Issues of Gender, Race, and Class in the Norwegian Missionary Society in Nineteenth-Century Norway and Madagascar

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With a focus on missionary women and men in the Norwegian Missionary Society in Madagascar and Norway, this study provides an in-depth examination of how gender relations are negotiated in a religious organization. The time period covered (1860-1910) coincides with colonial efforts of major European states. The book also discusses how aspects of class, race and sexuality must be taken into account in studies of gender relations in the missionary movement. It shows, for example, how marriage propositions and sexual relations between white missionaries and black converts were dealt with by the mission organization in Madagascar. Other topics include the attempts of Norwegian missionary women to impart a form of domesticity to Malagasy girls, their efforts to establish direct links with the broader feminist movement, and the gradual democratization of the mission organization both in Norway and Madagascar.


“Dr. Predelli’s study provides a most welcome addition to our resources on the gendered history of Christian mission….she carefully roots her work in late nineteenth-century Norwegian society, with its feminist debates and class and racial assumptions….Unlike other narrower studies, Predelli’s combines coverage of home-based female mobilization for mission with the struggles and achievements of women deployed in the field, while not forgetting the indigenous women whose lives were being reshaped by new kinds of Christian sexual control and notions of Western domesticity….While opening up the gendered social and religious history of two very different countries, (Norway and Madagascar), her insights have considerable comparative value also to her colleagues in the younger generation of women scholars who are offering fresh perspectives on the colonial mission encounter.” – Deborah Gaitskell, University of London

“This fascinating study makes an important contribution to understanding the paradoxical role of women in the missionary movement of the late nineteenth century…In Predelli’s deft hands, the Norwegian Missionary Society provides an especially interesting case for examining the complicated connections between missionary and secular feminism and the role of women’s missionary associations….Predelli’s concern with the back and forth between colonial experience and metropolitan ideology adds an important dimension to mission history and also places this work in the forefront of colonial and gender studies today.” – Mary Taylor Huber, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (main headings):
Foreword; Preface
1. A Global Movement of Missionary Women and Men (the Norwegian Missionary Society; the NMS in Madagascar; agents of change; structures of inequality; relations between women and men; race and class)
2. Marriage and Sexuality in Mission Practice and Discourse ( practice and discourse in Norway; conceptions of marriage; selection and approval of mission brides; formal rules and practical circumstances collide; imposing marriage with racial restrictions; marital infidelity)
3. Sexual Control and the Remaking of Gender: The Attempt to Export Western Domesticity (women missionaries as cultural agents of change; sexual control – transformation and discipline of Malagasy girls; gendered enforcement of sexual morals)
4. Gender Democratisation in the Mission in Norway (an unfitting activity for women?; growing consciousness of women’s power; women fit to govern mission organizations?: regional assembly debates of 1903; new Biblical interpretation supports women’s inclusion)
5. Gender Democratisation in the Mission in Madagascar (male missionaries, missionary wives and single female workers; Bertha Dahl – seeking to become a missionary in her own right; women’s participation at missionary conferences; status and work of married and single women; uncertainty of women’s positions and roles; Emma Dahl – wanting to preach the Gospel to the heathen; can Bible women preach?)
6. Missionary Feminism: the Emancipation of Women at Home and Abroad (women in Norway gain influence and power; the establishment of MAR and conflicts; MAR’s controversial reception by the missionary movement and feminists)
7. Conclusion
Methodological Appendix; Bibliography; Index

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