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Scholarship recipients b

Mission and history v

The desire to understand the present and future of mission includes a thorough analysis of its own past: According to missiologist Bosch, “it is neither possible nor meaningful […] to strive for a renewed definition of mission without taking a thorough look at the vicissitudes of missions and the missionary idea during the last twenty centuries of Christian church history”

Bosch 2012:9

  • Research Associate - Mission History
Image source: Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing
In the face of the challenges of globalization and a multicultural and multireligious society, the study of mission history can help to formulate attempts to respond to how living together in the spirit of the Gospel can succeed.

“Therefore go to the nations and make all people my disciples” (Mt 28:19).

Christian mission is unthinkable without going there, without making contact with people of other cultures and religions. In the research field of mission history, different forms of missionary engagement from the beginnings of the Christian faith to the present are studied. Research in mission history at the Institute for World Church and Mission (IWM) is based on the following guiding principles:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28,19). This biblical passage remains the very foundation of all Christian missions to which women both in biblical and church history have been part off. Establishment of contact and personal interaction are fundamental pillars of Christian Mission. The research field of “Mission History” explores the diversity of Christian missionary work from the beginning of Christian faith to the present time. Mission takes place in intercultural contact zones and refers to the status of missionaries in an intermediate space: between Europe and the global south, between perspectives on colonialism and intercultural encounters, between confrontation with poverty and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The research project reflects on the role of Christian Mission in the historical processes of globalisation focusing on the female und local protagonists. By analysing archives, articles, letters and records of missionary sisters, the project attempts to answer core questions in feminist mission studies:

  • What is the specific task of female missionaries in the Catholic Church?
    How are understanding and practises of mission shaped by intercultural encounters?
  • Is the self-conception of being a woman within the Catholic Church biased by interactions with the women in the local community?
  • How do views, experiences and challenges of missionary sisters contribute to a holistic understanding of mission?

The universality of God’s saving action: to the nations and all people
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    “(…) on the one hand, the cultural root of the message of salvation is relativized by its universalization; on the other hand, the cultures of the pagan world are destigmatized and legitimized to validly express the message of God’s universal love for mankind – no culture is privileged, none untouchable” (Urstorf 1996:31).

In Christianity, no culture is privileged and the gospel is fundamentally addressed to all people. A critical reflection on the history of mission, therefore, includes an examination of historical events marked by power relations, inequality and injustice. Mission history faces the challenge of finding a language that expresses the equality of local churches on different continents.
Mission history is “interweaving history
The object of research in mission history is the various forms of missionary engagement from the beginnings of the Christian faith to the present. The research perspective is a question of viewpoints: Traditional mission history looks as “missionary history” (Müller 1995:82) starting from Europe to the countries of the global South. The close link between the history of mission and colonization demands a self-critical reflection and questioning of one’s own motivation. The one-sided division of the actors into subjects and objects of mission does not do justice to the independent self-understanding of the Christian churches in the non-European area and denies the insight that the actual object of mission history is the church history of a respective country. At the same time, Karl Müller and Werner Urstorf point out that “African mission history is so intimately connected with European real history and the history of ideas that the resulting complexity of the subject necessitates multi-sided and diverse approaches and therefore sufficiently justifies our own approach” (Müller 1995 : 92). Mission history is also interwoven with historical and cultural studies. Mission takes place in contact zones of intercultural encounter (cf. Pratt 1992). What role mission has taken in the historical processes of globalization is examined by Rebekka Habermas in “Mission Global. An Interweaving History of the 19th Century” (2014). Intercultural contact zones are the focus of interest of theological research approaches that, as understanding and dialogical missiology in close exchange with the disciplines mentioned above, investigate how intercultural encounters shape the lives, attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of those involved (Cf. Becker 2015; Eckholt 2017).
Image source: Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing
Missionaries as Mediators “Between Worlds
In the past, women have often been neglected actors in the history of missions, although during the “mission century” (Sievernich 2009: 91) they made up a large proportion of the mission personnel. The “Handbook of Catholic Missions” lists 298 European women’s congregations active in missions in 1923 (Cf. Arens 1925 : 92). Margit Eckholt calls missionary women “transcultural actors” who “live between worlds” and refers to their position in an in-between space of intercultural encounter (Cf. Eckholt 2017):


  • Between Europe and the global South.
  • between the male-dominated church and indigenous women
  • between a colonial gaze and intercultural togetherness
  • between the confrontation with the suffering of the poor and the proclamation of the dawn of the Kingdom of God.


The questions about the representation of women in the historical sources of mission history, about gender relations in mission, about the mission of missionaries in the Catholic Church as well as about the self-conception as a woman in the encounter with the foreign should be given attention in the research on mission history at the IWM.

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    Arens, Bernard S.J., Handbuch der Katholischen Missionen, Freiburg 19252.

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    Müller, Karl/Urstorf, Werner (eds.), Einleitung in die Missionsgeschichte. Tradition, Situation und Dynamik des Christentums, Stuttgart/Berlin/Köln 1995.

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    Habermas, Rebekka/Hölzl, Richard (eds.), Mission Global. Eine Verflechtungsgeschichte seit dem 19. Jahrhundert, Cologne/Weimar/Vienna 2014.

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    Eckholt, Margit, ZwischenWeltenLeben – Missionarinnen als transkulturelle Akteurinnen. Impulse für eine feministische Missionswissenschaft aus systematisch-theologischer Perspektive, in: ZMR 101 (2017), 46-63.

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    Bosch, David J., Mission im Umbruch. Paradigmenwechsel in der Missionstheologie, Gießen 2012.

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    Becker, Judith, Europäische Missionen in Kontaktzonen. Transformation durch Interaktion in einer (post-)kolonialen Welt, Göttingen 2015.

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    Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes. Travelling writing and transculturation, London/New York, 1992.

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    Urstorf, Werner, Dornröschen, oder die Missionsgeschichte wird entdeckt, in: Heyden, Ulrich van der/Liebau, Heike (Hg.), Missionsgeschichte, Kirchengeschichte, Weltgeschichte. Christliche Missionen im Kontext nationaler Entwicklungen in Afrika, Asien und Ozeanien, Stuttgart 1996, 23-37.

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    Sievernich, Michael, Die Christliche Mission. Geschichte und Gegenwart, Darmstadt 2009.