Converting Colonialism: Visions and Realities in Mission History, 1706-1914

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Dana L. Robert
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Jan 2, 2008 - Religion - 304 pages
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Series: Studies in the History of Christian Missions (SHCM)

In this volume, leading historians of Christianity in the non-Western world examine the relationship between missionaries and nineteenth-century European colonialism, and between indigenous converts and the colonial contexts in which they lived. Forced to operate within a political framework of European expansionism that lay outside their power to control, missionaries and early converts variously attempted to co-opt certain aspects of colonialism and to change what seemed prejudicial to gospel values.

These contributors are the leading historians in their fields, and the concrete historical situations that they explore show the real complexity of missionary efforts to -convert- colonialism.

Contributors: J. F. Ade Ajayi
Roy Bridges
Richard Elphick
Eleanor Jackson
Daniel Jeyaraj
Andrew Porter
Dana L. Robert
R. G. Tiedemann
C. Peter Williams

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In this volume Dana Robert has assembled essays from the North Atlantic Missiology Project that recapture the passion, visions, and dreams behind the missionary enterprise, whose force reshaped the twentieth century. The essays demonstrate the changing contours of the historiography of missions and confront the deep ideological cleavages in interpreting the relationship between missions and colonialism, the profile of missionaries in the postcolonial era, and how one understands the Gospel/culture encounters in various “mission fields.”
Two rival camps oppose the hegemony discourse: Eurocentric revisionists point to the complex nature of culture contacts, the tendency toward worldview maintenance by all parties, contests between rival narratives, ambiguous relationships with colonial officers and policies, the plurality of voices within the enterprise, including European champions of indigenous cultures, and the exigencies of the mission fields that compelled massive readjustment of strategies and goals. They challenge the relationship between commerce and providentialism and privilege evangelical piety. Scholars from the global South, in contrast, privilege indigenous agency, choices, translation, and multiple modes of appropriations. They point to expressions of charismatic religious genius and the resultant “Christianities” ranging beyond missionary ideals.
Daniel Jeyaraj reconstructs the Tranquebar mission, Roy Bridges insists on the missionary collusion with imperial ardor in East Africa, Andrew Porter demonstrates how the fear of Islam energized evangelicalism, and Peter Williams mourns the death of Henry Venn’s ideals. Richard Elphick and Dana Robert examine how the impact of racism and gender constructions shaped missionary ideals, while Eleanor Jackson, R. G. Tiedemann, and Ade Ajayi pursue aspects of indigenous agency. All are aware of the shadow that falls between the ideal, or vision, and the reality, or performance. The depth of research, breadth and balance of perspectives, and global coverage combine to recapture the enduring legacies of the visionaries, as well as the stories about the responses of communities around the world to the power of the Gospel. The authors of the essays in this volume provide arguments for all sides of the debate on the relationship between the commissars and the padres.
—Ogbu U. Kalu
Ogbu U. Kalu is the Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity and Mission at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, and Director of the Chicago Center for Global Ministries, Chicago.
International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33:1 (January 2009):44.


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