The World the Missionaries Made

The World the Missionaries Made June 2, 2015

“Scholars today (though in practice it is more the custom of the popularizers and media exponents) can afford to be snide or patronizing about the missionary movement,” writes Andrew Walls in The Cross-Cultural Process of Christian History. “But many branches of Western learning now exist because of it.”

He points to the correspondence of Max Müller, or J G Frazer, or A C Haddon, with missionaries; not because these luminaries could identify with missionary aims, but because they were aware of no other group of Western people so regularly engaged at such a fundamental level with the languages and cultures of the nonWestern world.”

The study of “comparative African linguistics was the almost singlehanded creation of Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle,” and the “significance of tone, and the devising of a system of marking it, was due to the insistence of the African missionary Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the most important influence in the production of the Bible in his mother tongue, Yoruba.” The “most important single figure in the western understanding of the Chinese classics is probably the Scottish missionary James Legge,” and another “Aberdonian, John Nicol Farquhar, produced the fullest comprehensive compendium of information on Indian religious literature, still in print in India.”

Walls concludes mournfully: “the missionary movement affected every department of scholarship – except theology.”

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