Anglicanism, Japan, and the Perception of a Higher Civilization in the Early Twentieth Century 1

By Chapman, Mark | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Anglicanism, Japan, and the Perception of a Higher Civilization in the Early Twentieth Century 1


Chapman, Mark, Anglican and Episcopal History


During the 1960s, when the Anglican Communion was expanding rapidly as new churches were formed in the recendy-independent former British colonies, the Irish Anglican theologian, Anthony Tyrrell Hanson, who had a long experience of working in India, commented that there was "undoubtedly an English mystique which one encounters from time to time in the Anglican Communion." There was still, he continued, a "certain superiority complex lurking in certain forms of Anglicanism. The ghost of Victorian cathedral closes still haunts odd corners of the Anglican Communion." While there was "no cause for shame in the fact that the expansion of the British Empire was closely connected in history with the expansion of the Anglican Communion ... it has left in some places a heavy legacy of Englishness for the local Anglican Church to cope with."2 Hanson was not alone in his assessment: Anglicanism has frequently been regarded, at least in caricature, as a relatively benign form of Englishness which accompanied the British Empire as it spread across the globe. While such an understanding of Anglicanism "as a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers" has had its critics, not least from the American church,1 * 3 Anglicanism has continued to be associated with Englishness and the legacy of Empire, at least in the popular imagination. At the same time, however, even some of the critics of the Englishness of Anglicanism, such as William Reed Huntington himself, might be accused of replacing British imperialism with an Englishspeaking American alternative in the concept of a "national church" founded on a so-called primitive conception of the episcopate.4

The relationship between Christianity, especially Anglicanism, and British imperialism has been much debated in recent years. The issues are complex and do not admit of straightforward interpretation:5 there was what Andrew Porter called "a subtle interplay of influences in missionary encounters with non-European peoples."6 The impact of mission on the critique of the imperial project, as well as on the development of nationalism, and even the formation of clearer non-Christian religious identities in British colonies,7 is well documented.8 What is undisputed, however, is that there is a close connection between the development of Christianity and the spread of empire, and both were related to broader understandings of race and progress. Yet, what is less widely researched is the relationship between the growth of Anglicanism outside the British (or American) empires (or spheres of strong influence). The ways in which independent sovereign states with quite different religious and cultural backgrounds related to Anglicanism, and in turn how Anglicans related to such contexts, have not as yet received much scholarly attention. My contention in this paper is that there was an increasing awareness both in Europe and America at the beginning of the twentieth century that European cultures were not unique among the higher cultures of the world, and that this made an important impact on the development of a distinct variety of Anglicanism. This meant the standard missionary narratives of "higher" and "primitive" cultures began to break down when confronted with something that appeared an equal. Usingjapan and the 1904 World's Fair as a case study in changing perceptions of non-western cultures, this article goes on to make some comparisons with Anglican missionary literature produced in the early years of the twentieth century. What were perceived as higher, and even equal, cultures posed serious questions to the dominant missionary narratives.

THE IMPERIAL NARRATIVE

Like much else connected with the British Empire, the overseas expansion of the Church of England had been somewhat unplanned. Mission was usually a private enterprise rather than something officially sponsored by the establishment, and was frequently dominated by enthusiasts from the different church parties. …

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