Yale-Edinburgh Group
on the History of the Missionary Movement
and World Christianity

Consultations sponsored by the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, Yale Divinity School, and the Overseas Ministries Study Center

Theme for the 2011 Yale-Edinburgh Group Meeting
Yale Divinity School, June 30 - July 2, 2011


"The point is not whether the Gospel shall be made known in one way or another ... but whether it is right to teach other things than the Gospel with a view to the introduction of Christianity into a country."

Thus Thomas Smith, of the Free Church of Scotland Mission in India, posed the issue of missions and education to the Liverpool Conference on Missions in 1860. All could agree that teaching was simply another way of preaching, and in this sense much, perhaps most, missionary activity, whether addressed to children or to adults, was educational. The issue that caused controversy was whether the missionary had a responsibility to go beyond the teaching of the Christian faith to impart a wider discourse of learning. The matter was complicated by the fact that literacy for access to the Scriptures was often seen as a necessary accompaniment of Christian teaching. Christian communities became literate communities; the early nineteenth century successes in the Pacific and in Sierra Leone produced higher rates of literacy than many European nations had at the time. By the end of the nineteenth century some missions had made literacy a normal requirement of full church membership; in not a few African languages the same word indicated "to read" and "to belong to the Christian community". Evangelists were teachers, and teachers evangelists.

But Thomas Smith had something else in mind. His view of education, derived from the Scottish model of rational Enlightenment Christianity, saw it as a means of engagement with the intellectual climate of India. Philosophy, science, literature, political economy and Christian theology were integrated into an encyclopaedic view, presenting an alternative both to traditional Hinduism and to the secularist Enlightenment outlook characteristic of Government institutions in India. Missionary activity must involve not only education, but higher education. This was a step too far for some of his hearers. Here, as so often, Protestant missions were encountering issues long since met by their Catholic predecessors; the Liverpool arguments recall those between de Nobili and his Franciscan critics.

The missionary movement produced maximalists and minimalists or essentialists; those relating the Gospel to great movements of social and cultural transformation and those expressing the Gospel in terms of immediate and personal response. Education was a natural ground of contention between them, pitting the disciples of Hudson Taylor against those of Timothy Richard, those hearing the call of J H Oldham against those responding to Roland Allen. Seasons of renewal and movements in spirituality led essentialists to strip away all but the one thing needful; movements of political and social change called the maximalists to see the hand of God in contemporary events, and often to respond with programmes of education; the recaptives in the early Sierra Leone colony, the mass movements in India, the era when China looked westward, the commitment to colonial education in the 1920s with missions the only conceivable agency to implement it, "nation building" as decolonization approached. Both maximalists and minimalists faced internal contradictions: some became disillusioned with the fruits of their schools work, and came to view them as an incubus; some had to swallow their missiological principles when chiefs and colonial officers insisted on having schools. Those arguing for self-supporting churches might decry educational institutions as crippling, yet find that the emergence of a truly independent indigenous leadership required higher education.

Schools raised fundamental questions of language (vernacular, metropolitan or lingua franca? Vernacular or Arabic in Sudan?), of culture (with boarding schools critical to the "settling" of nomadic peoples in North America and Australia, and schools elsewhere producing new elites that rivalled the existing ones), of curriculum (academic or vocational or mixed?) of intention (influencing the community for good or equipping the leadership of the Church?) And "female education in the East" opened the way for women missionaries, and transformed the whole movement.

In short, there should be ample scope for all members of the group to bring to our next meeting something from their own treasuries. A formal call for papers will be issued in January 2011, with titles and abstracts due by mid-March. Our pattern has been to have each oral presentation limited to 20-25 minutes, followed by discussion. Full papers are welcomed and, if submitted by a deadline determined by the organizers, will be made available on a CD distributed to all participants.


For more information contact: Martha Lund Smalley, conference coordinator: Yale Divinity Library, 409 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511 --- Phone: 203 432-5289 --- Email: martha.smalley@yale.edu