Christianity, Commerce, and Civilisation?
Missions and Empire in the Modern World
During the Modern period the study of patterns of colonialization and the development of empires has focussed on the expansion of the Western mercantile powers from the early Iberian colonisation of the Americas through to the commercial dominance of the USA and the development of multinational companies during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
A perennial question in reviewing these processes of history, commerce and politics has been the question of the role of religion and more particularly the place of Christian Missions. It is reflected in the well-known remark of David Livingstone which forms the title for our conference. The relationship is complex and took different forms over a period of four centuries, and in different areas of the globe. Just as there is not one history of empire, so too there is not simply one explanation of the role of religion or of the place of missions and missionaries in the story.
Whilst the complexity and nuances of the issues have often been recognised by professional historians, in popular discourse the debate has often been caught up in current ‘culture wars’, in which missions and missionaries have too often simply been assumed to be ‘agents of empire’. The aim of this conference, and the volume which we hope will result from it, is to explicate further the complexities of the relationships between Christianity, Missions, Colonies and Empire as they developed in the Modern era, and thereby to contribute a more considered and nuanced voice to the current polarised discussions.