Going Native with God on the Side: Mission as Traveling Culture

Rüdiger Kunow,

Potsdam University


In this paper, I want to talk about religion as a potent if often neglected specimen of a traveling culture. The conjunction I am suggesting here is, broadly speaking, that of faith and cultural mobility, an association that is no by means idiosyncratically my own: In fact, Samuel Huntington was among those who observed that religions have often acted as mobility factors in the course of human history, as they “provid[ed] a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations” (26). Especially the two great monotheistic religions—Christianity and Islam—have, as world religions from very early on, made the spreading of the faith their topmost priority.

I. Mission as Traveling Culture

The intent to proselytize, to win over converts in other places and cultures, has effectively mobilized both the faith and the faithful, in practices of long-distance intercultural outreach which are commonly summarized under the term “mission.” In the Christian context on which I will focus in this paper, mission, while not possessing a Biblical origin, can unambiguously claim divine authorization as, after resurrection Jesus’ parting gesture was an act of sending out his disciples: “To me is given all power, in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matth. 28:18). This injunction to “teach all nations,” an act theologians call the “Great Commission,” was already taken up by the first generation of disciples, most notably Paul. Over the centuries itinerant religionists of the various Christian denominations have followed this lead and as missionaries taken their faith(s) to all parts of the globe. [2] In this way, the Christian religion from very early on was suffused with an intense sense of globalization avant la letter, a “consciousness of the world as a whole” to be put under its interpretive jurisdiction (Robertson 12).

The focus that I am developing here is meant to insert religion into the critical debate about cultural travel, more precisely, about the dynamics of “intercultural import export” (Clifford 1992,100). However, and contra James Clifford, I would argue that mission is a form of cultural export in which a specific Western interpretation of the world was, is, and stubbornly continues to be “naturally ‘at home’ in the West” (Clifford 1998). Mission is intrinsically a form of mobile cultural monologism. Accordingly, missionary projects to spread the “Good News” of the Lord Jesus in many places and cases have by and large not restricted themselves to religious outreach, inviting non-believers to join the ranks of the faithful. Rather, the new way of life propagated by the missionaries required from the converts that they leave behind many features of their old way of life: “particular forms of life are displaced, outlawed, and penalized [… and] people are pushed, seduced, coerced, or persuaded into trying to change themselves” (Asad 153-154). [3] This transformative dynamics of monological cultural export by Christian missions has had the effect of making the word “God” operate not only as a transcendental but also as a transcultural signifier, which got nonetheless, especially today, implicated in larger, even global networks. In this wider setting, missions have been steeped in “interventionist and ‘interpellative’ ambition[s]” (Bhabha 105) such that they cannot be understood simply as acts of self-mobilization of, say, US-based Christians, they involve always also a mobilization of the culture of the missionaries themselves, as well of as of those at whom the missionary efforts are directed.

My approach to mission as a form of cultural travel [4] operates from a disciplinary perspective within which the term “mission” attains additional, powerful national-cultural resonances. From the earliest moments of American studies on, in fact, from, say, Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness (1956), the idea of “a definite mission which might in a secondary sense be called its errand […]” [Miller’s words] (10) has functioned as one of the core concepts defining the distinctness, the exceptional character, of “American” culture and identity. [5]

In the context of the present argument, the “wilderness” in question is no longer that of the New England forest or the wide expanses of the American West, but the Global South. My conceptual move from one wilderness to the other retraces lines of connection which were fashioned in the course of the 19th century but were forgotten in the meantime: American Christians began to organize in a systematic fashion missionary operations in other parts of the world at the very same historical juncture, when the national-expansionist ideology under the banner of Manifest Destiny went global. As John Fiske noted in 1885: “I believe that the time will come […] when it will be possible to speak of the United States as stretching from pole to pole. […] Indeed, only when such a state of things has begun to be realized can civilization, as sharply demarcated from barbarism, be said to have fairly begun. Only then can the world be said to have become truly Christian” (Fiske 588). Similar ideas were very much on the minds of the missionaries of that time.

II. Missionaries as Ambassadors of Civilization Made in the U.S.: Early 19th Century Missions on the Hawai’ian Islands

It might seem plausible, at least initially, to read missionaries as religious explorers of sorts, doing what Clifford has said explorers of all times and places have always done: “The explorer ‘seeks’ the undiscovered; he and the other voyagers ‘move toward’ different experiences, discoveries” (Clifford 1998). However, the historical record of missionary activities, most of it in the missionaries’ own words, [6] belies such descriptions as overly optimistic. The ways in which an Americanized version of Christianity engaged the indigenous Other on the latter’s home turf were manifold but almost always less motivated by the quest for finding cultural difference than by submerging it. This is true also of the rather large body of missionary travel writing, most of which can usefully be read, pace Edward Said, as a textual representation of otherness that poses as a discourse of opening while in fact operating as an “agent of closure” (Said 1981:290).

One of the most famous, others would say most notorious, US missionaries of the 19th century, Hiram Bingham, describes his own mission on the Hawai’ian Islands [7] as “a bold and urgent attempt to introduce a new and uncompromising religion” in a hitherto unknown part of the globe (87). “Uncompromising” is a key word here, because it describes quite well the monological modus operandi of the missionaries whose agenda involved not only the export of a religious worldview but with it a host of normative ideas originating in New England (and other parts of the United States) to other regions of the globe. This was especially so in the “contact zone” of the Pacific which during the course of the 19th century became one of the premier target areas of US political, and—with the help of US missionaries—also economic and cultural expansion. William Ellis, one of the early British missionaries on the Hawai’ian Islands, makes this link between metaphysical and material interests very clear: “Christianity and civilization ought never to be separated […] Civilization never precedes, but invariably follows, Christianity […]” (Ellis 550). The “prosperity gospel” surfacing here has remained a staple of missionary work even in our own day of NGOs missions. Now as in the 19th century, mission was never simply about religion: it was directed to achieve a wholesale cultural regime change.

Hiram Bingham himself is a prime example of the relentlessness with which missionaries exported or transplanted their culture. An emissary of the American Board of Commissioners For Foreign Missions (ABCFM), [8] he began immediately after his arrival in 1820 to enlist the support of the local elite for a whole-sale program of cultural re-education: ancestral religious practices were outlawed, its adherents severely punished, a new code of laws, including a constitution (1840), was drawn up, and missionary schools were established for the schooling of the indigenous elite (Herbert 53). Mainstream mission historiography has tended to downplay the degree to which discipling the indigenous peoples and disciplining them, amounted to pretty much the same thing. Bingham’s re-education program was so comprehensive and effective that already in the early 1830s an American visitor observed: “Could I have forgotten the circumstances of my visit, I should have fancied myself in New England.” [9]

Within the framework of the present paper, religious missions are understood as performances of a travelling culture. One might quarrel with such an approximation of the more “serious,” purpose-driven mobility of missionaries and the more journeying, recreational mobility of mostly middle-class EuroAmerican travelers of the 19th and 20th century. [10] At the same time, however, even the religious itinerancy of Christian missionaries, past and present, retains something crucial about travel of all kinds: it is ineluctably involved in and sustained by, a “marking of ‘the West’ as a site of ongoing power and contestation, of centrality and dispersal” (Clifford 1998). And when bell hooks argues that “holding on to the concept of ‘travel’ as we know it is a way to hold on to imperialism” (qtd. in Kaplan 132), then this echo of imperialist or colonialist domination is most welcome when we reflect on the cultural colonialism set into place by American missionaries abroad.

There is no space here to delineate in detail the intricate pattern of displacements set in motion by the missionary project: first the missionary displaces himself by going on the road with and for God; [11] he (later also she) then displaces the indigenous culture encountered. These displacements are followed by more or less resolute emplacements (of a new Christian culture, often in connection with power shifts among the indigenous elite). [12] This emplacement has in several instances been followed by acts of re-emplacement, of a backsliding to (fragments of) the original indigenous culture. [13]

One of the most critical moments in many forms of travel writing (religious or not) is the moment of arrival at the intended destination. This is the moment also of “first contact” with the cultural Other, which is, in the present context, always also a religious Other. This “first-contact scene” [14] plays a pivotal role also in missionary accounts, including those written by Bingham and others about their first encounters with the indigenous peoples of the Hawai’ian Islands.

Arriving “as ambassadors of the King of Heaven,” and come for “the purpose of teaching the nation Christianity, literature, and the arts” (86), Hiram Bingham and his group found themselves confronted with a religious Other that presented itself to their scrutiny as an absolute Other: “While I gazed on the thickly crowded hut of the natives […] lounging about in listless inactivity, I felt that I had reached a strange land—a land far different from that in which were the habitations of my fathers […]” (97). In a similar fashion, another missionary account registers the shock felt at the encounter with absolute Otherness by displacing it, posing as quasi objective assessment of a worldly wise naval officer. He turns to the missionaries and says: “You can never live among such a people as this, we shall be obliged to take you back with us!” (Stewart 92). The expression of strong sentiments at the moment of the missionaries reaching their destination has become a staple fare of missionary travel writing in the 19th century. Scherpe argues that “the first thing European travelers and explores found was not different cultures and spaces. The first thing they discovered was cultural rupture” (61).

This rupture and the traumatic intensities released—”The first tumult of feeling […” (Stewart 89)—experienced by the missionaries leaves traces in their representations not only of the Other but also of self. These affective intensities for which they had not been prepared may explain the ambivalent, even contradictory quality of representations in which professed Christian duty is shown to be at war [15] with a strong sense of the Other as abject. Bingham describes his landing at Kohala thus:

the appearance of destitution, degradation, and barbarism, among the chattering, and almost naked savages […] was appalling. Some of our number, with gushing tears, turned away from the spectacle. Others with firmer nerve, continued their gaze, but were ready to exclaim, ‘Can these be human beings! How dark and comfortless their state of mind and heart! […] Can such beings be civilized? Can they be Christianized? Can we throw ourselves upon these rude shores, and take up our abode, for life, among such a people, for the purpose of training them for heaven?’ Yes. Though faith had to struggle for the victory, these interrogatories could all be answered decidedly in the affirmative.” (81)

Compare this with a more religiously “orthodox” and affectively controlled representation of his arrival at Honolulu harbor which is fully contained in the rhetoric of Puritan typology : “The whole was to us a novel scene, not indeed like that presented to Moses when he ascended to the top of Pisgah, and surveyed the land of promise […] It was to us interesting, partly from its novelty, singularity, and natural beauty […] but chiefly as the dwelling-place of some thousands of the heathen, to whom we were commissioned to offer salvation [….]” (Bingham 93-94). [16] The grand design subtending the last quoted passage—a design commensurate to the grand commission missionaries like Bingham felt—thus managed to articulate itself with self-confidence proportionate to the distance kept to those who were designed to be saved.

One of the key questions that a culturalist approach to missionary writings brings to the fore is the representation of the religious and cultural Other in ostensibly metaphysical (con)texts. What my brief sample reveals is the disturbing presence of this Other in narratives that by definition ought to be suffused by a sense of purpose, cultural superiority, and, above all, mission—the mission to “lift up” the natives, “to bring the light” to a civilization stagnating in the state of the “not-yet,” not-yet fully human but made so through the agency of conversion, cultural “‘citizens’ to be, that will never be […]” (Brennan 1997, 34). Mission, especially in the guise of the “prosperity gospel” mentioned above, has effectively relegated its objects to the waiting room of EuroAmerican modernity. [17] In this way, “the missionary frontier” (Thorne 321) in the 19th century was not only the meeting point between Christian civilization and native savagery (to echo Turner’s famous definition), but it also took the missionaries to the frontier of their own psycho-social resources to cope with absolute Difference.

III. Mission as NGO: 21st Century US Development Ministries in the Global South

Mission as a form of Americanization, as a concerted effort at cultural export in a transnational context is not a matter of historical interest alone. Today, religion is one of the most salient areas of cultural export from the US, second only, perhaps, to Hollywood and other products of the culture industry. The missionary intensities that can be observed in all four corners of the world are clearly part of a renewed vitality of religion world-wide. This process is regarded by some as salutary, as possibly “a helpful and even indispensable ally in confronting the forces of global capitalism […]” (Mendieta and Vanantwerpen 4), other observers are far less sanguine. Especially the sociocultural outreach coming from faith-based communities is often seen as an additional complication of the relations between “the West and the rest.”

US-based Christian congregations and organizations are part of this overall picture. At the time of writing, a veritable “explosion of US missions in the Global South” (Hearn 35), is going on, many of them initiated by Pentecostal or Evangelical communities. More missionaries from the US than ever before in history are active all over the globe. While it would clearly be inappropriate to assume that each and every one of them are beholden to the same single agenda, the ‘Americanization’ of the modern missionary movement” (Hearn 38) is effectively changing the face of Christianity but also the social and cultural formations of the countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa in which the missionaries operate.

While the 19th century agenda of religious proselytizing as civilizing mission has obviously become untenable today, mission’s original intent to transform wholesale the way of life of the missionized has not really changed. What is noteworthy in the present context is the emergence of a new type of Christian mission which is bent on playing a more public role (Hofer 375, Gramby-Sobukwe and Holland 105).

While old-style missionaries were often energized by the conviction that “it is God’s purpose that our nation be the spiritual burning bush, the beacon of light” to the rest of the world (qtd. in Brouwer et al.,76), today’s Evangelical US missionaries can be seen to follow a different agenda while remaining committed to the same goals: many missions understand themselves as “holistic,” “transformative” or “development ministries,” dedicated to addressing social as well as spiritual issues. Says one of the missionaries: “In some areas of the world, [social relief work] is a very appropriate first response to establishing credible witness [to the workings of God]” (qtd. in Gramby-Sobukwe and Holland, 110). [18]

By addressing needs such as food, clean water, hygiene, often on a limited time project basis, the work of missionaries becomes in some ways at least pretty much like that of other, secular relief agencies. In other words, US missionary projects in the developing world progressively assume the guise of religious NGOs.

As the line dividing the spiritual from the secular, the metaphysical from the material is in some instances getting difficult to draw, American missionary efforts are getting more and more involved (or are involving themselves) in perhaps unexpected but nonetheless increasingly important ways in the problems and procedures of “development,” of aid coming from the “First World” directed to the “Third World” including in recent years especially agricultural improvement and micro-financing. [19] The overall tendency of evangelical missions towards addressing both, the trans-worldly and the worldly, spiritual and material needs—their “jumping into the development game” (as a World Vision leader put it; qtd. in Gramby-Sobukwe and Holland 115)—is further enhanced by a recent re-orientation in development policies pursued by the US government. Beginning in the mid-1990s and getting into full swing under the administration of George Bush the Son, the policy direction in development aid (was) shifted to a neo-liberal agenda. This included, in the US as in the Global South, a principled reliance on free markets and a reduced role of the state. This latter goal was often highlighted by pointing to deficient state bureaucracies in the countries receiving aids so that religious NGOs became the principal conduit through which relief money was channeled. With an annual income of about two billion US dollar, US evangelical missions today account for about one fifth of all aid money handled by NGOs worldwide and are possibly among the greatest business enterprises in Africa (Hearn 40).

This new role of evangelical missions as NGOs (which remains contentious in some US Evangelical communities) may be in many cases beneficial. [20] It is at the same time, not completely neutral, especially in terms of cultural agenda saddled on the material relief programs. As missions became “the preferred channel for social welfare service provision in deliberate substitution for the state” (Edwards and Hulme, qtd. in Hearn 47), it is perhaps no surprise that missionary agendas developed in ways that reflect the social and cultural agenda of their grant givers. The implementation of “faith-based” politics in the Global South includes a very specific focus on social change, such as privatizing basic public services but also on more directly “cultural” issues such as education, sexuality, or family.

How much evangelical NGOs and their cultural agenda have in some instances gained ground in the public sphere of societies in the Global South can be illustrated through a somewhat extreme but nonetheless significant case. This case is a showcase example of how much contemporary US mission work in the Global South is a traveling culture, freighted with culturalist assumptions. In the wake of the Bush administration’s generous financial support for family values programs close ties developed between local Christian politicians and American Evangelical missionaries, and Uganda has remained to this day a premier target area for fundamentalist Evangelical missionary activities. In March of 2009, three US missionaries gave a series of talks warning the audiences against the dangers of same sex-orientation. [21] Soon after, an Anti-Homosexuality Bill was proposed to the Ugandan parliament which called for the death penalty for gay practices. In the face of massive international protests, the bill was subsequently withdrawn. [22] Nonetheless, the case remains indicative of the global outreach of American evangelical groups and their more limited cultural agenda, riding on the back of US foreign policy development programs.


Religion as an interpretive construct and a lived communal praxis has from very early in Western cultures been an indispensible form of “the collective self representation of political communities” (Habermas in 19). In recent years, this fact has come to be recognized by Cultural studies and American studies [23] as they have haltingly but continuously begun to direct their attention to the role of faith-based activities in the “emergence of the modern state and attendant politics.” In the United States it was especially the role of the Protestant version of Christianity and its implication “in the violent underside of the establishment of the nation-state” and the latter’s imperial aspirations (Mahmood 836, Jakobsen 202) that has begun to receive critical scrutiny.

It has been the overall purpose of this essay to suggest an extension to this scrutiny to American-based missionary activities, past and present. Not just today in the context of structural adjustment and development in the “Third World,” but much earlier, already in the nascent moments in the 19th century nationalism, US missions can be seen as an exemplar of metaphysically sanctioned cultural export, a practice where the trans-worldly went transnational. Bringing together transcendental knowledge and secular cultural norms or practices and taking them in and out of discrepant contexts, mission was and has remained by nature an intercultural practice.

The overall picture offered by US transnational mission work is complex and contradictory. Presenting an evaluation of its transnational impact lies outside the scope of this paper. From the culturalist understanding of mission which has underwritten the present argument, one specific aspect is far more important: namely the question of how a cultural concept for a good way of life is transplanted into a vastly different setting.

In other words, while ostensibly bent on a program of planetary ecumenical sameness, bringing all people into the fold of the Christian faith, mission is, I want to argue, a cultural performance that both makes difference visible in ways that reinforce asymmetries of power and privilege. This case can quite persuasively be made with regard to 19th century missions, like those in the Pacific discussed above. But, as the Ugandan example has shown, it can also be made to apply to the NGO-type missions of today which in pursuing a developmental agenda also set into place normative understandings of what the good life is and by whom it can be lived. Seen in this light, mission presents itself as an exemplar of cultural diffusion, adaptation, interaction, a particularly effective, Western, way of managing cultural difference. This is true missionary practices and also of the missionary texts discussed above. This makes mission and missionaries interesting also for a reformulated American studies that is centrally concerned about the ways which “‘America’ signifies in the new global, political, economic, technological, and cultural circumstances that inform our postmodern and, one hopes, postnational future,” and the ways it did in the old imperialist order of the 19th century (Rowe 3).

What makes mission interesting in this disciplinary context is that it affords a fresh perspective on transnational flows and interactions. While national cultural studies were often interested in asserting the boundaries between different cultures and post-national cultural studies with transgressing them, religious mission provides a showcase example of what might be called the trafficking of cultures, that is the transfer—by conversion, coercion, by overt and covert means—of concepts, practices and norms, from one culture to the next. This holds true for the past as well as the present. Today, the missionary activities, especially of US-based evangelical Christians, are imbricated in the wider network of flows of money, information, and norms, in short, of “development,” from the Global North to the Global South. Contra Gayatri Spivak, I wish to argue, that “development” is not only a cipher for what Spivak calls “the financialization of the globe” (164) but also for the world’s evangelicalization—both of course in the interest of the North, and especially of those segments of United States that make up or are politically allied to, a specific form of Christianity.


[1] This title reflects a common usage in texts by and about Christians in which an intimate link between faith and iterancy is established. For a random selection of related material cf. “Taking our problems on the road with God,” www.goingwithoutknowing.com; “On the road with the God-man,” www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=108056; both retrieved 20 Feb 2011; another example is the recent Christian road movie, a post-apocalyptic thriller called “The Road” (2009; John Hillcoat, Dir.), an adaptation of a Cormac McCarth novel by the same title.back to text

[2] For a more detailed exposition of this context cf. Kim (esp. 41, 50), Russell, and Brouwer, Gifford, Rose. back to text

[3] Edward Said has made a related point, arguing that the complex of religious discourses, “shutting off human investigation, criticism, and effort, in deference to the authority of the more-than-human […] furnishes us with systems of authority and with canons of order whose regular effect is either to compel subservience or to gain adherents” (290). back to text

[4] My argument has also been resourced by Edward Said’s analytic of “traveling theories” and his observation that the traveling ideas ought to be “answerable to “the essential untidiness, the essential unmasterable presence that constitutes a large part of historical and social situations” to which it is being transposed (241). back to text

[5] Robert Wagnleitner has pointed to the abiding centrality of a missionary vision, even in our own day, when, “the deep-seated conviction, held by the American people, that the United States, in its dealings with other nations, has a special destiny, a particular mission” (46) is in his view still a major factor on US politics. back to text

[6] There are almost no records of the Christian missions on the Hawai’ian Island from the point of the view of the indigenous people. Missionary reports did, in most cases, talk about, but not with, the religious Other, and if the missionized did in fact talk back to the missionaries, their voices and viewpoints are muffled at best. What little we know about local appropriation of US-identified cultural material or of acts of resistance to the assimilationist pressure of the missionaries we know only indirectly, by way of an operation that might be called “pagan ventriloquizing” (the term is a variation on the concept of “ethnic ventriloquizing,” as investigated in an excellent way by Mita Banerjee’s book-length study on Ethnic Ventriloquism).back to text

[7] At that time, the Hawai’ian archipelago was in EuroAmerican nomenclature identified by the term Sandwich Islands. back to text

[8] A overview of the history of the ABCFM is offered by Charles A. Maxfield, “The Formation and Early History of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,” www.maxfieldbooks.com/ABCFM.html; accessed 22 Apr 2010. back to text

[9] Qtd. in William Appleman Williams, The Contours of American History. New York: Norton, 1988, 271. back to text

[10] For an extended discussion of this aspect cf. Kaplan, esp. 129-135. back to text

[11] On role of women in Christian missionary projects cf. some general reflections by Susan Thorne, esp. 325-326. back to text

[12] Bingham’s account offers many examples of his acute understanding and skillful manipulation of, squabbles among the local elite. Cf. also Thorne 321. back to text

[13] On backsliding and “opportunistic adaptation with later rejection” cf. Heise 52,54. back to text

[14] My use of the term and its application for my reading of missionary texts is very much indebted to Klaus Scherpe’s paper on such scenes. For Scherpe, the first-contact scene is “the absolute moment of fascination in all kind of adventure and colonialist narratives in literature and film. It is the inescapable starting point also of ethnological research [and] not least also a testing ground for a cultural semiotics which is captivated by the prospect to make the whole world readable in textual form […]” (54). – All translations are mine and references are to the German original text. back to text

[15] Cf. Scherpe’s observation that “selfless dedication to one’s duty on the one side and naked terror on the other were in exotistic literature […] two sides of the same coin” (56). back to text

[16] It seems as if geography offered some measure of solace, pacifying the troubled soul of the missionary. Cf. Stewart: “In the evening, Hawaii [sic] and Mouna-kea [sic] again, at a distance, offered another of the sublimest of prospects;—while the setting sun and rising moon combined in producing the finest effects on sea and land” (93). back to text

[17] The idea of indigenous cultures relegated to the waiting room is indebted to Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000, 8. back to text

[18] Regrettably, I could not locate enough material to address the question of how African American evangelical Christians are looking at the nexus of mission and development in Africa. back to text

[19] There is by now an extended network of evangelical development organizations with World Relief, Compassion International, or World Vision as the most prominent. back to text

[20] For details cf. Gramby-Sobukwe and Holland 107, 111-112. back to text

[21] Their presence is part of an overall trend toward “international short mission trips by youth and adults from evangelical churches all over the USA” to intervene by means of “against the grain work” in current issues of public debate (Gramby-Sobukwe and Holland 106,107). back to text

[22] For details of the affair cf. the New York Times article on “Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push.” One of the principle agents who later distanced himself from the bill was Don Schmierer of “Exodus International,” a US-based spiritual group dedicated to spreading the gospel of normative heterosexuality in the struggle against a perceived globalizated gayness, in their words, to a “world impacted by homosexuality” (www.exodusinternational.org/about-us/mission-doctrine; last visited 01 Mar 2010). back to text

[23] The pioneering work in this regard is clearly John and Jean Comaroff’s Of Revelation and Revolution (1991, 1997). The Comaroffs press the point that Christian missions made a sizable contribution to the consolidation of EuroAmerican colonial domination of the Global South, not least by introducing sweeping changes in the everyday life of indigenous people which strengthened not just colonization as exploitative praxis but also colonized the very consciousness of the converts. – For critical turn toward religion cf. Fredric Jameson, who, in discussing the revival of religion in the contemporary world, quotes approvingly Cornel West’s observation that one the great failures of American Studies has been not to recognize the role religion has played in US culture, especially mass culture (“Interview with Srinivas Aravamudan and Ranjana Khanna,” 221). back to text

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