Education was an enduring feature of the modern Protestant missionary movement. Historiographically, however, scholarship on the subject is often fragmented geographically and focused on the micro contexts in which missionary education occurred. The purpose of this paper is to explore the nuances of the missions‐education relationship, using a particular case study, in order to indicate alternative ways of conceptualising that relationship. It focuses on a small New Zealand evangelical mission working in Bolivia from 1908 and utilises the concept of “sites” to indicate the complexities that need to be considered in any particular study of missions and education.
Educational activities and explanatory factors pertaining to the Bolivian site of missionary education are re‐constructed from missionary archives. Different voices, agendas and readings are acknowledged in this re‐construction. In this way the article moves from a plain narrative about the mission and its educational activities to a more conceptual attempt to explain the application of education in the Bolivian context. The archives are read in the light of both historiography and theory.
The article indicates that a simple or monochrome reading of the missions‐education relationship is deficient. It grapples with the reasons why an explicitly evangelistic mission invested considerable energy and resources in education. Using the concept of “sites” it argues that this emphasis on education can be explained by a set of complex and overlapping factors reflecting historical timing, evangelical culture or mentalité, missionary geographical origins and local socio‐political context. While this will not explain all “sites” of missionary education, the approach is a model of how to construct a complex reading that enables us to discern multiple voices and motivations.
This article addresses a lacuna of conceptual scholarship on missionary education. Furthermore it attempts to shift the focus onto four relatively neglected aspects in missions‐education scholarship: missionary projects from colonial contexts, the South American context, the early twentieth century, and conservative evangelicalism.
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