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Missions, Empires, and Nations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century


Admission requirements

Not applicable


Christianity today is more of a world religion than it ever was before, with vigorous new heartlands outside the West. Nineteenth-century Western missionary movements and Western imperialism were major causal factors in its spread. Missionaries were often associated in the minds of non-Western peoples with the imperial power, and missionaries themselves frequently identified Christianity with Western civilisation. But the fact that non-Western Christianity has survived the end of empire in the twentieth century, and has gone on to flourish in decolonised nations, suggests that connections between missionary movements and imperialism were not as straightforward as they seem. This seminar will attempt to unravel the complex web of alliances and rivalries between missionary movements, imperialism, and Western and non-Western nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Looking anew at the missionary movement, this course will discuss topics such as Western and non-Western images of missionaries, missionary motivation, organisation and strategy, the role of local agents/converts, the appropriation of the various denominational versions of Christianity by non-Western groups, relations with existing non-Western Christian communities, the relation with other agents of imperialism and colonialism, and with nationalism both in the West and elsewhere, and the impact of decolonisation.
Students will be carrying out comparative case studies that require research of primary sources; the rich archival heritage of Dutch missionary organisations provides ample opportunities for this.

Course objectives

General learning objectives
The student has acquired:

    1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
    1. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
    1. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar
The student has aquired:

    1. Knowledge of and insight into the history and historiography of Western missionary movements and of world Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
    1. Knowledge of and insight into the interconnections between missions, imperialism and nationalism and the transfer and intercultural mediation of religious beliefs and practices.
    1. Insight into the way in which Dutch or foreign primary source material relating to missions can be and has been used in historiography.
    1. (ResMA only): The ability to analyse and use a complex corpus of source material – The ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or points to new directions for future research.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

During the first part of the course, students will be asked to prepare readings assigned for each session; each student will also be asked during this part to prepare a short presentation based on the readings for one of these sessions. These sessions will focus on analysing historical debates on the theme under consideration and on the use and interpretation of primary source material.
During the second part of the course, students will devise and carry out their own research project on a question relating to the overarching theme. They will be asked to present the outline of their project and their methodology in a short presentation; towards the end of the course each student will give a longer presentation of his or her research. These research projects will result in a written paper of ca. 7,500 words.
The research projects will be based on secondary literature and primary source material. Students are encouraged to use the rich collections of Dutch missionary organisations that are available in archival respositories in the Netherlands. Students whose mastery of the Dutch language is not sufficient for this will be assisted in finding alternative collections of primary sources, either digitised or otherwise.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars: 26 hours

  • Preparing readings: 78 hours

  • Preparing oral presentations: 16 hours

  • Researching and writing paper: 160 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 10-14 (ResMA also: 9 and 15)

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 10-14

  • Participation in seminar
    Measured learning objectives: 7-8

Written paper: 70 %
Oral presentations: 20 %
Class participation: 10 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline.

Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for reading lists and communication purposes.

Reading list

To be announced.


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr.B.J. Heffernan