Conference Abstracts

with Speaker Bios and Event Schedule

Christianity, Commerce, and Civilisation?
Missions and Empire in the Modern World

An Interdisciplinary Virtual Event
2021 McDonald Centre Annual Conference
27-28 May 2021

Plenary Presentation

27 May 2021, 2.00pm BST

Empires Human and Divine: The Multiple Ambiguities of Mission Christianity in Imperial Contexts 

The plenary presentation will frame the subject of mission and empire by introducing some of the ambiguities thrown up by historical evidence from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It will begin with the truism that very few missionaries or supporters of missions opposed empire on principle. Neither did the vast majority of political radicals. The distinctive ambiguity about Christian perspectives on empire derives from the fact that providentialism supplied both a legitimating rationale for empire and an instrument for critiquing its operation. Empires, moreover, were driven by nationalistic goals, whereas Christian missions (with some exceptions) were animated by a transnational vision. I shall argue that the missionary movement was neither chronologically nor geographically co-extensive with European imperialism, and that imperial policy-makers either supported, manipulated or opposed missions depending on the context. I shall pay attention to the ambiguity of missionary experience of slavery, where the logic of evangelism pushed those who previously endorsed or tolerated slavery towards an abolitionist position, though abolitionist zeal frequently fueled imperial agendas. Antislavery and empire often converged. The concluding section of the lecture will be more theoretical. I shall discuss the porous nature of the boundary between nations and empires. Finally, I shall argue that, from its inception, Christianity has stood in ambiguous relationship to empire, undermining the pretensions of all earthly powers to lordship in the name of a Lord who claims universal dominion by following the path of service and sacrifice. 

Brian Stanley has been Professor of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh since 2009. He was formerly a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He is a historian of Christian missions and world Christianity. He has been interested in the interrelationship of missions and imperialism ever since his first book, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Apollos, 1990). His most recent book is Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History (Princeton University Press, 2018). With Professor R. E. Frykenberg, he is co-editor of the Eerdmans series, Studies in the History of Christian Missions, which has published 27 volumes to date. 

Featured Presentations

Thursday 27 May 2021

Mission in History

27 May 2021, 3.15pm BST

A Pre-history of Protestant Mission and Empire: The Propagation of Civility or Cosmic Conflict? 

Alec Ryrie

Created with Sketch.

Before the late 18th century, the Protestant powers were not quite yet 'imperial' in the full sense, nor did they often use the word 'mission' to describe their overseas religious ventures. They understood themselves to be engaging principally in settlement and commerce (including commerce in slaves), a venture which included an obligation to propagate the Gospel in strange lands. To understand these projects, we must see them through contemporary eyes. Propagating the Gospel was widely (but not universally) assumed to mean planting and cultivating Christian civility in the heathen wilderness: a framing which led to a rather different profile of religious activities from those we conventionally call 'mission', but which also left a legacy to the later missionary movement. Yet as any gardener knows, cultivation and propagation are processes which are at once nurturing and violent. Early Protestant 'missions' took place within an apocalyptic framework which saw proto-imperial ventures as part of the cosmic struggle with the forces of Antichrist, and this framing, too, has left an enduring legacy.

Alec Ryrie is Professor of the History of Christianity at Durham University, Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London, co-editor of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, president of the Ecclesiastical History Society and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books on the history of the Reformation and the Protestant tradition include The English Reformation (2020), Christianity: A Historical Atlas (2020), Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt (2019), Protestants (2017) and Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (2013).

British Catholic Foreign Missions and Empire 

Hilary Carey

Created with Sketch.

The British Empire may have been Protestant in temper but, like other empires, it was accommodating to a wide range of religious beliefs and expressions. This paper will examine the ways in which the rise of British global power enabled the startling emergence of Catholic foreign missions in Britain and Ireland from the middle of the nineteenth century. In Ireland, foreign missionaries were trained by branches of French and Italian missionary institutes. Of the continental institutes, the most important for foreign missions were the French CSSp (Irish Holy Ghost Fathers) and the Society of African Missions while missionary sisters were active in British India and other colonies. In England, Catholic foreign missions were led by the English province of the Jesuits in the West Indies, India and, as part of an international team, the Zambezi mission. English Benedictines were appointed vicars apostolic of a vast territory comprising Mauritius, Madagascar, the Cape, New Holland and Van Diemen's Land. The Mill Hill Fathers or St Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart for Foreign Missions made the most important British contribution to the Catholic foreign missionary movement. Because there were few Catholics among the ruling British elite, Catholic missions have escaped the harsher criticism of hegemonic Protestantism and its entanglement with the imperial state. This paper will re-assess the imperial character of Catholic foreign missions by British subjects in the heyday of the British Empire. 

Hilary Carey is Professor of Imperialism and Religious History, University of Bristol, author of God’s Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, c. 1801-1908; (Cambridge 2011) and editor Empires of Religion (Palgrave Macmillan 2008). She works on religious history and (especially) indigenous peoples.

Mission and Justice

27 May 2021, 4.45pm BST

The Conception of World Christianity as a Response to Racism 

Kirsteen Kim

Created with Sketch.

As Brian Stanley has observed, there are similarities between the way that ‘race’ was used to describe peoples at the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910 and the way ‘culture’ was used a hundred years later. Moreover, examination of the documents of the centenary event, Edinburgh 2010 shows that ‘race’ was hardly mentioned at all, although it can be detected as an underlying issue in the framing of the event as representing the ‘global South’ and the rise of ‘world Christianity’. The fact that race was not one of the areas of investigation in 2010 is surprising considering how significant racialization and racism continue to be in modernity, as shown by recent displays of White supremacy and anti-racism movements such as Black Lives Matter.

This paper traces the emergence of the concept of ‘world Christianity’, following the analysis of Dana Robert and others, from its early flowering in the mid-twentieth century to its re-emergence in the 1990s. It asks to what extent race is addressed in this discourse and whether responding to racialization and racism was a conscious factor in its conception – even if only implicitly. Concluding that these have indeed been important factors in the development of the discourse of world Christianity, the paper suggests how racism – and even white supremacy – might be more explicitly addressed as key issues in the study of world Christianity and what impact doing so may have on the conception and method of the discipline.

Kirsteen Kim is Paul E. Pierson Chair in World Christianity and Associate Dean for the Center for Missiological Research, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, who was previously vice-moderator of the World Council of Churches Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. She works in the areas of theology of mission, world Christianity, and development studies. Among her recent publications is Christianity as a World Religion (2nd ed., Bloomsbury, 2016). 

One of England’s Little Wars 

Cathy Ross and James Butler

Created with Sketch.

The paper begins with a re-creation of part of Octavius Hadfield’s appearance before the New Zealand Parliament in 1860. Hadfield was a nineteenth century CMS missionary to New Zealand who protested the sale of Maori land and defended tribal land rights. On one occasion he spent eight hours being questioned before parliament and was labelled by some as a traitor and “the most hated man in New Zealand”. He continued his defence of this case with three pamphlets addressed to the Duke of Newcastle, the Colonial Secretary, entitled: One of England's Little Wars, The New Zealand War: the second year of one of England's little wars and A sequel to 'One of England's little wars, published in London in 1860 and 1861. This material will act as a springboard to interrogate some of the issues that emerge from this conflict. These include issues around indigenous land rights and ownership, the inability of Empire and its representatives to trust local knowledge to inform and shape local policies and governance, the seeming distrust towards and antipathy expressed about local culture, as well as unhelpful understandings of power on both sides. These issues will begin to unmask attitudes and perspectives of Empire that still resonate in Aotearoa/NZ today and provide some theological building blocks towards decolonising mission.

Cathy Ross is Head of Pioneer Leadership Training at CMS (Church Mission Society) and Lecturer in Mission at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. She comes from Aotearoa/NZ. She has previously worked in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda with NZCMS. Her recent publications include The Pioneer Gift (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2014), Mission on the Road to Emmaus, (with Steve Bevans, London: SCM, 2015), Pioneering Spirituality (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2015), Missional Conversations, A Dialogue between Theory and Praxis in World Mission (with Colin Smith, 2018), Bearing Witness in Hope, Christian Engagement in Challenging Times (with Humphrey Southern, 2020), Imagining Mission with John Taylor (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2020) Her research interests are in the areas of contextual theologies, World Christianity, feminist theologies and hospitality. 

James Butler is lecturer and assistant coordinator of the MA programme at the Church Mission Society, and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Roehampton. He teaches and researches in the areas of mission, ecclesiology and practical theology. He is currently working on research into the experience of learning in the Methodist Church and into ecumenical engagement in social action. His teaching focuses on pioneer ministry and fresh expressions, encouraging thinking and practice in mission which is creative and reflective. 

Featured Presentations

Friday 28 May 2021

Missions, Language, and Printing

28 May 2021, 1.45pm BST

The Religious Roots of Print Revolutions 

Robert D Woodberry

Created with Sketch.

This paper summarizes a book-length project about how religion shaped the origin, spread, and social impact of printing. Printing is generally considered one of the most important inventions in human history, but scholars often view it as a technological and not a cultural or religious development. Yet, religious groups pioneered printing in both the East Asian wave (8th – 15th centuries CE) and in the European wave (~1450 – the present). In both waves, the earliest printed texts were religious, and religion influenced both where printing spread and how it was used. In the East Asian wave (8th – 15th century) only Mahayana/Tantric Buddhist societies printed; the earliest printed texts were created for ritual purposes. It often took hundreds of years for printing to shift from this ritual function to a literary one – i.e., to produce texts intended to be read. It took longer still for non-Buddhist texts to be printed (i.e., about 800 years in Japan). In societies that also had a strong Confucian tradition, secular printing developed and printing had greater economic impact, but not in societies that were not Confucian. Yet in a thousand years of trade with wealthy East Asian Confucian societies, no non-Mahayana/Tantric Buddhist society copied printing. 

For the European wave (post-1450), printing initially spread only to Christians and Jews. Almost every Christian and Jewish society printed shortly after exposure to the technology – even Christians and Jews in majority-Muslim societies. Yet until the 18th century, no other religious community copied them (other than Chinese Muslims). However even in Europe, printing only became widespread before the late 19th century in Protestant societies and societies where Protestants and Catholics had historically competed. Muslim, Hindu, and Theravada Buddhist societies were again repeatedly exposed to printing for hundreds of years before they used it – i.e., they were exposed to printing by Catholic missionaries, Jews, Eastern Orthodox Christians, European trading companies, delegations sent to Europe, and even by being given printing presses with vernacular fonts. Prior to Protestant missions, Catholics, Jews, etc. did not use printing as a primary means of evangelism and thus printing did not threaten local religious elites. Printing made religious texts widely available and thus undermine religious elites’ control over them. Religious printing almost always preceded secular printing. However, Protestant missionaries wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible in their own language. This required mass literacy and inexpensive, widely-available books. Thus, missionaries created written languages when none existed, created vernacular fonts, and used printed texts as a primary form of evangelism. This religious threat finally spurred Muslims, Hindus, Theravada Buddhists, and other to print. Prior to the 1890s these religious groups only printed after Protestant missionaries began to distribute conversionary texts in their language (with two possible exceptions). Protestant missionary printing also transformed printing in East Asia by popularizing phonetic writing systems, shifting writing away from foreign and classical languages to mirror educated spoken language, spurring the first newspapers (as opposed to government gazettes), initiating mass education, and so on. Thus the social transformations scholars associate with the discovery of printing are only partially technical. Religious ideals shaped who considered printing valuable and how they used the technology. Moreover, the threat of conversion seems to have been the main factor that convinced other religious communities to print. Earlier exposure to the Confucian and Protestant versions of printing seems to have had important long-term economic consequences. 

Robert D. Woodberry is Senior Research Professor at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, and Director of the Project on Religion and Economic Change and. Most of his research uses comparative historical and statistical methods to analyse the long-term social impact of missions and religious change on societies around the world. See The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy, [The American Political Science Review, May 2012, Vol. 106, No. 2] 

Missionaries and People’s Language: Notes from Colonial Punjab 

Ashish Alexander

Created with Sketch.

Contrary to the popular perception that linguistic and translation activities of missionaries in the Western colonial context were meant to facilitate the imperial political control over the native consciousness, a closer look at the pioneering work of the American Presbyterians in the Punjab in the nineteenth century demonstrates that missionary initiatives grew out of specific a Christian theological understanding of languages and cultures of the world. Missionary, or the broader evangelical, concern for literature and languages of the colonies emanated from the belief about the basic equity of languages. It was also premised on the confidence about translatability of the universal gospel message, which in turn affirmed a common humanity. Missionaries, as things turned out, became the inadvertent patrons of Punjabi language. In colonial Punjab, while the government employed Urdu—the cosmopolitan language of the urban elite—as the replacement of Persian as the official language. The AP missionaries continued to publish language resources and literary works in the regional tongue, that is, Punjabi, thus bolstering the literary culture of the land of the five rivers. English Baptist missionary William Carey gave the lead in carving out a distinct space for Punjabi language when he started to work on Punjabi grammar in as early as 1812. The work was completed by American Presbyterian missionary John Newton in 1851. The dictionary by L. Janvier followed in 1854. This paper will also briefly chart the history of these developments and will also delve into the growth and development of Punjabi literature. 

Ashish Alexander is Dean, School of Film and Mass Communication & Head, Department of English, Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS) Allahabad, UP India; he works on the impact of missionaries on the development of Indian languages and literatures. 

Missions and Military

28 May 2021, 3.15pm BST

Missions and the Military in the British Empire and Commonwealth, c.1800-1960 

Michael Snape

Created with Sketch.

The intersection of the missionary and military history of Great Britain and its empire is often encountered but seldom elaborated, the governing assumption being that the missionary simply served as the spiritual auxiliary to the soldier and as the accessory to British colonial designs and campaigns. However, the relationship between missions and the military in the British Empire was much more complex and significant than that. The British Army (much more than the Royal Navy) was an institution in which the interests of foreign and domestic mission converged, for British soldiers were often the most numerous representatives of British Christianity among non-Christian populations. If it was the lot of many overseas missionaries to Christianise both soldiers and the wider population, the fruits of missionary endeavour over many generations rendered British (and Dominion) missions a vital asset to the military efforts of the British Empire in the First and the Second World Wars, and in the wars of decolonisation that followed. Furthermore, the British Army retained its potential as a missionary force in Germany after 1945 and, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the missionary enterprise received a major boost due to the massive mobilisations of the war years. The aim of this paper is present some new perspectives on the significance of overseas missions in the military history of the British Empire, and to help close the enduring and unhelpful gap between the religious and military history of Great Britain. 

Michael Snape is Michael Ramsey Professor of Anglican Studies at Durham University, and ecumenical lay canon of Durham Cathedral, convenor of Durham University’s Anglican Studies Research Seminar, Honorary Secretary of the Church of England Record Society, and official historian of the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department. Author of The Redcoat and Religion (Routledge 2005) recovering the ‘forgotten history’ of the British soldier from the age of Marlborough to the eve of World War 1. 

Havelock, History and Hagiography: Some 21st Century Reflections on a 19th Century Hero 

Nicholas Wood

Created with Sketch.

Henry Havelock (1795-1857), was a British hero of the 1857-8 Indian Rebellion and is almost certain to remain the only Baptist with a statue in Trafalgar Square. Most contemporary Britons have never heard of Havelock, and most Baptists would be astonished to learn of the presence of one of their co-religionists in such a significant location. During recent years there has been considerable controversy about the memorialisation of figures from Britain’s colonial past. In 2020, in Bristol, the statue of Edward Colston a locally-born merchant and city benefactor, whose company was responsible for the transportation and enslavement of some 100,000 West Africans, was torn from its plinth, daubed with paint and thrown into the harbour during a demonstration in support of ‘Black Lives Matter’. In similar vein students and others have maintained an ongoing ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the frontage of Oriel College Oxford, of which he was an alumnus and generous benefactor. In 2020 the campaign received fresh impetus from the BLM movement and secured the agreement in principle of the College’s Governing Body for the removal of the statue to another location where it can be appropriately ‘contextualised’. However, Havelock was celebrated not only as a military hero but as an exemplar of Christian duty. It is this apparent paradox which this paper sets out to explore. After a brief review of Havelock’s career, we will then reflect on contemporary reaction to his death during the 1857 campaign in the context of a developing nineteenth century Christian militarism. In particular, we will note its impact on Victorian attitudes to the religion and the British Army. Finally, we shall give consideration to a contemporary Christian response to this largely forgotten story, and its on-going, if generally unnoticed, memorialisation through Havelock’s statue in Trafalgar Square. This is especially relevant as we reassess the legacy of empire in the light of post-colonial perspectives and of current white Christian anxiety over Britain’s colonial and imperial past and its continuing reverberations around the globe. 

Nicholas Wood was until 2020 Dean and Fellow in Religion & Culture, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and was formerly a co-President of the Christian Muslim Forum (England) and vice- Moderator of the Baptist World Alliance Commission on inter-faith relations. He works on mission, history and culture, particularly inter-faith relations, especially in the Indian context. Among his publications he is author of Faiths and Faithfulness: Pluralism, Dialogue and Mission in the Work of Kenneth Cragg and Lesslie Newbigin (Paternoster Press, 1996) and Pity, Humanity and Christianity? The Work of William Carey in Postcolonial Perspective [Baptist Quarterly Vol.44 2012] 

Respondent and Plenary Reflections

28 May 2021, 4.45pm BST


Please register your interest in attending the virtual conference by completing the registration form linked below.