Translating Identities: ‘Being a missionary’ in Papua New Guinea

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (not awarded by UHI)


The stereotype of the nineteenth century missionary is still a prevalent image of missionaries and, indeed there are some who believe that missionaries no longer exist in ‘a multicultural, post-Christian (even postmodern) world.’ (Swanson 1995: 6) Accordingly, many studies of missionary activity have taken a historical perspective, focusing primarily on the early period of missionary contact and on conversion, looking particularly at missionaries’ contribution to the colonial encounter. In fact, some have argued that in the final analysis Pacific Christianity must ‘be understood in terms of colonization.’ (Beckett 1978: 209; cf. Huber 1988) However, as this study will show, processes of missionization are not only confined to the colonial past, but are ongoing practices continuing today and are a significant part of post-colonial Melanesia.
Historian James Reed [1983] has observed that “the Protestant missionary movement began to wane in the 1920s and, despite periodic atavism and latter-day nostalgia, the decline continues to this day.” But William Hutchison [1987] terms this “a bit of conventional wisdom that was both accurate and wildly incorrect.” On the one hand, if defined as a significant movement of the Protestant establishment within the mainstream of American culture, Hutchinson points out that foreign missions had indeed diminished almost to extinction by the mid-twentieth century. But on the other hand, marginalized fundamentalists and independent evangelical “faith missions” had picked up (and even expanded) the foreign missions enterprise where the liberalized mainline denominations had left off.
(Swanson 1995: 6)
In this study, I attempt to challenge some of the stereotypes of missionaries by looking at a contemporary mission setting in Papua New Guinea. Missionary activity is often viewed as monolithic and unified, however, like other colonial projects it ‘is not a unitary project but a fractured one, riddled with contradictions and exhausted as much by its own internal debates as by the resistance of the colonized.’ (Thomas 1994: 51) As Langmore shows in Missionary Lives: Papua, 1874-1914, there is variety and diversity both between different missions and among the individuals that comprise those missions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
  • Harris, Mark, Supervisor, External person
Award date30 Nov 2006
Publication statusUnpublished - 2006


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