Date of Award

8-8-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Charles G. Steffen - Chair

Second Advisor

Mohammed Hassen Ali

Third Advisor

Wayne J. Urban

Abstract

My dissertation, “Africans, Cherokees, and the ABCFM Missionaries in the Nineteenth Century: An Unusual Story of Redemption,” assesses the experience of American missionaries in the Cherokee nation and in Western Africa during the nineteenth century. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), founded in 1810, was the first successful foreign missionary society in the U.S., and its campaign among the Cherokees served as springboard for its activities in “Western Africa”—Liberia, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and South Africa. Although the Cherokees and the West Africans were two different peoples, the ABCFM used the same method to Christianize them: the Lancasterian method with which the missionaries planned to “civilize” the Cherokees and West Africans before Christianizing them. Scholars such as William McLoughlin and Theda Purdue studied the missionary perspective and the Cherokee perspective as separate entities and convincingly maintained that the Cherokees embraced the ABCFM’s civilization and Christianization program partly to relieve the pressures on their lands and partly to adapt to the cultural pressures of their times. However, as my dissertation argues, the conversion story of the Cherokees takes a different turn if told simultaneously from the missionary and the Cherokee perspectives. Regarding the West African experience, authors such as Lamin Sanneh and Richard Gray have recently exposed the missionary and African sides of the stories with new questions that had been waiting to be asked for a long time. My dissertation, taking a unique comparative perspective, reveals first that West Africans did not face the same pressures as those faced by the Cherokees, yet, they still embraced the ABCFM’s civilization and Christianization program, though with a lesser sense of urgency and with more assertiveness than did the Cherokees despite the white missionaries’ racism. More importantly, by way of a method I call parallel agency, my dissertation offers a revisionist interpretation of the history of missions, which has traditionally emphasized the power of the white missionaries by calling into question the very assumption that the white missionaries had significantly more power than did their Cherokee and African converts.

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History Commons

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