Luke Clossey

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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The Christian mission in the Renaissance period (1350–1650) witnessed the completion of the nominal Christianization of Europe and the beginning of the evangelization of the world, a process rooted in a medieval mentality but evolving to complement the new European exploration and globalization. In fact, it is only in this period that “mission” pushed past “evangelization” and “propagation” to be the term of choice to refer to attempts to convert others to Christianity, or to a particular kind of Christianity. In these centuries the Latin, Catholic Church dominated, for reasons of both theology and geography. Much of the earliest written histories of the less literate converts is missionary history. Even where Christianity did not dominate a society, the missionaries’ tendency to write copiously and in European languages has made them attractive informants for scholars interested in the broader histories of those regions. The scholarly literature is therefore vast, and this bibliography only scratches the surface. Except for some primary-source anthologies and iconic works of scholarship, it focuses on recent and English-language publications whose bibliographies can direct the reader further. Mission history, like this bibliography, is primarily organized by geography. Students of a regional mission only exceptionally read farther afield—for good reason, given the extent of the scholarship. Despite this diversity, we can look back over the past half century to see a rough evolution of the historiography: what we might call a “classical” approach, relying almost entirely on missionary sources, adopted a missionary perspective; the fruit, in some cases, was the stereotype of enlightened missionaries saving savage aboriginals. A revisionist impulse, exploiting new archaeological and anthropological evidence, and drawing new inferences from the old sources, re-created the indigenous perspective; in instances where remaining evidentiary gaps were bridged with speculation or polemic, we are sometimes left with a new, reversed stereotype, of savage missionaries ruining enlightened aboriginals. Transcending both the classical narrative and its corrective, a new trend is giving us more human histories driven by individuals’ very individual stories—and these men and women, European and indigenous, missionary and convert, are enlightened and savage and everything in between, often in unpredictable ways. The revisionist outlook endures, however, to the extent that now some scholars consider inherently flawed any book focused on missionaries.

Article.  7906 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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