It seems somewhat appropriate that History SPOT’s debut offering from the Christian Missions in Global history seminar is an internally focused look at the changing success and failure of missionary study over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Brian Stanley asks whether the subject is still relevant and can, indeed, survive. Early in his career, Stanley was warned by an eminent professor in the subject that he should branch out as study into Christian missionary activity was a dying discipline. In some ways, Stanley admits, he was right, but not entirely. The mere existence of this seminar group is just one piece of proof that the subject still holds much merit, even though it has now folded into various sub-disciplines within the humanities, rather than holding its own as a sub-discipline in its own right.
In this podcast, Stanley examines that trends and trajectories of missionary study from the end of World War Two through to the present day. This talk walks through its merging with church history in general and its particular partnership with African studies. The vital importance of SOAS (the School of oriental and African Studies, London) in keeping study of Africa alive in the UK has also allowed study into missionary activity to retain an important part in that story. Indeed, many studies of Africa cannot be done without reference or thought to the role that missionaries played for good or ill in the past.
Stanley also notes the rising importance of Chinese history and Christian missionary activity there as keeping the subject not only alive, but in a state of evolution and transformation. Indeed, Stanley believes that external factors have shaped the trajectory of missionary study over the last six decades. First the changes in world view over this time, the fall of the British Empire, the rise of China and so forth alongside changes of belief and focus in Christianity itself. Second the vital importance of funding, often from America, which reflects the evolving priorities of funding groups. In conclusion Stanley believes that the subject does have relevance and uses in today’s world and can help us understand many wider aspects of our past and present.