„Mission and Violence"
The 3rd congress on Mission History, 18.-20.2.1999 in Berlin/Germany
by Johannes Althausen
To deal with mission and violence might remind somebody in
Berlin/Germany on the role of this city in times, when colonial
administration was established in Germany. And yet – something is
changing here, not least because of a non violent revolution ten years
ago in this city. In fact, people were gathered in church buildungs and
went from there to demonstrations by candles to get free. So the Berlin
wall was destroyed and the reunification of Germany could take place.
After this experiences something has to be started anew. In a changing
political, cultural and even spiritual situation a so far relativly unusal
interdisciplinary way of researching mission history has started. This is also
due to the fact, that archivs as this of the Berlin Mission became better
accessable again. Missiological scholars can find resources, which were
somewhat hidden for decades. The study of important parts of mission
history, especially during the 19th century, is achieved.
Sixty specialists in the field of mission history met in February 1999 at a
brand new conference-centre in the East of Berlin, to held the third
Mission-History-conference, which was invited for in Berlin since 1989. They
were invited by the department on missiology, religious-studies and
ecumenics at the Humboldt-University as well as by the institute for
Afrikan sciences at the same university and by the Berlin Society for
Mission History. The last is working since 1994, bringing together scholars
from East and West, North and South, historians, political scientists,
ethnologists as well as theologians and others. It is interested to further
the interdisciplinarial cooperation on mission history and even so to help
mission-archivs, which are located in the Berlin Region in Germany. That’s
why this society was functioning mainly as preparing and leading group
of the respectiv conference.
The congress should investigate relationships between „Mission and
Violence" mainly in times and developments between 1792 and 1918
under viewpoints as many as could be helpful. Keynotes were given,
discussing basic questions between mission and violence. W.
Ustorf/Birmingham, for instance, made an excellent overview on historical
developments of tensions and dependencies between the too terms. E.
Dammann, senior of german afrikanists and missiologists, investigated the
terms mainly from a point of view of mission experiences. A.
Feldtkeller/Heidelberg worked out distinctions and parallel phenomena of
christian missions and islamic expansions. D. Jeyaray/Madras and C.
Omari/Daressalaam offered special insights of Asian and African
perspectives. Section work gave many possibilities to present case-studies
from different parts of the world, especially from those regions, which are
dealt with in Berlin archivs, as South Afrika or the Near East. These
meetings were also a great opportunity for exchange between
participants from the investigated regions in southern continents and
researching people in the North.
Despite of the relativly small number of participants, the conference
gave opportunities to discuss its questions in a rather broad spectrum.
Besides of historians and theolgians it involved for instance a lawyer, who
is studying materials of colonial administration in East Afrika telling stories
on the role of missionaries in education. Journalists, students and quite a
group of those, who are practizing mission, social or developmental work,
were helpful partners in many debates. The conference partly became a
plattform of scientific exchange between research people and
practizionars or between generations. Interesting enough, even those,
who have gotten their scientific orientation originally from marxistic points
of view, had a chance to give their contributions. Scholars were present
even from Middle amd Eastern Europe.
Quite a lot of case-studies were dealing with revolutionary processes at
special regions, for instance in South Afrika, looking into situations, in
which mission was affecting social, economic or cultural traditions or
structures. With regard to the role of missionaries in those situations in most
of the cases it had to be stated, that this role was often ambivalent.
Nevertheless, missionary people in many cases became victims of
revolutionary events rather than winners of these processes. Estonishing
enough, sometimes love amd witness for non-violence by those people,
however, opened after a long time new ways of life for others. Discussing
mission and violence – this became more and more clear during the
conference – means also to think about emancipatory effects of mission
history as well.
Of course, there are several variations of violence to be dealt with in
historical studies, as E. Dammann was calling for in his keynote. Besides of
revolutionary or military violence and the involvment of mission people in
it, even structural violence has to be considered. It was one of the most
important phenomena of colonial times. Under this structural points of
view missionaries mostly had to play their role at any position between
imposed structures and indegionous people. Different contributions at
the Berlin conference offered examples of missionaries, which may have
showen the nessecity of new careful biographical researches in this field.
Difficult to interprete are also those situations, in which violence can be
seen only as psychological factor, as technical factor of communication
or of education. Controversal discussions were unavoidable at that
conference and has to be continued as often as possible.
The more, in their feedback the participants underlined the nessecity of
conferences like this. Unfortunately, opportunities to have exchanges and
to discuss results of research in mission history between those, who are
working in this field, are rather seldom. And also, the theme of „mission
and violence" has to be looked at in much more situations with a very
open mind. The truth, which should be strived on by all involved people,
will be gained only by carefull and interdisciplinary research combined
with openess for different views of others, with rediness to prove the own
view and with acknowledgement of basic roots of mission in God’s truth.
The non-violent revolution, which was experienced ten years ago even by
participants of that congress, might be a motivating power to continue
The Berlin Society for Mission History (Berliner Gesellschaft für
Missionsgeschichte – BGMG) is going to publish keynotes and papers of
the conference in its serie „Missionsgeschichtliches Archiv" soon. In
October 1999 Prof. Dr. Andreas Feldtkeller became head of the
department on missiology, religious studies and ecumenics within the
„Theologische Fakultät der Humboldt-Universität" in Berlin. It should be
mentioned also, that the Archivs and the old Mission-Library of the Berlin
Mission (since 1824) are after a time of restauration of the buildings again
located in former East-Berlin. The archiv-materials were not affected by
destructions during World War II. But, the question, how it can be
maintained in an acceptable shape for every user, is, because of financial
reasons, not yet solved. The BGMG is working on it together with the Berlin
Mission and other institutions in Berlin. Interested people are invited to join
this work or to ask for informations.