boundaries of their own nation-state or within world Catholicism, their visibility and roles are frequently overshadowed by more powerful dynamics that shape their environment. 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. Entangled in this paradox, Asian Catholics are embedded in networks that transcend national, linguistic, and regional boundaries. Often facing various forms of hostility and discrimination calling for international attention, they question the ways in which 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 who stand as unique witnesses to understand the current evolution of Asia and global Catholicism.

Nonetheless, available scholarship exploring the current innovations and challenges encountered by those religious groups are relatively few. Compared to Catholic communities in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, research on Asian Catholics remains limited. And even when scholarship on Asian Catholics has made important contributions to the understanding of ethnic and national realities, there have not been sustained efforts to situate these academic works in a regional or global context to understand transborder dynamics as well as the transformation of world Catholicism.

ISAC addresses this situation by supporting scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds to develop new research projects that focus on the lived realities of Catholic communities in Asia. Concretely, the initiative is organizing conferences and workshops to bring researchers together. It generates a database on Catholicism in contemporary Asia, produces podcast series bringing scholarship on Asian Catholics to non-academic audiences, and offers small research grants to early career researchers. Ultimately, ISAC intends to become a platform where researchers can exchange ideas, seek collaborations, and offer advice with the objective of enhancing our collective understanding of Asian Catholics and global Catholicism. Thus, ISAC seeks to be a resource for researchers, students, journalists, and the general public, offering up-to-date information on scholarly activities and publications relating to Asian Catholics.

Read More: Catholicism’s Overlooked Importance in Asia - The Diplomat, 4 Feb. 2022