Leaven of Love Beyond Empires: Visions of Egalitarianism and Cultural Pluralism in the American Women’s Missionary Enterprise, Japan, 1930s—40s

ISHII, Noriko
Professor
English Studies

Panel Session on “American Women Missionaries, Personal Relationships, and Social Reform in Ceylon, China, Turkey, and Japan,” American Society of Church History Session 15 in the 130th Annual Meeting of American Historical Association (AHA), January 8, 2016, Atlanta, U.S.A.

The panel as a whole explored relationships between American women missionaries and people in the host cultures and argued that such relationships had been integral to various efforts of social reform.  Building on recent scholarship that acknowledged the importance of imperialism and ideas of racial hierarchy in the women’s foreign mission movement, we emphasized the ways that people in the host culture actively participated in shaping missionary efforts at social reform, and examined how American women missionaries and people in the host cultures worked together to realize visions of genuine egalitarianism present in the ideology of the women’s foreign missionary movement.  I used the relationship of an influential American missionary educator in Japan and a leading Japanese Christian woman scholar who was a missionary protégé to explore efforts to create egalitarian visions of Christian internationalism at a time when their countries were headed towards war in the 1930s and 1940s.  The paper argued that in their challenges to reconcile Shintoism and Japanese patriotic nationalism with their Christian faiths when they struggled to navigate political pressures both in Japan and in U.S., the personal relations of the transnational missionary networks and the “imagination through differences” enabled these women to reconfigure new visions of ecumenical cosmopolitanism.  Despite the fact that these women could not avoid war nor control the expansion and the clash of empires, the paper suggested that the extreme political conditions in a complex web of power relations and the strong coalitions of American and Japanese women of the missionary enterprise allowed these women to cross the boundaries of race, religion and nation-state in their “imagination through differences.”

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