Of Missionaries and Imperial Ideology


Some thoughts about the role of missionaries brought up in the Levine reading and how it echoes certain tenets of the Gikandi reading:

The complex role of missionaries – being critical of imperial practices and policies though not of imperial philosophy – seems to be characterised by push and pull forces, with the interaction of both forces ultimately reinforcing and maintaining imperial ideology. For all their anti-slavery protests and public outcry about colonial exploitation, the reality of their work point otherwise. One can look at their work as a sort of religious imperialism and even linguistic imperialism – giving converts Christian names, improving literacy. Their provision of health care and education can be seen as social imperialism, their building of mission schools spatial imperialism. Interestingly enough, the work of the missionaries don’t reflect the distance between colonists and colonials as mentioned by Levine (pg 110), but rather an association between the two groups. Once again, push and pull factors are at play here.

The fact of the matter is that their missionary work cannot be disassociated from imperial ideology. The promotion of imperial ideology by missionaries is subtle, invisible, and disguised as harmless, moral duty, echoing Gikandi’s mention of the unconscious influence of Africa being acknowledged yet denied visibility in Picasso’s works, all under the guise of primitivism. For Levine and Gikandi, the rendering invisible, the masking (pun not intended) to disguise, serve as push and pull factors that distance and associate, and yet ultimately sustain and buttress imperial ideology.

Russell 🙂

One thought on “Of Missionaries and Imperial Ideology