"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Friday, May 23, 2014

Missionaries & Science: The Context

American missionaries played an important role in the introduction of modern western science into nineteenth-century Siam, especially during the first stages of that process.  It is a story that remains to be told in an organized, scholarly fashion, and when it is told the introductory chapter will necessarily deal with the relationship of science to religion in the United States in the nineteenth century.  The reason why the missionaries played the role they did was because they were committed to their religious faith.  Unlike today, science and the Bible were then widely understood as two books each revealing God in their own way.  These two revelations were believed to reinforce each other; they were not at odds.  The early generations of Protestant missionaries brought this understanding with them and sought to teach it to "the Thai," from such royal figures as King Mongkut right down to local people including their own converts.  Daniel McGilvary, one of the two towering figures of Protestant missions in Siam (along with Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, his father-in-law) repeatedly used scientific instruction as a weapon in his evangelistic arsenal.

Daniel Walker Howe provides an excellent overview of the American historical context in which the Protestant missionaries operated in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, What Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford, 2007).  Howe understands the importance of religion, particularly evangelical Protestantism, to the age that he writes about and devotes considerable attention to, among other things, revivalism and the relationship of science to religion.  For those who are interested in the historical context of the first generations of Protestant missionaries, this is an excellent introduction.  It is well-written and impressively researched.  If and when that book on the missionary role in the introduction of western science in Siam is told, What Hath God Wrought should certainly appear in its citations and bibliography.  And let the people say, "Amen."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Presbyterian Missionaries Biographical Data Online

One of the most useful resources available to me as a researcher into Thai church history remains a set of biographical data sheets of Presbyterian missionaries prepared in the early 1950s by the Rev. Paul Eakin and contained in his papers at the Payap University Archives in Chiang Mai.  If I remember correctly, Eakin was in the process of writing a history of Presbyterian missions in Thailand and compiled these data sheets partly to that end.  There is no evidence that he ever actually wrote that history, unfortunately.  In any event, the Payap University Archives has entered Eakin's data into a data base, which is available online (here).  Only selected portions of the data has been entered, and it appears that the archives is still "in process" as not all of the entries in Eakin's files appear (as yet) in the data base.  Still, it is good that this information is available more generally, and the archives is to be commended for making the effort to put it online.

Friday, May 2, 2014

WELS History in Thailand

One of the great challenges that will face the historian who tackles Thai Protestant history after World War II is the proliferation of foreign mission agencies working in Thailand.  They come from around the world and their personnel speak a diversity of languages, represent a variety of cultures, and run the gamut of theological persuasions, though they tend to be theologically conservative, although not exclusively so.  Recently, I came across information on the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) mission in Thailand, a mission that I personally have been only vaguely aware of.  There is little historical information on this mission widely available, and I have taken the liberty of turning two relevant pages into a four-page pdf, which is available (here) and cited in the bibliography of materials related to Christianity in Thailand.  If you are interested in the links to the information, they are cited at the end of the pdf.

This is the first time, as far as I can remember, that I have actually created a somewhat artificial document and placed it in the bibliography. I don't plan to make a habit of it.  However, the goal here is always to facilitate access to information about the church's past in Thailand, and this "artificial" document from the WELS mission does that.