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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 157-158
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The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History. Edited by Daniel H. Bays and Grant Wacker. (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press. 2003. Pp. xi, 343. $60.00.)
The scholarly community has often avoided the subject of missionaries and their activities, presuming the missionary impulse to be destructive of indigenous cultures. Further, "foreign missionary" work has often been considered a one-way street, that of mission groups converting peoples of other tribes, cultures, or countries. However, Daniel H. Bays and Grant Wacker's superbly edited work clearly points to the reciprocal impact overseas missionaries had on the identity, culture, and politics of the United States. The fifteen chapters were drawn from among the papers presented at the 1998 Wheaton College conference, "Missionary Impulse in North America," supported by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.
Bays, a Modern China scholar, formerly professor of history at the University of Kansas, and currently at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Wacker, professor of church history at the Duke Divinity School, are an able team to edit the work. They suggest three themes, which surface throughout the chapters. Missionaries were often the brokers between countries they served and the United States or Canada, in terms of communicating the religious, cultural, social, and ethical values of other peoples and religions. Some missionaries did that in more public ways, as is indicated in Scott Flipse's chapter, "To Save 'Free Vietnam' and Lose Our Souls." A second theme is that the mission experience itself was a means of identification ethnically and demographically for groups and individuals. Third, missionaries provided a critique of the home culture's assumptions, often in ways that were surprising both to the missionaries, their denominations, and North America itself.
In Part One, "The National Era: Years of Expansion," we find especially insightful chapters by John Saillant and Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, who examine the impact of the Liberian and Haitian missions on race relations and on the development of African-American religious identity in the nineteenth century. Part Two, "The High Imperial Era: Years of Maturity," includes two Canadian case studies, with chapters by Alvyn Austin and Marilyn Färdig Whiteley. Part Three, "After World War II: Years of Complication," includes a perceptive chapter by Grant Wacker on Pearl S. Buck's changing attitudes toward missionary work. Jay S. F. Blossom's treatment of missionaries portrayed in four films in the 1980's and 1990's reveals the ambivalent and somewhat stereotyped images of missionaries still prevailing today.
The book has scant references to North American Catholic mission experience, and no chapter specifically explores that. Edward Brett, a conference participant, has published his work on Latin America, some of which appears in his The U.S. Catholic Press on Central America: From Cold War Anticommunism to Social Justice (The University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). However, there is [End Page 157] plentiful room for research in the North American Catholic missionary movement to examine similar issues and experience. The even quality of The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home chapters sets a fine standard for further research on the subject.
Saint Louis University