Missionary Work: Politics, Culture, and Ethical Globalization

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jimmy Humphrey (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Roberto Campo

Abstract: 2012 University Libraries Undergraduate Research Award Winner---Globalization is “a set of social processes of increasing interdependence,” with no easily identifiable agency and structured pattern (Steger, 2009, p. 17). Most often, the term connotes a heavy Western-influenced system of economic, political, and cultural interdependence. Protestant Christian missionaries, who propagate religion in a foreign culture, are inevitably part of the process of culture change within globalization. Missionaries are often portrayed, as Ryan Dunch (2002) writes, “in both literature and scholarship as narrow-minded chauvinists whose presence and preaching destroyed indigenous cultures and opened the way for extension of colonial rule” (p.307). Many times missionaries are then charged with being either political or cultural imperialists--those who both spread foreign political influence and destroy indigenous culture for the sake of Western Christianity. Such an understanding of missionary work ---as inherently imperialistic--- is a surprisingly insufficient perspective for the complex social interplay of missionary work. In the same way religion does not influence just morals, but also politics and economics, missionary work should not be interpreted only through political or ethnocentric lenses. An understanding of missionary work needs to account for the equally frequent instances when missionaries enrich and empower the indigenous groups with whom they work, preventing a culture group from disappearing altogether because of globalization. The work of missionaries, like Robert Moffat and John Phillip, of the London Missionary Society in nineteenth-century Southern Africa, and translators with the present-day Wycliffe Bible Translators demonstrates that missionaries also can advocate on behalf of indigenous groups by preserving mother tongues through Bible translation. First, though, it is necessary to establish the deficiencies of political and cultural imperialism as primary interpretations of missionary work.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
missionary work, politics, ethical globalization, culture

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