Abstract: This chapter examines the spiritual motivations and impacts of voluntarism in the USA through an investigation of international short-term mission (STM), a paradigm involving 1–2-week trips that amalgamate leisure tourism, evangelism, and voluntary development work and are carried out among Christian and non-Christian communities. Mainline and nondenominational bodies sponsor STM, but it is most popular among evangelical Christians. I argue that STM’s effects, while partially explicable in terms of the social capital that it may (or may not) engender at home and in mission fields, include challenges to secular norms and institutions. STM, especially as carried out among non-Christian communities, provides (1) experiential contexts for imagining a world in which divinity is reckoned as immanently and sensorially present, and (2) communicative tools for enacting that world. It thus may rework the categorical boundaries between secular and religious practices and spaces at home, as well as on mission sites. As such, STM can be understood as an artifact of an emergent postsecular imaginary—a characterization that signals the limits of the secularization thesis and the recognition of significance of plural religiosities, spiritual orientations, and faith commitments in social action and institutions. This chapter is based on ethnographic research in southern California conducted from 2009 to 2012.
Abstract: This article examines the visual mediation of evangelical short-term mission and the theologically inflected global imaginary that these forms engender. Recent decades have seen the resurgence of long-term mission and the emergence of short-term mission among US Christians. The latter, combining evangelization, service, and tourism, is a staple within evangelical youth culture. I argue that it is used by Christians to constitute themselves as global formations, while also offering theological frames for global Christianity. Central to this global theological imaginary are visual representations of mission encounters with ethnic, sectarian, and racial Others, which illustrate the global scope of mission and missionaries’ understandings of their own efforts to engage and overcome those differences. Through an analysis of the visual content of four short-term mission agencies’ websites, I examine the mediation of global Christianity in contemporary mission and its recruitment of global Christian subjects.
Filmaker’s Description: The feature-length documentary God Loves Uganda is a powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right.
The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law.
The following is an interview with Brian Howell conducted by Josh Brahinsky in September 2013.
Josh: What motivated this book?
Brian: I would ask students at the beginning of an intro class and would hear about these really extraordinary travel opportunities that they had to places where people don’t normally go: northern Ghana and Mongolia and such places, but what was most striking about it was the ways that they talked about their trips, that they were similar to one another regardless of where they gone in the world including people who gone to Europe versus people who gone to Latin America or remote parts of Asia or Africa. I was struck that something was going on that either these trips had converged in some way, or had been produced in some way. The narratives about them were coming from somewhere, and I was really curious how that happened.
Josh: Was this one of the founding questions of the book? Narrative versus experience, or how was this made? How did this come to be spoken this way?
Brian: When I started doing research into the literature, particularly the anthropology of tourism, I could see that this was an idea many anthropologists have followed up on, looking at how the narratives of particular places shape those experiences of those places. So, what you could call my hypothesis was that the narratives produced around short-term missions were strongly influencing the experience people had of the places that they went when they were calling these short-term missions. Continue reading →
By: Joshua Brahinsky (University of California, Santa Cruz)
While anthropology and religion have a checkered and ambivalent dynamic, relations between anthropology and missiology – Christian mission theory – are far more enmeshed and, perhaps, grating. This animates a sharp division between the two. Anthropologists can imagine religion as out there, a behavior to study, more or less connected to transcendent reality. By contrast, missions, as many have noted, cut much closer to the bone (Priest 2001). Not only was the core anthropological notion of culture likely first articulated among missionaries, but also, by most accounts, missionaries surpass even the most assiduous anthropologist when it comes to their defining practice: ethnography (Herbert 1991). Even an exceptionally long three-year anthropological field stay cannot touch the decades common to missions. This makes discussions of missions uncomfortable for anthropologists. Further, simply noticing mission’s effects ties awkward knots within anthropological tales of the noble savage or those that valorize postcolonial agency, especially when that agency involves appropriating previously Western religions (Sanneh 2003). Finally, Short Term Missions (STM), are especially ephemeral phenomena, and as such, easily escape the anthropological eye. In other words, aside from the significance of a project that involves 1.6 million US youth traveling the world each year, simply talking STM and anthropology together makes Brian Howell’s study of Short Term Missions worthwhile. Continue reading →
Abstract: This article expands current knowledge of the impact that brief but intense religious experiences can have on routine behavior by examining the long-term effects of short-term mission travel on both volunteering and charitable giving. Existing literature addresses only the first few years after travel. Using data from the 2005 Religion and Global Issues Survey, I examine how participation in a domestic or international religious mission trip in high school influences adults’ volunteering and giving behavior. I also consider alternate explanations that may account for the relationship between high school mission-trip participation and current giving or volunteering, including demographic factors, religious beliefs and practices, and other forms of civic engagement. I find adolescent participation in a domestic short-term mission trip has a significant, positive influence on the likelihood of volunteering for either a local or an internationally focused organization as an adult. In contrast, adolescent participation in a domestic mission trip has a significant dampening effect on charitable giving to secular organizations. I find no significant associations between international high school trips and adult volunteering and giving when additional factors are taken into account. I discuss the implications of these results for the ways church leaders and scholars think about the mechanisms through which brief, transformative religious experiences influence beliefs and behavior over the course of a lifetime.
Abstract: This article documents short-term mission’s engagement with Islam by showing how Islam is represented by sending agencies and how volunteers interact with Muslims. I relate the different styles of representing and engaging with Islam to differences of theological orientation as well as to the particular contexts and practices of short-term mission. This article is based on research in Southern California between 2009 and 2012, including visual and textual content analyses of sending agencies’ websites and guidebooks, and interviews with 57 short-term mission participants
Abstract: This article examines beliefs, institutions, and social changes shaping short-term missions in the Orthodox Church. It directs attention to key theological principles guiding short-term missions. The article provides a descriptive account of short-term mission activity informed by Orthodox perspective. It frames questions to guide future study of short-term missions in the Orthodox Church.
Abstract: This article is a case study of how short-term missions in Peru were transformed into long-term involvement in a way that contributed to the transformation of the host community, the missioners, and their understanding of God’s mission. A complex environmental conflict in a highly polluted city in the Andes Mountains provided the context where a Christian mission network engaged more than 90 U.S. and 40 Peruvian Christians to transform short-term missions into a platform for long-term engagement and peaceful change.
Abstract: In this article I consider the desires of participants in a particular sister-community relationship. I suggest that experiences of Illinois parishioners who have been visiting, and assisting, rural Salvadorans over the past 20 years may help us to understand both the possibilities and the limits of such encounters. I probe the limits by examining an incident that took place in July 2010. In thinking through my discomfort with a request for money, in the context of a larger history of global relationships and the ethics of such missions, I have come to believe that the disparities between the visitors and visited—economic, geographic, cultural, political—is not something to overcome. Rather, these differences are necessary for sister-community relationships.