Christian Missions in the Context of Slavery, Colonialism and Racism

    Mission - Colonialism Revisited

    What role did Christian missionary societies play in the context of slavery and colonialism? Are they historically entangled with racism and discrimination? Mission 21 brings the multi-layered history of Christian missions, colonialism and slavery into focus in order to sharpen the perception for the current social debate on racism and discrimination. Transparent and scientific research on the history of Christian missions is an important concern of Mission 21, and we support the critical examination of our, or rather the history of the Basel Mission. We hope that we can make a constructive contribution to important socio-political debates, such as the one on racism and discrimination.

    Missions: Religious-imperialism and/or cultural-imperialism.

    Was the spread of the Gospel by the Christian missionaries in the 19th century an act of cultural paternalism? The German historian Dr. Karolin Wetjen and the Indian historian Dr. Mukesh Kumar presented their research on the Leipzig and Basel missions and looked at the historical entanglements of colonialism, religion, culture and claims to dominance. To what extent were the contacts of the missionaries with the indigenous population an encounter of equals, and to what extent were they determined by attitudes of presumed cultural superiority? The presentations showed that the relationship between missionary societies and colonialism was complex: Karolin Wetjen concluded that "civilizing and proselytizing” missionary activities could not be separated from each other. Their relationship was re-negotiated again and again. Mukesh Kumar concluded that the work of the Basel missionaries in South India in the 19th century was shaped by religious and cultural intentions. Conversion to Christianity was only possible in connection with a "laborious" and abstinent life according to criteria set out by the missionaries. The missionaries acted as convinced representatives of Western European protestant religion and culture, which they regarded as superior.

    Mission and Slavery

    The role of Christian mission societies in the context of slavery is ambivalent. The leadership of the Basel Mission was strictly against slavery in the areas where it operated in Africa. However, certain missionaries on the ground only adhered to these guidelines after long discussions with the headquarters in Basel.

    The study of slavery shows that it manifested itself differently in various cultural and historical contexts. The transatlantic slave trade is not synonymous with indigenous forms of slavery on the African Gold Coast in the 19th century. What can we learn from the historical entanglements and conflicts of mission with colonialism and slavery for our present-day approach to racism and discrimination?

    "Islands of Humanity": Mission and the Transatlantic Slave Trade - the Example of the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine

    Talk by Dr Jan Hüsgen, Historian, German Centre for the Loss of Cultural Property

    ► Presentation by Dr. Jan Hüsgen (PDF in German)

    ► Text of the presentation by Dr. Jan Hüsgen

    "Against the Christian moral law": The attitude of the Basel Mission to slavery on the Gold Coast

    Talk by Andrea Rhyn, Historian, Archivist Mission 21

    ► Presentation by Andrea Rhyn (PDF in German)

    ► The Basler Mission's position towards Slavery (PDF in German)

    Watch the whole webinar about mission and slavery (German)

    Mission and Colonialism

    The Basel Mission, like many other missionary societies in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century operated largely in countries that were colonized by European states. Missionary societies co-operated with the colonial administrations, but when their interests were not met, conflicts with the colonial administrations emerged. In the case of the Basel Mission in Cameroon and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Liberia in the 19th century, both mission societies sided with the indigenous population when they became convinced that the colonial government oppressed these people. At the same time, this resistance to the colonial governments was also borne out of a necessity to ensure the success of their evangelization efforts by safeguarding their access to the indigenous population as well as new territories. The relationship between the missionary societies and the colonial governments was therefore at times marked by tensions.


    Christian Imperialism in the American Colonisation of Liberia

    Talk by Dr. Emily Conroy-Krutz, Historian, Michigan State University.

    ► Presentation by Dr. Emily Conroy-Krutz (in English)

    ► Text of the presentation by Dr. Emily Conroy-Krutz (in English)

    ► Basler Mission in Liberia (in German)

    ► Mission in Liberia (in German)

    Christian Missions and Colonialism - between symbiosis and dissociation

    Talk by Dr. Patrick Moser, Historian, Archivist Mission 21

    ► Presentation by Dr. Patrick Moser (in German)

    ► Text of the presentation by Dr. Patrick Moser (in German)


    Watch the whole webinar about mission and colonialism (German and English)