- Mission as Globalization: Methodists in Southeast Asia at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by David W. Scott
David W. Scott has produced an insightful study that interest scholars in a number of fields. This is a historical work that focuses on early Methodist missions in Southeast Asia; however, it is not a straightforward historical account. Scott brings a fresh perspective to his subject by analyzing the "Malaysia Mission" (as it was known in Methodist sources) from the perspective of globalization, a framework normally applied to later historical periods. He convincingly argues that many of the features of mid to late-twentieth century globalization were already present in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Southeast Asian missions. His argument thus offers fresh light on the global history of Methodism and pushes against the boundaries of contemporary work on globalization.
The book is organized into seven chapters. The first is a brief survey of the history of the Methodist Mission to Malaysia during the period [End Page 328] under investigation. In addition to orienting the reader to Methodist structures and key players, Scott places the mission in the context of Southeast Asian history, noting the way the region was shaped by colonialism, capitalism, immigration, and new communication technologies. As Scott demonstrates, Southeast Asia was, at this time, already marked by the kind of migratory and multicultural interaction that we now associate with globalization.
Chapters 2–7 proceed thematically, rather than chronologically, each examining the Methodist mission in light of a trend normally associated with globalization. The second chapter discusses Methodist Mission as "global vision," and identifies ways Methodist missionary activity expanded geographic awareness and fostered a sense of the world as one global space. Within Southeast Asia, Methodist missions transgressed imperial boundaries, operating across colonial regimes. Missionary publications also shaped a view of "Malaysia" as a vaguely-defined region, and shared information about its culture with Western readers. All of this combined with the common bond of faith across cultural and geographic distance to create a sense of global unity. As Scott nicely summarizes, "Minnesota and Malaysia were bound together by migration, relationships, communication, money, organizational ties, and geographic awareness," and therefore the "we cannot tell the full history of Methodism in Malaysia without talking about Minnesota, nor the full history of Methodism in Minnesota without talking about Malaysia" (p. 47).
Chapter 3 analyzes the dialectic interplay of the global Methodist culture and the local cultures of Southeast Asia. Scott seeks to avoid a one-sided view of globalization as the imposition of Western culture, arguing that it is better to view the interchange as a hybridization of cultures. For example, the Methodist Mission was heavily involved in education based on Western educational models, but Western values of autonomy, self-determination and socioeconomic ambition were adapted actively and selectively by local students, particularly as they went on to become teachers in the schools. Female education was highly valued by the missionaries, and while this in itself was counter-cultural for Southeast Asia, the female curriculum was focused on "feminine" skills and was conducted in the native tongue, which helped to preserve local culture. Common moral reform causes from the West were also imported (temperance, anti-prostitution work) but these were not able to make an impact beyond Methodist circles.
The fourth chapter is entitled "Methodism as a Media Conglomerate," and examines Methodist publishing efforts using categories [End Page 329] normally applied to late twentieth century media organizations. While Methodist media activity of the time was limited to print, it nevertheless represented a global enterprise that communicated using a number of types of print publications (periodicals, books, tracts, leaflets, reports). The "conglomerate" was not centrally controlled by one organization, but was controlled largely by a small group of white, Western men, who all shared a similar outlook, thus providing consistency of editorial and theological perspective across the array of Methodist publications.
Scott then compares Methodist mission agencies to multinational corporations. Although the mission agencies were non-profit, he argues...