Connecting Thursdays

Missionary Boomerang

How does contact with other cultures change our own?

The standard view of missionaries is pretty one-sided. A smug, culturally imperialist power sends out its emissaries to unapologetically “convert” the “unenlightened” to their prevailing world-view.

Well, in many ways that’s a pretty reasonable account of what has transpired over the centuries.   But in a clip from Ideas Roadshow’s TOK Compilation called The Impact of Missionaries, UC Berkeley historian of religion David Hollinger explains that the impact of missionaries was hardly limited to the places they were sent to.

Prof. Hollinger develops this thesis in detail in his intriguing book Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, describing the increasing tension that developed by what he calls the “cosmopolitan missionaries” and the provincial churchgoers” resulting in the current rift in today’s America between so-called Ecumenical Protestants and Evangelical Protestants.  

Meanwhile, from a TOK perspective, primary issues centre around our level of certainty of our religious and social world-views and how they influence, and are influenced, by our interactions with others.