Religion, Empire and the role of Christian Missionaries

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  • Created on: 06-03-17 20:24


- Generalisation about relationship between religion and empire

- Missionaries were agents of the British empire and highly beneficial

- Missionaries don't just uphold imperial values

- Provided health care

- Contradicted British imperialism

- Complicated and ambiguous - (Un) intentionally undermining Empire? 

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British Empire: a snapshot

- Famously, the empire on which 'the sun never set'

- 1815-1914 Britain's 'imperial century' (Hyam)

- 1815 - 550,000 white 'settler' overseas, by 1901 this figure stood at 11.5 million

- Empire offers opportunities not available in Britain

- Litany of colonies acquired - 'Scramble for Africa' - British Africa population = 40,000,000\

- Economic significance of imperial connections

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Modes of control/rationales for empire

- Economic and political dominance 

- Diffusion of British culture

- Christianity as the instrument of civilisation

- Britain's imperial century one of the great religious expansion belief that state authority benefits from organised religion

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- Tries to understand what "religion" 

- Division between sacred and non-sacred 

-18thC - Religion primarily used in empire to control 'unruly British subjects'

- Conversion and cohesion?

- To be Christian is to be modern and saved

- Shift in religious thinking: Christianity as a marker of Civilisation AND as a guarantee of individual salvation

- Role of the proselytizers important

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Missionary Movement

- 1790's missionary societies founded in Britain:
1. Baptist Missionary Society (1792)
2. London Missionary Society (1795)
3. Anglican Church Missionary Society (1799)

- Widely respected by mid 19th Century

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Missionaries as interlocutors

- Britain - Missionary's - indigenous actor

- Missionaries as easing tensions between indigenous societies and oncoming imperial powers - acting intermediaries

- Missionaries see colonialism as a way to achieve 'modernity' and 'progress'

- Missionaries entirely egalitarian

- Missionaries embedded with indigenous communities

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Missionaries as agents of empire

- Belief in the superiority of British values

- Helped shape the ideas about "savages" back in Britain underlining importance of British imperialism

- Britain empire is beneficial

- John Moffat and Lobengula (1888) - Lobengula signed everything over to the British empire

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Missionaries "undermining" empire?

- Central fear - Missionaries would stir up trouble, and side with indigenous peoples, not colonial powers

- Modernising impulses could be problematic

- EIC very wary of missionary activity in India

- Missionaries/religious "lobby" involved in abolition of slave trade

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Frykenberg - Missionaries in India in Ethennington

- Missionaries not "agents of empire" - as Frykenberg shows, missionary activity gathered most momentum where imperial control was at its weakest

- Dalit community outside the castle system 

- During EIC rule - main motive profit not proselytising. Ban on missionaries lifted in 1813

- British Raj (1856 onwards) technically committed to protecting indigenous religions 

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Indigenization of Christianity

- Religion a form of cultural colonialism - yet adapted, resisted, utilised by indigenous peoples

- Challenging the passivity of indigenous actors

- Vernacularization of Christianity ultimately more successful, but equally troubling to missionaries

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Converts as Evangelists

- Local converts soon outnumbered foreign-born missionaries

- New evangelicals communicated their own understanding of Christianity based on:
1. What had been taught of them
2. Their own assumptions

- Insider/Outsider

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Local Agents - Tiyo Soga (Model Convert)

- South African, Xhosa

- Married Scottish wife

- Didn't go through male initiation ceremony of Xhosa culture (outsider)

- Used reasoned arguments, and threats of punishment in the afterlife to reinforce his message

- Felt Christianity was compatible with Xhosa life

- Frist black South African to be ordained in the country

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Arthur Wellington (made religion work for him)

- Member of the Tsimshian Nisga'a peoples (Canada)

- Kept daily diary

- Wanted to use religion to improve his social standing

- Saw Christianity as being a national force e.g. evident in the power of wind and rain

- More "fluid: interpretation e.g. took a second wife

- Not afraid to criticise missionaries

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- Three main approaches: missionaries as interlocutors, agents of empire, or a problem

- Relationship between religion and empire complex

- Local agents - most success

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