Mission Station Christianity: Norwegian Missionaries in Colonial Natal and Zululand, Southern Africa, 1850-1890

By Volz, Stephen | International Bulletin of Mission Research, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Mission Station Christianity: Norwegian Missionaries in Colonial Natal and Zululand, Southern Africa, 1850-1890


Volz, Stephen, International Bulletin of Mission Research


Mission Station Christianity: Norwegian Missionaries in Colonial Natal and Zululand, Southern Africa, 1850-1890.

By Ingie Hovland. Leiden: Brill, 2013. Pp. xii, 263. 109 [euro]/$141.

During the past thirty years, expanding scholarship on the history of Christianity in southern Africa has moved the focus of discussion away from African-European confrontations, which preoccupied scholars during the anticolonial and antiapartheid struggles, toward more complex and nuanced views of the social changes that accompanied those conflicts. In doing so, scholars have often attempted a multidisciplinary approach, combining the historian's concern for temporal specificity, individual agency, and political change with the anthropologist's examination of broader cultural influences and different ways that people have conceptualized their experiences and surroundings. Though perhaps sometimes discordant in their multiple disciplinary emphases, the resulting studies have nevertheless greatly enriched our understanding of the important role that Christianity played in the evolution of African-European relations during the nineteenth century.

Ingie Hovland'sMission Station Christianity is a valuable contribution to that growing body of scholarship. Building on the work of anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff and historians Norman Etherington, Paul Landau, and Elizabeth Elbourne, Hovland shifts from their study of "missionized" Africans to explore instead the "impact of the encounter on the missionaries themselves" (10). She focuses on small Christian communities founded and led by Lutheran missionaries of the Norwegian Missionary Society (NMS) during the mid-nineteenth century in the borderland between the British colony of Natal and the Zulu kingdom. Though her interest is apparently inspired in part by her own upbringing as a child of missionaries at one of those communities, Hovland's study of the "social and material microcosm of the mission station" (20) is guided primarily by the fact that, rather than promoting the development of African-led congregations in African communities, as envisioned by many missionaries elsewhere in southern Africa, the NMS missionaries instead adopted a strategy of building European-run outposts of "Christian civilization" in the midst of "heathen darkness. …

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