Thursday, June 26, 2008

Inhabiting Christian spaces

I have been thinking about how to turn (parts of) my PhD dissertation into a book manuscript. I think I finally have a complete draft outline with chapter headings and topics, etc. There is still a lot of thinking and reading and rewriting that needs to be done, but all in all it feels great to have a complete outline. I will leave it to one side for a while now and ask a few people for feedback.

The working title is Inhabiting Christian Spaces, and in general it is about how we shape the spaces that we inhabit, and how those spaces then in turn shape us. In particular it is about how Norwegian missionaries who went to Natal and Zululand in Southern Africa in the nineteenth century tried to shape certain spaces (the "mission stations"), and how these Christianized spaces in turn came to shape the missionaries' Christianity.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the (draft) introduction:
Umpumulo is the most beautiful place I know. Not because of any particular splendor, though the warm, hard-packed red earth, the hundreds of shades of encapsulating green, and the tall blue sky do something to your senses. I lived at Umpumulo in the late 1980s because my parents were missionaries for the Norwegian Missionary Society (NMS), working at the Lutheran Theological College at Umpumulo, near Maphumulo in the so-called “homeland” of KwaZulu, South Africa. The students at the college, most of them black, were monitored by the apartheid government. At one point my father was ordered to leave the country by the government because of his work at Umpumulo. The order was later withdrawn, though for us it lingered in the air. Umpumulo was a contested space and had been for a long time – since around 1850, to be exact.  
In 1850, Umpumulo was set up as the first Norwegian mission station among the Zulus. Its history, like that of the other Norwegian mission stations among the Zulus, is filled with contradictions. The Christian faith tradition of NMS, which in the late 1980s was underlining that the gospel held a message of racial equality, had a century earlier made an unresolved shift toward developing a theological justification for colonialism and racial inequality.  
In fact, two subtle shifts in emphases occurred among the first missionaries for NMS in Natal and Zululand from 1850-1890. The first was their shift from being in agreement with an abstract idea of equality between all Christians, whether European or African, toward developing practices that facilitated European rule over African converts, and putting forward a theological justification for European political rule over African people. The second was their shift from an abstract idea that it would be desirable to travel among the Zulus in order to reach as many as possible with the gospel, toward a firmly established “station strategy” (Simensen et al. 1986:230), that is, a strategy of building up and residing on permanent and physical mission stations on the African landscape. This book considers the connection between these two shifts. In short, how did the mission stations produce difference? And how did the act of inhabiting these Christian spaces influence the missionaries’ Christianity?

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