A more moderate approach was that of Jean and John Comaroff in Of Revelation and Revolution , which looked at the influence of colonial missions in helping to effect cultural change in southern Africa. The issue here was to assess the place of the missions in the early cultural colonial history of South Africa. Perhaps the most controversial anthropological account of Protestant missionaries was David Stoll's book Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire?
Many of the book's strongest claims were strongly denied by SIL personnel and later discounted or ignored by the larger anthropological community. But the book's weaker claim that SIL missionaries often held and transmitted cultural and political leanings similar to those of conservative US and Latin American officials is one that cannot be as easily discounted, partly because the evangelical Protestant missionary forces from North America have long tended to draw disproportionately from socially and politically conservative communities.
By the late s, another issue alienating evangelical missionaries—and conservative Protestants in general—from anthropology and related disciplines was discomfort with the epistemological and moral ambiguities associated with the postmodern trend in anthropological and broader philosophical writings in the s. Some of these trends called for greater attention to the processes and forms of ethnographic writing and others drew increased attention to power relationships in fieldwork and writing. They also seemed intellectually discomfited with the entire style and approaches of postmodernist and postcolonial writing.
Evangelicals struggled to find ways to cope with the potential implications of these ideas not only for evangelical missions but also for evangelical youth in North America. Indeed, the postmodern trend was never fully accepted in anthropology and sociology even in its heyday of the late s and s. More recently in anthropology there has been a general rapprochement among all these stances. The assumption of mutual hostility between anthropology and missionary work still prevails in many meetings of evangelical mission leaders, though some missiological journals, such as Missiology and International Journal of Frontier Missiology, have been actively inviting more contemporarily framed anthropological analyses in recent years.
Meanwhile, some anthropologists were also starting to treat conversions to Christianity both in North America and elsewhere as meriting direct examination as religious and discursive movements involving convert agency rather than as side effects of economic, colonial, or other forces. From the early s onward, some anthropologists and historians were also starting to note that scholars needed to start paying more attention to the Christians already present in the communities they were studying instead of writing as if the Christians were not there.
Nevertheless, in the s, there still remained a sharp edge to much anthropological writing about missions and conversion.
Some anthropologists have even suggested that the work of Jean and John Comaroff on missions and conversion in southern Africa e. One of the most intriguing developments in the late s and after was the seeming disappearance of missionaries from anthropological and interdisciplinary studies of global Christianities. The missionaries are still there, and in some places they are still increasing in number, but in practice their direct influence and power over converts and local churches seem to have been greatly reduced from previous decades.
Research based on Christian conversion stories collected from former Thai Buddhists in Zehner revealed that official foreign missionaries played direct roles in only about three or five conversion stories out of the hundred stories collected for the project.
In all the other stories, all the main actors appeared to be Thai Christians, including church pastors, church elders, and age peers who were Christians. Another justification lies in the increasingly vocal world leadership exercised by representatives of African, Latin American, and Asian Churches. And when conservative North American Episcopalians wanted to part ways with the church's liberal North American leadership over issues such as ordaining practicing homosexuals as priests and bishops, many of them turned to conservative bishops in Africa for new official leadership, while engaging in legal battles with the American Episcopalian hierarchy over who had the right to keep the church properties in which these groups had been meeting.
Finally, the missionary force itself has become thoroughly multinational in ways that make traditional anthropological studies in a postcolonial studies vein less relevant. Missions professors at American evangelical seminaries report that their classes have long been occupied mostly by students of color from outside North America. Since the late s there has been an important new development in missionary activity that so far has drawn relatively little attention from mainstream anthropologists.
At this point there remains much that anthropologists could study about contemporary Christian missions. The gradual reformulation of relations between missions and their partner churches abroad bears further examination.bancse.tk
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Missions by other religions have received less anthropological attention than Christianity. Later studies of these communities, especially after the s, actually did involve anthropologists but these studies tended to treat the religious expansion element as part of the general study of Asian diasporas. Few anthropologists have taken on the question of whether or how the Asian traditions are continuing to attract the attention of North American practitioners, which they are continuing to do.
Baha'is and other evangelizing offshoots of Islam are also little discussed in anthropological literature. Islam, however, has received much more attention. Instead, it seems to have spread mostly through a series of instructive interactions among scholarly and lay communities, aided at least as the historical sources suggest by integral relationships with various ruling classes. Only in the twentieth century has Islam given rise to formally proselytizing organizations of the Western variety. The premodern spread of Islam in Africa has received particular attention from scholars such as J.
Spencer Trimingham and Robin Horton And the work of Engseng Ho on the spread of the Shafi'i school of Islamic law from eastern Yemen to most of the Indian Ocean rim has been widely influential in shaping understandings of how this kind of work can be linked with diaspora studies, studies of historical and political change, and other issues.
An example of this literature is Saba Mahmood's study of the Islamic revival among women in Egypt.
One of the most interesting aspects of this genre is the emergence of female authors, some of them of Muslim background, studying Muslim women who have voluntarily chosen to identify with da'wah strains of Islam that are stricter—and seemingly more restrictive to their female adherents—than the strains in which they grew up. The fact that these distinctions can no longer be so easily made is one of the most important new developments in the anthropological study of missions and religious conversions.
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Abstract The relationships between missionaries and anthropology have often been fraught with tensions. Anthropology and Christian Missions: An Introductory Chronology Before the s In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as anthropology was becoming established as a formal academic discipline, missionaries' field contacts, ethnographic reports, and cultural experience often provided the ethnographic material on which anthropologists built.
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From the s through the s During and after the s, relationships between anthropology and Christian missionaries became especially strained, especially in North America but also in British anthropology. Other Recent Issues in Christian Missions At this point there remains much that anthropologists could study about contemporary Christian missions. Missions by Other Religions Missions by other religions have received less anthropological attention than Christianity.
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References and Further Reading. Appadurai, Arjun.
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