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“Returning the Call”: The Impact of ‘Foreign’ Missions in Europe

Panel Chair: Pamela Klassen | Thursday, August 27, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

Historians have long recognised the crucial role of Christian missions in disseminating Western culture and science. This is hardly surprising given that missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw spreading Western ‘civilization’ as their raison d'être. What historians of mission have often neglected, however, is the extraordinary and concurrent impact of missions on their country of origin. In other words, Christian missions also facilitated the flow of ideas, objects and people in the other direction, back into Europe and North America. Moreover, mission societies and their supporters often wielded significant political power at home. David Hollinger has used the boomerang as a metaphor to describe the important impact of returning protestant missionaries on American post-war liberalism. Through several case studies, this panel will examine whether something similar has taken place earlier in Europe as well. In what ways did missions shape the political, religious and intellectual environment in their countries of origin?

Daniel Midena

Decolonisation and Mission: The Politics of Neuendettelsau Mission Tracts in German, 1920s–30s

This paper will examine the place of mission tracts in German politics in the two decades after decolonisation. After the Allies stripped Germany of its colonial empire, mission societies counted among the few organisations that retained some means to operate in former colonial regions. In a climate in which colonial nostalgia helped shape the politics of the Weimar Republic, the Neuendettelsau mission in northern Bavaria continued to circulate textual and photographic images from former German New Guinea. This Lutheran mission organisation communicated these experiences through mission tracts targeted at a young audience. This paper will look at the content and context of a number of these tracts—mainly short stories about the conversion of sorcerers (Bai, der Zauberer, 1923), cargo-cultists (Eemasang, 1931), savages (Unter Wilden, 1932) and cannibals (Der Christenfresser, 1954). What subtle (or not so subtle) political messages did these Neuendettelsau mission tracts convey? And to what extent did the tracts fuel or dampen colonial nostalgia and imperial ambitions in Germany in the 1920s and 30s?

Daniel Henschen

The World as Motive: How Danish Media represented Foreign Missions, 1890-1950

The sufferings of the Armenians during the Ottoman Empire, the 1912 revolution in China, the Indian independence movement: contemporary Danish newspaper readers could largely thank missionaries for continuous coverage of these faraway events. In Denmark, as in other European countries, mission organisations were, until after World War II, by far the largest organised intermediaries of the non-Western world. That makes it rather relevant to ask how and to what extent the foreign mission's religious worldview and objectives have influenced people's image of these parts of the world. This paper explores missionaries’ role in Danish mainstream newspapers and later the state radio in the years 1890-1950 - the Danish mission movement's heyday. The aim is to move beyond supporters of the mission to show the impact of mission writing, as well as the attitude towards mission, across different political and cultural groups in Danish society.

Rebecca Loder-Neuhold

Wide world – remote villages: How objects from the mission fields ended up in Europe

This paper will analyse the flow of material goods back to Europe from the mission fields. Focused on objects in mission museums that were established by mission congregations/societies within their motherhouses and branches in Europe, the paper will examine museums that included such material as beaded jewellery, large canoes, African dance masks, and Asian Madonna figures, etc. I claim that a significant number of Europeans only had access to objects from the non-Western world through the mission museums, which were often situated in very remote areas (at least in German speaking countries). This location meant that for many, the non-Western world was represented through a missionary contextualization and therefore a Christian lens. This paper will present figures about this influence in rural areas. The case study of a mission museum in St Gabriel (near Vienna) will provide one example of how these objects found their way to Europe through missionary networks.


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