Imperialists, Internationalists, and Spies: New Directions for Missionary Studies

AHA Session 46
American Society of Church History 6
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Room A706 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
Heather Curtis, Tufts University
Emily Conroy-Krutz, Michigan State University
Gale Kenny, Barnard College, Columbia University
Charles T. Strauss, Mount St. Mary's University
Matthew Avery Sutton, Washington State University
Heather Curtis, Tufts University

Session Abstract

This roundtable, which includes panelists whose research covers Protestant and Catholic foreign missions from the early nineteenth through the late twentieth centuries, examines the question of how studies of missionaries in relation to empire, global Christianity, humanitarianism, and foreign policy might change the way we think about the geographical and thematic boundaries of American history. Additionally, the panelists will reflect on the ways of using missionary archives that contain an eclectic mix of personal and public records that speak to questions of religion, foreign policy, race, gender, and nationalism. Historians have used these archives to internationalize American history in a variety of ways, yet foreign missionaries remain relatively marginal to the central narratives of American history. To address this issue, each panelist will briefly present their own research and explain its implications for American religious history and American history more generally. Commentator Heather Curtis, whose work examines evangelical missionaries and humanitarianism, will facilitate a discussion with the panelists and the audience on the uses of missionary archives and the relevance of foreign missions to American religion and a transnational framework for American history.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, Emily Conroy-Krutz will discuss the ways that American foreign missionaries of the early republic thought about empire and the role of their nation in the world, an approach she has called Christian imperialism. Working within and on the margins of the British and American empires, American missionaries were challenged by the differences between what they imagined to be the duties of Christian nations to the rest of the world and the realities of imperialism. Moving to the interwar era, Gale Kenny will focus on liberal Protestant missionaries, internationalism, and race relations. She examines the International Missionary Council’s 1928 Jerusalem Conference, a diverse gathering of Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Americans that manifested a multicultural vision of global Christianity and that challenged the white American delegates' religious exclusivity and called them to address the racism of American churches and institutions in new ways. Matthew Sutton will examine the secret role that missionaries played in World War II in espionage and covert operations. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the director of the United States’ first intelligence agency, recruited hundreds of missionaries. As true believers in Roosevelt’s crusade for global freedom of religion, they felt sure that an American victory would keep the world accessible for future missionary endeavors and would guarantee the safety of their fellow believers abroad. Finally, drawing on Vatican archives, Charles Strauss will present on Catholic missionaries in the early Cold War era. He looks at how their ideas of religious freedom and gender responded to and shaped the political culture of the United States.

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