Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa

Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa

Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa

Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa


American Evangelicals have long considered Africa a welcoming place for joining faith with social action, but their work overseas is often ambivalently received. Even among East African Christians who share missionaries' religious beliefs, understandings vary over the promises and pitfalls of American Evangelical involvement in public life and schools. In this first-hand account, Amy Stambach examines missionary involvement in East Africa from the perspectives of both Americans and East Africans.

While Evangelicals frame their work in terms of spreading Christianity, critics see it as destroying traditional culture. Challenging assumptions on both sides, this work reveals a complex and ever-evolving exchange between Christian college campuses in the U. S., where missionaries train, and schools in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Providing real insight into the lives of school children in East Africa, this book charts a new course for understanding the goals on both sides and the global connections forged in the name of faith.


This story is about American missionaries on the world's turf. It unfolds in two parts of the globe: East Africa and the United States. The opening themes are religion, education, secularism, and politics. Each is developed across years of growing political attention to religion's public significance worldwide.

At a certain moment in this story, the view looking backward becomes very different from the view looking forward. That moment is the early 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when East African governments began to pressure American missionaries to register as development agencies. Before this point, evangelical missionaries worked independently of nonreligious aid organizations, and development programs were administered by professional organizations such as Oxfam or CARE, or by governments working bilaterally. Behind East African governments' pressure was a bigger force, the World Bank, and behind the Bank there was pressure from its greatest shareholding power, the United States.

The World Bank and the U.S. government encouraged East African governments to subcontract development activities with nongovernmental agencies, including faith-based groups. American evangelical missionaries were wary of this approach. They believed in the separation of church and state. Yet the U.S. government was touting faith-government partnerships as the new value added to development schemes. Linking religion to policy reframed nation-state interests by increasing their moral legitimacy. Some observers remarked that religion was America's new export to the world. One best-selling historian pinned his hopes on American evangelicals helping to build an empire rivaling the old British Empire (N. Ferguson 2002), and a nationally syndicated editorialist referred to Christian evangelists as America's new foreign policy force (Kristof 2003, 2008).

Popular commentators were right in their own way, yet the story is more complicated than they tell it. It has to do with competing visions of secularism in public life and with how religion crafts new moral geographies that politically secure and link distant lands. Put simply, much as . . .

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