Changing Scottish Presbyterian missionary vision of India and China, 1840-1914
Sung A Thesis, Yin-Hsuan
This thesis examines Scottish public views of Christian overseas missions and the growth of the British Empire in India and China between the 1840s and the beginning of the First World War – a period which saw the predominant ethos of the British Empire transformed from one emphasizing free trade and informal control to one based on more consciously expansive, imperialist policies. For most Scots, the purpose of this evolving British Empire was not limited to material gain, military control, and planting of Anglophone colonies; rather, the Empire carried a profound meaning in the moral and spiritual realms. Many Scots had been influenced by the thought of the Scottish Enlightenment, embracing the idea that commerce and manufacturing were expressions of higher civilization, that trade would help promote mutual understanding and respect among peoples, and that it was therefore legitimate to impose free trade on less developed societies by force, if necessary. Although not without dissenting voices, most Scots perceived the British Empire through a pervasive faith in the benefits of free trade and the superiority of Western civilization. This could blind them to the injustices of unequal trading relations which led to increased poverty in India and China, or to the immorality of imposing opium on China through the Opium Wars. Scottish Protestants, influenced by the Scottish Reformation and ideal of the godly commonwealth, tended to view the British Empire as a divinely-ordained means to spread the Protestant faith to the peoples of India and China. Sensitive to what they viewed as the religious responsibilities of Empire, and believing that God directed human events, Scottish Protestants worked to remove or diminish social and cultural obstacles to Christian conversion in India and China. They placed particular emphasis on education, which had been a major priority of the Scottish Reformation, and on medical work, which had been a major emphasis of the Scottish Enlightenment. They devoted themselves to bringing knowledge of God to individuals, expecting that personal transformations would in time to lead to social transformations, and elevate the societies of India and China both materially and morally. They hoped to see both fundamental transformations of the societies of Asia, and mass religious conversions of the peoples of India and China to Protestant Christianity. However, the Scottish public did not see these hopes of social and religious transformation fulfilled. Instead, they saw movements of resistance to imperial control emerge in both India and China from the later nineteenth century. For some Scots, these resistance movements resonated with their perceptions of Scotland’s own historic struggles for the preservation of its national identity. Increasingly, Scottish missionaries and the Scottish public were forced to revisit their religious conceptions of the British Empire and their notions of God’s intentions for the world. They had to re-evaluate their work in the mission fields, and to expand their theological understandings of the religions and cultures of India and China.
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