Echoes of the Call: Identity and Ideology among American Missionaries in Ecuador

Echoes of the Call: Identity and Ideology among American Missionaries in Ecuador

Echoes of the Call: Identity and Ideology among American Missionaries in Ecuador

Echoes of the Call: Identity and Ideology among American Missionaries in Ecuador


Drawing on the personal histories of one hundred evangelical missionaries in Ecuador, Echoes of the Call explores the lives of missionaries as sociological "strangers." In a study as compelling as it is insightful, Jeffrey Swanson illustrates how missionaries are distanced, not only from their culture and homeland, but also from their own era. The work begins with Swanson's interpretation of how his own experience as a child of missionaries shaped the viewpoint of estrangement from which the book is written. Swanson renders the formation of a missionary identity as the rhetorical composition of a personal testimony, in which life stories of separation, loss, conflict, and conversion are melded symbolically with historical mission themes of sacrifice, heroism, spiritual militancy, and divine calling. Relying on his subjects' own narratives, he traces the missionaries' personal journeys as their sense of calling first emerges, and then as it must be reinterpreted to account for unexpected, ambiguous, and often disillusioning experiences in their host country. Swanson argues that missionaries are marginal individuals who use their vocation creatively to produce a meaningful social world, and who use rhetoric effectively to maintain that world, for themselves and for supporters in their home countries. An informative and nuanced study, this book is a significant contribution to present sociological literature concerning missionaries and American evangelicals. Anyone interested in the sociology of religion, culture, and folklore will find Echoes of the Call to be a valuable and intriguing work.


This book grew out of a study made possible by the wholehearted cooperation of the missionary community of HCJB-World Radio in Ecuador. To all those Mission members who kindly shared with me the stories of their lives, who generously filled out cumbersome questionnaires, who befriended and inspired and encouraged me during the year of my sojourn in their midst, I offer deepest thanks.

Support for my fieldwork in 1982 and 1983 came in the form of a doctoral research fellowship at Yale University, funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health. During the intervening years, my efforts in writing this book were supported (or at least tolerated) by several institutions at which I was supposed to be doing mainly something else. These included the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; the Institute for the Medical Humanities (also at Galveston); the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Division of Social and Community Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

I am grateful to my mentors and colleagues in several disciplines who took an interest in this project at one point or another, offering invaluable insights, practical advice, and friendly criticism. At Yale, it was Jerome Myers who first encouraged me to undertake a dissertation study in Ecuador and who guided me over various practical hurdles in getting there. Nancy Ammerman, then a fellow graduate student in sociology, shared my concerns in balancing personal with scholarly interests in studying evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians. Later, as I began to convert my dissertation into a book, she provided an extremely useful review of the manuscript from the viewpoint of someone who had "been there" in more ways than one. Charles Forman of the Yale Divinity School also gave a careful reading to early drafts of each chapter, offering a trenchant critique from one who is both a distinguished historian of missions and a former missionary. Kai Erikson went beyond the call of duty as my dissertation director; he was at key moments an inspirational mentor, incisive editor, wise counselor, and trusted friend.

Since leaving Yale for Texas and then North Carolina, a number of fellow academic travelers have walked along with me on the road to completing this book-especially Paul Adams, Tom Cole, and my brother Tod Swanson. Each of them contributed in significant ways to my thinking and writing about American evangelical missionaries, though the book would have been better if I had been able to apply more of the lessons they tried to teach.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.