Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Ruby (40th) Anniversary Lecture Series: II

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM (MDT)
Room: Astor Ballroom II, Astor, 2nd Floor
Organizers: David Butler
Chairs: David Butler


In the second part of this lecture series to celebrate the fortieth year of the establishment of The Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Speciality Group (better known as GORABS), Professor Caroline Nagel presents ‘Doing missions right’: Development thinking and practice among American short-term missionaries'.

There is a longstanding connection between international development practice and the activities of American Protestant missionaries; as development thought has shifted toward notions of ‘sustainability’, so too has the language of mission. Like their secular counterparts, contemporary Christian missionary organizations increasingly reject top-down, culturally insensitive models of development that are seen to create dependence on aid. Instead, missionary organizations aim to endow locals with the spiritual and material wherewithal to sustain material improvements over the long term. Myriad evangelical books (e.g. When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity) elaborate on these ideas of responsible Christian development and provide biblical justification for continued Christian intervention in poor countries.

This paper explores these new theologies of development and the ways they are becoming incorporated into the vocabularies and activities of the millions of American Christians who venture overseas on short-term mission trips. Drawing on interviews with mission-trip organizers and participants, I examine missionaries’ understandings of the ‘right way’ and ‘wrong way’ to ‘do missions’, and I consider the ways missionaries describe the changes they are—or should be—effecting in the communities they visit. Short-term missionaries, I show, are realistic about the limitations of their efforts, and they concede that mission trips typically benefit missionaries more than their hosts. Despite their self-criticism, however, missionaries continue to replicate the problematic power asymmetries that have long characterized both missionary and development projects.

Following the paper, there will be a general discussion on all three papers from this panel series.


Type Details Minutes
Introduction David Butler Department of Geography, University College Cork (UCC) 5
Panelist Caroline Nagel University of South Carolina 45
Discussant David Butler Department of Geography, University College Cork (UCC) 50

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