Missionary Masculinity, 1870-1930: The Norwegian Missionaries in South-East Africa

By Vernal, Fiona | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Missionary Masculinity, 1870-1930: The Norwegian Missionaries in South-East Africa


Vernal, Fiona, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Missionary Masculinity, 1870-1930: The Norwegian Missionaries in South-East Africa. Genders and Sexualities in History. By Kristin Fjelde Tjelle. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Pp. 1, 325; appendix, bibliography, notes, index. $95.00.

Who cared about Norwegian missions and missionaries? According to historian Kristin Fjelde Tjelle, a significant proportion of the Norwegian public both in absolute and relative terms. So great was the interest in Christian evangelization that it was "private, voluntary enterprise" through the organ of the Norwegian Missionary Society (NMS) that lit the mission spark beginning in 1842, and soon "Norway had the highest number of missionaries per inhabitant in the world" (p. 7). The book charts new ground in its finegrained analysis of competing, overlapping masculinities-settler, African, imperial, and missionary-turning the analytical lens on the missionaries themselves. The examination of who the missionaries thought themselves to be and how they borrowed from, critiqued, and adjusted to multiple models of masculinity yield new insights into the distance between ideology, Lutheran theology, and practice. The "patchwork quilt" of masculine models proved restrictive in the home context, but was often liberating for the first generation of poor and lower class men who actively sought an improvement in their social and economic status through church employment. This part of the analysis is particularly effective at the level of biography, especially the mini-prosopography of the three generations of Titlestad men: Karl, the self-flagellating, obedient, weary patriarch; Lars, the son who followed in his father's footsteps but who stood apart as confident and optimistic; and the impressive and gifted Karl Michael who died too soon before his life could fit his bold missionary visions.

Norwegian men had set sail for missionary work under the most auspicious of home circumstances, buoyed by lay initiative and a homogeneous Lutheran denominational culture that theoretically militated against any divisiveness between the church and its base. …

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