Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried
to Change the World but Changed America
Nonfiction book by David A. Hollinger
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Princeton University Press:
They sought to transform the world, and ended up transforming twentieth-century America.
Between the 1890s and the Vietnam era, tens of thousands of American Protestant missionaries were stationed throughout the non-European world. They expected to change the peoples they encountered abroad, but those foreign peoples ended up changing the missionaries. Missionary experience made many of these Americans critical of racism, imperialism, and religious orthodoxy. When they returned home, the missionaries and their children liberalized their own society. Protestants Abroad reveals the untold story of how these missionary-connected individuals left their enduring mark on American public life as writers, diplomats, academics, church officials, publishers, foundation executives, and social activists.
David Hollinger provides riveting portraits of such figures as Pearl Buck, John Hersey, and Life and Time publisher Henry Luce, former "mish kids" who strove through literature and journalism to convince white Americans of the humanity of other peoples. Hollinger describes how the U.S. government's need for people with language skills and direct experience in Asian societies catapulted dozens of missionary-connected individuals into prominent roles in intelligence and diplomacy. He also shows how Edwin Reischauer and other scholars with missionary backgrounds led the growth of Foreign Area Studies in universities during the Cold War. Hollinger shows how the missionary contingent advocated multiculturalism at home and anticolonialism abroad, pushed their churches in ecumenical and social-activist directions, and joined with cosmopolitan Jewish intellectuals to challenge traditional Protestant cultural hegemony and promote a pluralist vision of American life. Missionary cosmopolitans were the Anglo-Protestant counterparts of the New York Jewish intelligentsia of the same era.
Protestants Abroad sheds new light on how missionary-connected American Protestants played a crucial role in the development of modern American liberalism, and helped Americans reimagine their nation as a global citizen.