Race, Gender and Culture: An Examination of the Legacies of Irish Presbyterian Missions in Malawi and Kenya c.1958-2000.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


Over the past three decades, geography, and the humanities more generally, have produced a burgeoning array of research on race, gender and cultural exchange. These developments have informed scholarly interest in Christian missions and their complex legacies. Recent work has demonstrated that Christian missions have been intertwined with issues of race and gender, creating conflicting power relationships. The complex racial legacies of Christian missions are an area of urgent concern for missionary organisations today. However, the bulk of scholarship focuses on the period pre-World War Two; indeed, there is a dearth of literature on the legacies of Christian missions during and since decolonisation.

Situated within work in cultural and historical geography on race, gender, religion and commemoration, this project seeks to fill the gaps identified. The project will examine how race, gender and inter-cultural relations are represented and reproduced in the records, recollections and material culture of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's (PCI) overseas mission during the second half of the twentieth century. It will adopt a case-study approach, exploring these issues in the context of Malawi and Kenya. The research will attempt to uncover the place of marginalised non-European actors in the missionary enterprise. In this way, it will encourage conversations that deal constructively with the connections between Christian missions and racial justice, past and present.

Research questions

The aim of the project is to examine how race, gender and inter-cultural relations are represented in written, oral and material histories of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's overseas missions to Malawi and Kenya, 1958-2000. The approach adopted will be intersectional, with a particular focus on race and gender as key categories negotiated within and through the mission work and its legacies. In the process, it is hoped that 'hidden' non-European actors who participated in Presbyterian missions will be uncovered. The following research questions will help direct and shape this project:

1. To what extent can the Irish Presbyterian missionary enterprise be understood as inter-cultural?

2. In what ways did ideas of race and gender emerge from, and inform, the Irish Presbyterian missionary enterprise?

3. In what ways have race and gender been represented and enacted in missionary archives, memory and material culture?

4. How might these sources be used to excavate 'hidden' actors associated with missionary endeavour?

Research Methods:

Archival and printed sources associated with PCI's missions in Malawi and Kenya, held in Union Theological College will be analysed. Slides, tapes, photographs, pamphlets, leaflets, magazines, handbooks, memoirs, and official records are available for analysis. Travel permitting, I will also visit the recently catalogued archives of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (Kenya) and Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (Malawi) to access African voices more directly. Archival work in Belfast will be approached 'obliquely' to recuperate 'hidden' voices and stories.

With assistance from PCI's Council for Global Missions, oral history interviews will be conducted with PCI missionaries and collective discussion will be encouraged through focus groups. These interviews will also provide opportunities to explore the material practices of missionary work. By exploring the social life of objects that moved through the missionary assemblage, it is possible to develop a reciprocal perspective on the cultural exchanges and encounters involved in missionary activity.
All sources will be analysed using an intersectional approach and concepts of assemblage will be deployed to re-situate the geographical within Christian missions. By using archival sources, memory and material objects the character of inter-cultural relationships forged through PCI missions will be explored hol


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