Transplanting the Sacred: Missionary and Immigrant Uses of Religion in Foreign Lands

AHA Session 200
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Exeter Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Rick Kennedy, Point Loma Nazarene University
Erik C. Maiershofer, Hope International University

Session Abstract

This session will explore the different ways in which missionaries and immigrants attempted to transplant and/or impose their visions of the sacred in foreign lands.  By looking at a range of modern times, places, and religious traditions, this panel will show that the concept of transplanting sacred space has a long and varied history.  Papers will analyze the numerous ways that distinct religious groups in different times and places—from the early-19th to the mid-20th century—understood the sacred and sacred space.  One paper, for example, will consider how, in the 20th century, the French missionary society known as the White Fathers considered Algeria to be sacred by virtue of its ancient Christian past and hoped to reclaim this sacred space through conversions and the building of physical churches.   Another paper will evaluate Irish immigrants and immigrant priests who brought their vision of Catholicism to gold rush California in the mid- to late 19th century.  One addresses the alliance between the United States government and American missionaries in post-World War II Japan, raising questions about the expectation that the Christianization of Japan would make that nation an ally of the United States.  A fourth paper investigates the work of Jewish, Catholic, and African-American women who formed cooperative societies in the early 19th century to preserve particular views of the sacred in the emerging religious marketplace in the transatlantic world.

By examining a variety of religious groups operating at different times and in diverse geographical locales, this panel intends to shed light on the multiple ways in which religious agents understood their own faith and their purposes in bringing or sending their religions to foreign lands.  Of particular importance will be the ways in which religious agents reconciled a universalist Christian narrative with their own unique historical context.  Accordingly, panelists will consider the ways in which gender, national origins, ethnicity, and competing religious views shaped how missionaries and immigrants imagined the nature of the sacred.  Additionally, the papers will elucidate the ways in which their mission fields and adopted homelands, particularly in regard to race, religion, and space, informed missionaries’ and immigrants’ conception of their task to transplant their religion.  Finally, the panel will consider how relationships with civil authorities influenced the vision and work of relocating the sacred to new territory.

This panel will thus appeal to a wide audience, including those interested in nationalism, gender issues, immigration and ethnic interactions, and especially the ways in which a variety of religious ideals intersected with all of these listed topics and more.

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