Mission Sites as Spaces for Sacred and Unholy Interactions: Mozambique, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire

AHA Session 181
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room 302 (Hynes Convention Center)
Wendy E. Urban-Mead, Bard College
Susan Thorne, Duke University

Session Abstract

Christian mission stations in non-Christian environments are ideal sites to explore the intersections of the sacred and the quotidian. They offer opportunities to explore questions about gender and space, rivalries among deities, conflicts between spiritual and secular power, and tensions between nationalism and imperialism. This panel presents three case studies of Christian mission sites in non-Christian environments on three continents. Each paper in its own way and in a different context offers a close study of the lay-out of a Christian mission and its attempt to establish sacred space as shaped and limited by its relationship to the geography, culture, and political structures of its host setting. Using mission buildings as a fruitful source of interrogation, all three papers address in some way the following questions: what is the nature of the mission's institutional, human, and imaginative reach into the society in which it is placed? What is the impact of the surrounding society on the microcosm of the mission station itself? How do individuals engaged in the process of creating “sacred” space interact? How do they negotiate the process? What new structures and relationships result from the process? Aleksandra Majstorac Kobiljski discusses the construction of Doshisha English School in Kyoto, Japan by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, completed in 1876. She argues that a study of the architecture, building materials, and skilled artisans associated with the project points to a significant shift in the strategy of the American Board in Japan as missionaries renegotiated the very idea of conversion. Barbara Reeves-Ellington explores the gendered use of space at the Constantinople Home, a center for women's missionary work constructed by the Woman's Board of Missions of the American Board in 1876. She argues that the tensions inherent in the idea for the structure led to the conversion of an American Protestant mission school into an Ottoman educational institution. With papers from the diverse locations of Africa, Japan, and the Near East, this panel offers an opportunity for fruitful comparative analysis of the complex and changing power structures that evolve in missionary encounters. Eric Morier-Genoud examines the mission station of Murraça opened and run by the Catholic White Fathers in central Mozambique in the early 20th C. He investigates how missionaries built the station, physically and symbolically, and proceeds to look at the compromises which develop over time to create a particular form of Catholicism and local and national African identity.

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