March 19th, 2013
The Center for Asian Research’s Brown Bag Lecture Series: “Moving Beyond the Missionaries”
Assoc. Professor, Religious Studies
School of Philosophical, Historical, and Religious Studies
Christopher Duncan will talk about his recent visit to the island of Halmahera in eastern Indonesia and his ongoing research project about missionaries and religious change in that island. In this talk he will discuss the indigenous missionary efforts of the Forest Tobelo, a group of tropical forest hunter-gatherers. The Forest Tobelo were the focus of missionary efforts of the American-based New Tribes Mission, a non-denominational evangelical Protestant missionary organization, beginning in 1982. A number of these converts have now become missionaries themselves. Moving beyond the focus on the missionary encounter between Westerners and local communities, this talk explores the next stage of evangelism by looking at how newly converted communities take on the role of missionaries. It examines the choices and actions of both those acting as missionaries, as well as those being missionized. What are the motivations behind indigenous missionary efforts? How do the Forest Tobelo perceive of their work as missionaries? How have they adapted the methods used by Western missionaries to fit their own cultural logic of how proselytization should be done? Why are family groups who previously rejected the message of the New Tribes Mission receptive to Christianity offered through indigenous evangelism? How do their decisions to convert differ from those who converted due to the efforts of Western missionaries? Whereas most studies of proselytization examine the exchange of ideas across cultural boundaries, this project explores how a local community in Southeast Asia uses its own cultural logic to convey these ideas and induce cultural change within its own society.