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  • The Christian Horizon
  • Hillary Kaell (bio)
Au risque de la conversion: L'expérience Québécoise de la mission au XXe siècle (1945–1980). By Catherine Foisy. Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2017. 344 pages. $120.00 CAD (cloth). $37.95 CAD (paper).
Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid. By Heather D. Curtis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018. 384 pages. $29.95 CAD (cloth).
The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals. By Melani McAlister. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 408 pages. $29.95 CAD (cloth).

Lately, the trickle of monographs about the global dimensions of US Christianity has turned into a stream. Interest in the topic has some precedent. Historians have produced significant studies of missionary work for decades, and a number of excellent studies of religion and diplomacy are now available. The new "global turn" builds on aspects of these earlier studies, particularly in its refusal to draw a bright line between Christians' domestic and foreign work.1 However, the work coming out now has a different feel, too. In the aggregate, these studies are more attuned to issues of power and imperialism.2 They are more likely to move beyond missions and immigration, the staple "global" themes in studies of North American religion. They are often interdisciplinary in approach and, importantly, are finally giving the twentieth century its due; for years, scholarship on North American missions has focused on the period before World War II.

The books under review here exemplify these trends through interrelated, but distinct, disciplinary approaches. The historian Heather Curtis's Holy Humanitarians centers on the two decades from Louis Klopsch's purchase of the Christian Herald magazine in 1890 to his death in 1910. Under Klopsch's leadership, the Herald massively increased its readership and championed major domestic and foreign aid campaigns. The period is an especially rich one, and Curtis delves into Progressive Era reformism, Roosevelt diplomacy, [End Page 1169] and US actions in Cuba and the Philippines. At the time, there were many more US missionaries abroad than there were overseas employees of the State Department or US foreign news correspondents,3 and the Herald worked with those missionaries to shape early humanitarianism. Catherine Foisy's Au risque de la conversion picks up in the 1920s, right as Curtis ends her story. A historical sociologist, Foisy mixes archival research with oral interviews to reconstruct the activities of Quebecois foreign missionaries—all of whom were Catholic priests or religious sisters—in three female orders and one male missionary society. The organizations were founded in Quebec from 1902 to 1928, and Foisy tracks their work from 1945 to 1980. It was a time of momentous religious and societal upheaval in Quebec, which also spanned the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and the liberalization that followed. The last book under review, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders, by Melani McAlister, traces shifting global commitments and networks since the 1960s among US evangelicals. McAlister employs the term "evangelical" broadly and includes African American congregations, which are a welcome addition in this context. An expert on politics and international relations in an American studies department, McAlister builds an interdisciplinary study that analyzes archival material, sermons, and pop culture products, and employs short-term ethnography in South Sudan and Cairo.

Part of the novelty of Curtis's Holy Humanitarians lies in how few historians have considered the Christian Herald as a major force in shaping US humanitarianism. Curtis begins with a critique of the tendency to secularize the early history of humanitarianism, which aligns her book with a variety of other studies.4 Although she also rightly notes that histories of US philanthropy too often focus on leaders who founded institutions, Holy Humanitarians takes much the same tack by concentrating on Herald editors Klopsch and Rev. Thomas De Witt Talmage, and is told mainly from their perspective. The difference lies in the type of institution they created: the Herald used journalism and photography to mobilize a large popular base. In this respect, Curtis buries her lead, as Klopsch the newspaperman might have said. One of the book's most illuminating aspects is not the Herald...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 1169-1178
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-24
Open Access
No
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