Philip Jenkins

Institute for Studies of Religion

History Department

Baylor University




Klaus Koschorke, Frieder Ludwig and Mariano Delgado, eds., A History of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990: A Documentary Sourcebook (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2007).


We have been discussing Dana Robert’s work on Christian Mission, and most of the same questions raised there will apply in these next classes.


The syllabus mentions the following classes:


4. FEBRUARY 10      Converting the World

Christian expansion during the Early Modern period, and the first era of globalization: its triumphs and disasters.

DISCUSS: Koschorke et al, eds., A History of Christianity, pp. 1-54, 139-183, 277-360.


5. FEBRUARY 17       The Empires Strike Back

How European empires spread Christianity worldwide, and how the faith broke free of the imperial stranglehold.

DISCUSS: Koschorke et al, eds., A History of Christianity, pp. 55-138, 184-276, 361-418


In each of these two periods, we will be asking broadly similar questions about the documents. The questions listed here are general. What I am looking for is specific answers grounded in the particular texts, as they apply to each particular era – roughly, before and after 1800.


For each era, I’d like you to think in terms of these following questions – and throughout, we’ll be asking how the answers would have changed over time:


The Book


What do you think of the book and its selections? Do we discover much about where the editors are coming from? Do any biases emerge?


The editors present the story of missions without telling us much about conditions back home in the Europe doing the “sending.” What do we know about what is going on in Europe before we can understand these foreign adventures?


What are the main questions you would like to ask that the documents do not touch on, or do not explore in sufficient detail? Are there particular sources or extracts you are dying to interrogate in more detail?


In each era, which if any readings or stories really surprised you?


The Nature Of Mission


These readings span the globe, covering Africa, Asia and Latin America. Are these multiple different stories or are there enough commonalities to justify speaking in “global” terms?


Are there particular encounters, sayings or phrases that grabbed you, which summarized a major portion of the story in memorable terms? (Hint – I like the story of “Christians and spices” on p.8!)


What do we learn about the kinds of Christianity that missions are trying to spread or to impose? How do these religious forms strike a modern audience?


Race and Culture


Missionaries always commented on the societies they encountered, and the rival religions in place there. What can we learn from such comments, both about the societies being described and the people doing the describing? Did their attitudes ever surprise you?


Do we find attitudes of racial and/or cultural superiority? Did individuals manage to rise above these attitudes?


What evidence do we see of guilt, doubts or qualms about mission and/or colonialism? On what grounds?


Missionary Strategies


The book looks at lots of different parts of the world, with very different stories. In the early period, for instance, we look at India, China, the Philippines, Angola, Mexico… Can we generalize about the strategies that missions employed? Were these seriously debated?


How well or badly did missions cope with the many languages that they needed to deploy? How far can we tell this from the sources at our disposal?


How open are churches and missions to developing native leadership?


Do we learn anything about the impact of Christianity in spreading literacy?


How far do missionaries see themselves compelled to reform social and economic structures as well as religious life?


What were the greatest obstacles to successful mission in this period?


What denominations or churches were most active in this period? Were they in serious conflict, or did they cooperate? How differently did different churches behave?


Gender And Family


What do we learn about the churches’ gender attitudes in this era?


How did churches treat local attitudes to marriage and family?


Native Christians


The book claims to offer A History of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990. Does it live up to that title, or is it overwhelmingly a history of missions, devoting little attention to indigenous Christian efforts? Is that a fair comment? If so, could they have done more to counterbalance that European emphasis?


How did new European missions interact with older native Christian bodies?


What drove indigenous Christians to establish their own churches and national traditions?


How successfully did European churches relate to these new native bodies?


See also my post on The Synod of Diamper.


Other Religions


How did they regard older religions, either native primal faiths, or other world religions? Were these viewed in demonic terms, or do we find evidence of greater sympathy and understanding?


Do we see Christians trying to understand other faiths through the lens of their own religion and traditions?


What evidence do we see of dialogue between different faiths?


How do Westerners come to idealize and/or romanticize the colonial worlds, especially the “Mystic East”?


How rivalry with Christianity transformed those other religions.




European Christians wrote much about martyrdom, and several such stories are related here, from multiple eras. What do such accounts tell us about the nature of martyrdom, about the attitudes of both persecuted and persecutors? How far are such events driven by politics as opposed to religion?




What are the main negative stereotypes surrounding Christian mission? Were there any particular episodes or individuals in this period who really justified or epitomized these dark images? Put another way, what did you read in these documents that made you cringe?


Which stories or episodes offer positive lessons for churches today?


Do you believe that missions in this era were successful? Judged by what standard? How did they define success?


What were their greatest successes?


What were their worst failures? What errors did they make?


Based on what we read in this era, what does that tell us about whether churches flourish or die?


Heroes And Villains


I repeat this question from the discussion of Dana Robert’s work: Tell me about key individuals who really grabbed your attention, for better or worse? Who emerges as a hero (which is not necessarily the same thing as being a saint?) Who is the greatest villain?