Issues of Gender, Race, and Class in the Norwegian Missionary Society in Nineteenth-Century Norway and Madagascar/Gender, Race, and Religion: Nordic Missions, 1860-1940

Article excerpt

Issues of Gender, Race, and Class in the Norwegian Missionary Society in Nineteenth-Century Norway and Madagascar. By Line Nyhagen Predelli. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Meilen, 2003. Pp. vi, 340. $119.95 / £74.95.

Gender, Race, and Religion: Nordic Missions, 1860-1940. Edited by Inger Marie Okkenhaug. Uppsala: Studia Missionalia Svecana, 2003. Pp. 206. Paperback. No price given.

These books on Nordic missions limn some familiar themes, most notably the growth of women's interest in the missionary movement from about the mid-1800s and the challenges to patriarchal control that developed as women's involvement and financial contributions outpaced men's. These patterns emerged despite obvious and important differences between Nordic missions and those from English-speaking countries. An almost monolithic Lutheranism served as the faith base of the Nordic activists, and they had no direct kinship with secular imperialism to facilitate-and taint-their endeavors.

Line Nyhagen Predelli's study of the Norwegian Missionary Society (NMS), established in 1842, provides insight into the roles and attitudes of men as well as of women at the home base and in Madagascar and deals also with various race-related issues, though, as with the anthology edited by Inger Marie Okkenhaug, the focus is on white women. Predelli uses her familiarity with recent historiography to put Norwegian women's experience into a comparative context. Local women's missionary associations, linked not to national or regional women's societies but to the malecontrolled NMS, were the norm. Between 3,000 and 4,000 such associations existed by 1900, providing two-thirds of NMS funds.

Between 1870 and 1910 the NMS sent 70 single women to South Africa and Madagascar to work as teachers, deaconesses, and "Bible women." But it declined to call them missionaries-they were merely "female workers in the mission field" (p. 12)-and the women's associations evidently had no say in appointing them. The wives of missionaries were unsalaried and had no official work roles. Typically, single and married women alike worked among girls and women, attempting to implant Western ideals of domesticity and Chris tianity. The subordination of women missionaries to their male colleagues paralleled the relationship of home-base women to the NMS, though both groups of women gained some official voice in mission affairs in the early twentieth century. …


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