My new research project, tentatively entitled God’s Children: Children and the Missionary Enterprise, 1750-2000, engages with mission history on two levels: mission and children, and the children of missionaries.
Children were at the heart of the missionary enterprise because they embodied the new generation of faithful believers and the future of the evangelical enterprise. From the day they were born, children were thus seen as deserving special attention and were theorized, discussed, nurtured, taught and worried over by missionaries and their leadership the world over. Given how much energy missions dispensed on children, it is surprising how little attention historians have so far given to them.
My research on missionary children will take a long-term perspective in two regards: the timeframe of the study will reach across 250 years (1750-2000) and the study will make the term “child” stretch into adulthood, to better understand their formation and fate across the span of their lives. This will be achieved by employing a number of approaches, for example, biographical and generational studies of their lives and network analysis. I will also make this a comparative study of the English Church Mission Society (founded in 1799) and a German mission (which one is still to be determined) to see how the issue of (post)-colonialism, that forms the background for the English missionary enterprise, compares to the German case, with Germany being a relative latecomer to the colonial endeavour, at least officially.
The project asks about the piety of children, and how it impinged on the children’s social lives, political preferences and cultural engagements, in essence the relationship between their religious beliefs and their lives. It asks after the social influences, the political and cultural factors which affected missionary children in their respective communities. It discusses the official stance towards the children of missionaries from the side of the authorities (leadership/politics) and how this matched their parents’ views and wonders what kind of networks and communities the children depended on and what this tells us about relationships of trust. In doing so it will question what “family” meant to these children to see if we need to adjust that term and think about its uses.
As such, this research speaks to many pertinent (historical) issues: the history of childhood, the history of kin, networks, transnational families, split families and the long-term development of children, colonialism/post-colonialism and imperialism, identity formation, race and gender … .
My first book was on Women and the Counter-Reformation in early modern Münster (OUP, 2014) and examines how women from different social backgrounds encountered the Counter-Reformation. The focus is on Münster, a city in the north of Germany, which was exposed to powerful Protestant influences which culminated in the notorious Anabaptist kingdom of 1534. After the defeat of the radical Protestants, the city was returned to Catholicism and a stringent programme of reform was enforced.
By examining concubinage, piety, marriage, deviance, and convent reform, core issues of the Counter-Reformation's quest for renewal, the shows how women participated in the social and religious changes of the time, and how their lives were shaped by the Counter-Reformation. Employing research into the political, religious, and social institutions, and using a large variety of sources, the research analyses how women experienced the new religiosity, morality, and discipline that was introduced to the city of Münster during this turbulent time.