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Reviewed by:
  • Missionary Education and Empire in Late Colonial India, 1860-1920
  • Jeffrey Cox (bio)
Missionary Education and Empire in Late Colonial India, 1860–1920, by Hayden J. A. Bellenoit; pp. xiv + 273. London and Brookfield: Pickering & Chatto, 2007, £60.00, $99.00.

Christian missionary schools have played a central role in the education of an overwhelmingly non-Christian South Asian elite. Missionary Education and Empire provides the first fully documented account of this story, with a focus on colonial North India. Hayden Bellenoit's goal is to integrate the history of Indian education and Christian missions and establish the importance of missionaries in mainstream South Asian historiography. He is particularly good on the day-to-day workings of educational bureaucracy, and his detailed analysis topples many broad stereotypes. Far from a straightforward modernizing force in Indian society, mission high schools and colleges were sites of struggle between competing sets of values. Bellenoit undermines the very use of the phrase "the British" when used to refer to missionaries and government officials collectively. As British governing officials became more isolated from Indians in the late nineteenth century and resorted to scientific racism to justify British rule, missionary educators became more engaged with Indians, grew increasingly sympathetic to Indian culture, and adamantly opposed scientific racism. [End Page 749]

Government officials, missionary educators, and Indian parents had conflicting goals as they created and funded mission schools. The government was wary of educating Indians but needed them to run the government. Missionaries could fund their schools only with a combination of government grants that prohibited proselytization and fees from parents who would withdraw their children from school if they faced direct Christian indoctrination. To make things more complicated, missionaries had to justify the practice of educating non-Christians to the missionary societies at home, which provided a small portion of the overall budget for Indian schools but all the salaries for missionaries. Indian parents who could afford private education wanted the benefits of prestigious mission education but only if their children were protected from pressure to convert.

The result was a compromise. Missionary educators would refrain from attempts to convert students. The government provided textbooks and controlled examinations, which were secular. Government officials, missionaries, and parents alike accepted the notion that mission schools had a distinctive mandate to impart universal moral values missing from a purely secular education. Some government officials, and some missionaries, thought that a study of English literature would do the job. In Bellenoit's account, though, the majority of educational missionaries took refuge in Fulfillment theology. Abandoning the early-nineteenth-century defamatory treatments of Indian culture and religion, they looked for intimations of Christian truth in Hinduism, an approach that was codified in a classic of liberal Protestant theology, J. N. Farquhar's The Crown of Hinduism (1913).

Bellenoit overstates the influence of liberal theology among missionaries in the late nineteenth century, claiming for it a hegemonic status, but he is undoubtedly correct in his argument that educational missionaries in elite schools, whatever their theological point of view, drew upon a rhetoric of Fulfillment that dated back to the mid-nineteenth century. Missionaries found Fulfillment rhetoric useful both as a means of discussing morality with Indian students and as a way of explaining to mission supporters at home the slow permeation of India by Christian values. For their part, Indian students found the complimentary things said about Hinduism reassuring and responded with their own vague forms of theism that reassured missionaries that students, even if not converting to Christianity, were moving away from idolatry. Although Indian parents were primarily interested in securing government jobs for their children, they were not averse to having moral values as the basis for their education.

This is a persuasive story, one rooted in careful and thorough archival research. Bellenoit dismisses the widespread notion that mission education was a "failure" because of a lack of Christian converts. On explicitly Christian theological grounds, missionaries valued the moral influence that they promulgated in the schools even if it did not result in conversions, and there is some evidence that students valued it as well. Some non-Christian students, and their parents, looked upon missionaries as moral exemplars...


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