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 2012 Yale-Edinburgh Group Meeting
University of Edinburgh, June 28-30, 2012


Since the early centuries Christianity has known movements that have intensified and radicalized religious life. The aim of such movements has often been to regain the simplicity and zeal of the church of New Testament days, or to restore some lost or neglected aspect of primitive church life. Sometimes such movements leave a lasting mark on Christian teaching, institutions, worship and patterns of conduct. Some deeply affect the institutional church; some divide it; some are driven from it; some run into the sand. All reflect a desire to renew the Christian community, to bring to it new life and vigour.

Western missions owe much to such movements. Currents within the Catholic Reformation of the sixteenth century produced the missionaries who entered the lands newly open to Europeans; the movements that reformed the old religious orders and created new ones, such as the Society of Jesus, created the infrastructure for them. The subsequent missionary movement among Protestants owed much to Pietism and the Evangelical Revival. In the nineteenth century and after, radicalizing Christian movements gave fresh impetus to missions, gave them new dimensions, and sometimes revolutionized their methods.

Not unnaturally, missionaries influenced by such movements expected the experiences of converts to replicate their own, and were sometimes puzzled when this did not immediately happen. But the new churches of Africa, Asia and the Pacific frequently developed radicalizing movements of their own: Tonga, Manchuria, Korea, Rwanda, and Uganda are among the locations where highly influential movements arose that contemporaries recognized to be the phenomenon known in the West as “revival.” Such movements sometimes involved missionaries, sometimes divided them, sometimes by-passed them completely.

Characteristic of contemporary world Christianity are movements frequently called “Pentecostal” or “charismatic.” These have affected the Catholic and historic Protestant churches, as well as subsisting in many independent forms. In the West their genetic tree is commonly traced to Los Angeles or Kansas and Western traditions of revival there; but worldwide, it is clear that many have been formed by currents indigenous to Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Other radicalizing movements – the older African instituted or “Spiritual” churches offer many examples - developed in ways unparalleled in the Christian history of the West, adopting and adapting features and institutions from traditional life re-interpreted in Biblical terms, reflecting an indigenous reading of Scripture.

Sometimes the impact of missions produced movements of renewal within the old religion, distinct from or even opposed to Christianity; sometimes, (very noticeably in Melanesia), a new religion altogether. Ram Mohun Roy was only the first of many radical Hindu reformers to place the figure and teaching of Christ at the centre of a movement of religious and social renewal. Opposition to missions was a major factor in the revitalization of Buddhism in nineteenth century Sri Lanka. In the mid-nineteenth century southern China was convulsed by a revolutionary social and political movement drawing its inspiration from the Christian Scriptures. Missionaries were shocked at aspects of Taiping theology; yet the movement could involve such a one as Hong Rengan, Christian preacher and close friend of James Legge, who re-interpreted its teachings and arguably began to articulate an indigenous Chinese theology. In Japan the influence of Christianity is manifest in a range of new religions that transform traditional Buddhism.

The field is vast – across the centuries, across the continents, the significance of religious movements of renewal, revival, and revitalization is clear, and they impinge on the concerns of workers in the field of the history of missions and of the Christianity of Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. It should make the next meeting of the Yale Edinburgh Group as rich, as stimulating, and as constructive and productive, as any of its predecessors.

A formal call for papers will be issued in January 2012, 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