Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

God's Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, C. 1801-1908

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

God's Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, C. 1801-1908

Article excerpt

God's Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, c. 1801-1908. By Hilary M. Carey. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, Pp. xvi, 421. $95.00); The Communion of Women. Missions and Gender in Colonial Africa and the British Metropole. By Elizabeth E. Prévost. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, Pp. x, 312. $120.00); Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire. By Ian Tyrrell. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, Pp. x, 322. $35.00.)

The history of missions and missionary thought is undergoing substantial revision and expansion as demonstrated in these three recent volumes by accomplished historians. Hilary M. Carey is professor of history at the University of Newcasde, New South Wales, and a Life Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. Elizabeth E. Prévost is assistant professor of history at Grinnell College, and a specialist in African, British Empire, and gender history. Ian Tyrrell is Scientia Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Carey turns a clear spotlight on the wide range of British missionary groups and their often-competing agendas. Prévost demonstrates that, against all odds, African and European women could build networks of prayer and friendship in colonial Africa. Tyrrell offers a refreshingly new outlook on the hot button issue of linkages between American missionaries and moral reformers and American political-military imperialism. These books represent three striking examples of the new historical writing about empire, gender, and missions that is causing a révaluation of the ever-changing subject of World Christianity in modern times.

Carey's judiciously balanced work, God's Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, 1801-1908, chronicles Britain's metamorphosis from nineteenth-century Protestant nation to an empire composed of many free Christian churches operating independently of one another, and often with sizzling internal divisions as well. This was in spite of the vigorously proclaimed but obviously shaky statement of many missionaries that their intent was building a transnational spiritual network. Such would have been a "God's Empire," a spiritual companion to the British Empire, representing a global union of imperial loyalty with freedom, justice, and civic order for all. Merchants, settlers, missionaries, teachers, and traders actively promoted this idea, but what emerged instead was a multifaceted Christian religious presence overseas, but not a specifically denominational one.

Witbin the Church of England, there were both the vocal high church Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and the Evangelical Church Missionary Society (CSM) groups that in turn shared contested space with Presbyterian, Free Church, and Nonconformist missions. The result was a kaleidoscopic range of different expressions of Christianity and forms of church governance from Ireland and the British Isles extending to Canada, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Carey has laid out all the players systematically, with the skills of an accomplished historian of institutions. Especially interesting are the detailed discussions of religion and imperialism (14-23) and a comprehensive profile of Anglican missionary groups (84-113).

Prevost's lively volume, The Communion of Women: Missions and Gender in Colonial Africa and the British Metropole, has a different focus, probing the relationship of indigenous women in Madagascar and Uganda from the late nineteenth century to the 1930s. She sketches patterns of inter-communion relations that are richly nuanced and complex. In fact, many of Anglicanism's basic on-the-ground relationships were ad hoc in nature, blossoming out of local settings, as represented by the women of Madagascar and Uganda where "strategies included coalitionbuilding across colonial and cultural lines - a project which itself revealed the limits and possibilities of forging unity in diversity" (vi). …

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