Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

1
Anthropologists Versus Missionaries The Influence of Presuppositions 1

Claude E. Stipe

Although missionaries and anthropologists have often coexisted in geographic areas within which both plied their trades, their relationships have often been strained and distant. This article suggests that anthropologists, who otherwise strive for objectivity in their descriptions and analysis, approached missionaries with stereotypes and presuppositions. This is due in part, Claude Stipe suggests, to their personal discomfort with religious beliefs of all kinds and their tendency to study ritual and behavior from rationalist or agnostic perspectives.

--Editors' Comment

ANTHROPOLOGISTS IN GENERAL HAVE A NEGATIVE ATTITUDE toward missionaries, especially when they conceive of missionaries as agents of culture change. Even though there seems to be little systematic indoctrination, early in their training anthropology students learn that missionaries are to be regarded as "enemies." Powdermaker ( 1966) refers to discussions which she and fellow students at the London School of Economics had in 1925 about the necessity of keeping natives pure and undefiled by missionaries and civil servants. Missionaries were seen as enemies who wanted to change cultures. She comments (p. 43) that "now, with the sociological interest in social change and the knowledge of the significant roles played by missionaries and civil servants; our hostile attitude seems indeed biased."

Although the majority of anthropologists have probably come into contact with missionaries while doing field research, Salamone ( 1977:408) has noted that the mention of missionaries in textbooks and ethnographies is "both brief and some-

____________________
Current Anthropology 21 (2) ( April 1980): 165-168.

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