Sunday, October 21, 2012
Jay Case on Evangelicals and World Christianity
Jared: How did you get interested in the history of Protestant missions and how does your book fit into current scholarship about this topic?
My wife and I taught at a school in Kenya for missionary kids, Rift Valley Academy, between 1986 and 1993. It was a truly amazing and transformative time in my life in many ways. Living in Kenya provoked about 47 different questions in my mind about Christianity, culture and missionaries. So when I went on to graduate school in American religions history at Notre Dame I wanted to try to figure out answers to some of those questions in my dissertation. I answered a few, but about 83 more questions were provoked in that process. The long-term result of all that is my book. I still have questions, though.The book fits pretty well into work done by missiologists (theologians and historians who study the theology and history of missions). It draws upon work done by scholars like Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh, Brian Stanley and Dana Robert. However, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of crossover influence between missiologists and American historians. Most (but not all) of the work on missionaries done by American historians operates out of a Cultural Imperialist or post-colonial school of thought. Some of what I do in this book is consistent with the general thrust of those schools, but some of what I do challenges them. So we’ll have to see how the American historians react.
Jared: In the book you write about Baptists, Methodists, the AME Church, and the Holiness movement. How did you come to focus on these groups?
Jay: I grew up Methodist and I married a Baptist. Research is often autobiographical in some way, isn’t it? But there is more to it. Most of the scholarship on 19th century missionaries focuses on the well-educated groups of the Protestant establishment, like Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Methodists and Baptist often just get thrown in as less eloquent versions of the same thing. However, in graduate school I came across the Baptist leader Francis Wayland who argued in 1854 that missionaries should be careful not to de-nationalize converts or try to turn mission stations into little European cities. I had to figure out how he got to the point where he could say this kind of thing seventy years before anthropologists were thinking this way about culture. Then I began looking at the Methodist missionary William Taylor who was arguing for a color-blind missionary policy in the 1870s. At that point, I began to think that there might have been democratized dynamics among the Methodist and Baptist traditions that produced different missionary dynamics than the more established Reformed traditions.
More to come ...