Christianity under Asian and African Dominance in the Early Modern Period

AHA Session 243
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Dana Robert, Boston University
John K. Thornton, Boston University

Session Abstract

The expansion of Christianity in the sixteenth century and beyond as a result of European navigation has been studied for many years. Most of the attention has been focused on how Christianity spread through the actions of colonial political authorities who collaborated with missionaries in their efforts to subordinate non-western peoples to European rule. Relatively little attention has been given to those non-western people who responded to missionary activity without having undergone subjection to European colonization. Yet such groups did exist. In Africa, for example, the Kingdom of Kongo accepted Christianity as an independent and sovereign nation in 1491, and continued as both sovereign and often hostile to Portugal, whose colony in Angola was nearby and a colonial situation. Within the sphere of colonial activity in Angola, other neighboring kingdoms also accepted Christianity, for example Njinga of Ndongo/Matamba and her successors, or the Dembo rulers whose lands lay near Portuguese colonial space. In Asia, missionaries had some success in Japan and China while both regions remained clearly outside any European politico-military control. While no European missionary was able to convert the rulers of these polities to Christianity and thus have full state support for their efforts, they were able to win some of the elite's hearts and the conversion of relatively large numbers of commoners. Likewise, in Malabar in South Asia, Jesuit missionaries won local support in a region where European powers only held a precarious political sway, and the local vibrant communities of neophytes eventually led to the indigenization of a Portuguese colonial project. The papers in this panel will examine the implications for these mostly voluntary conversions, and the impact that they had on the interaction between Christianity and local religion, and on the authority of the church where it did not enjoy European full-fledged protection, but garnered some form of native political patronage or popular support. The session will consist of brief oral presentations, followed by ample time for discussion.

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