Methodists and India: Mapping, Contact, and Travel in the Christian Advocate, 1860-1890

As I posted last week, this weekend I presented a paper on the topic of Methodist Media to the American Society of Church History at this year’s American Historical Association meeting. Below is my paper from the panel.

Methodists and India: Mapping, Contact and Travel in the Christian Advocate, 1860-1890

Michael J. Altman, Emory University

What could bourgeois Methodist readers have known about India and how could missionary work abroad have brought them this knowledge?  Today, I will begin to answer these two questions through an analysis of The Christian Advocate in the late nineteenth century. The Christian Advocate, published in New York and the official weekly publication of the Methodist Episcopal Church, rose to a circulation of 63 to 70 thousand by 1879 and as one historian claims, “the paper became an icon of bourgeois America.”[i] The Advocate circulated among a growing middle class during the rise of the popular press in America and, therefore, the representations of India and Hinduism contained in its pages sparked the minds of a broad Evangelical readership.

I focus on three themes in the pages of the Advocate regarding India and Hinduism: mapping, contact, and travel.  First, missionary reports mapped out India as a geographic and spiritual field for missions work.  Second, women in America were especially recruited to join in the missionary effort and make spiritual and imaginary contact with Hindu women in India. Finally, in order to see the fruits of the Methodist mission work in India, writers sent letters and stories of conversions, conferences, and revivals that allowed American Methodists to travel to India and see the Holy Spirit at work.  In all three cases, imagination brought India into American homes through the pages of the Advocate.

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Methodist Media: Comparing Means of Communicating the Message

If you’re in Boston or headed to Boston for the AHA be sure to come check out my panel on Methodist media. I’m talking about representations of Hinduism in the Methodist Christian Advocate and Emory’s own Russ Richey will be responding to the panel. It should be a great time.

125th Annual Meeting (January 6-9, 2011): Methodist Media: Comparing Means of Communicating the Message

Methodist Media: Comparing Means of Communicating the Message

American Society of Church History 26

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM

St. George Room C (The Westin Copley Place)

Chair: Richard P. Heitzenrater, Duke University


Evangelical Encounters: Authenticity in Early Methodist Worship

Erika K. R. Hirsch, Boston University

An Evangelical Public Relations Campaign: The Methodist Episcopal Church and Print Culture, 1792–1834

Elizabeth A. Georgian, University of Delaware

“The Spirit-Filled Teacher”: Methodist Educational Missions in Nineteenth-Century Asia

David W. Scott, Boston University

Methodists and India: Mapping, Contact, and Travel in the Christian Advocate, 1860–90

Michael J. Altman, Emory University


Russell E. Richey, Emory University

Enacting Identity: Toward an Interdisciplinary Theory of Religions in Diaspora

The following is another old conference paper.  I gave the following paper on rethinking diaspora to the History of Religions section of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion in Atlanta, GA in March 2008.

The term diaspora seems to carry with it an imperative for interdisciplinary work.  Diasporas are approached by Judaic studies, anthropology, sociology, Caribbean studies, and various other cultural and area studies disciplines.  But what does religious studies have to offer for an understanding of diaspora?  I argue that while anthropology offers strong theoretical definitions and models for what diasporas are and what they do, religious studies, through a study of lived religion, offers an understanding of how diasporas are experienced and lived out in ordinary daily life.  In order to show how religious studies offers an “on the ground” understanding of life in a diaspora I take the example of South Asian Hindus living in the United States as my point of departure for two reasons.  First, because Hinduism in the United States is an under studied tradition and, second, because when it is studied, studies of American Hinduism have yet to take on lived religion approach found in other studies of American religions.  As such, the conclusion of this paper is a theoretical gesture toward the solution of these two disciplinary lacunas.

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