What is a “friend”? Changing vocabularies of connection in the mission of British Protestant women missionaries to Indian women, 1870s to 1940s

Recent historical studies outline how by the turn of the c19th. a multiplicity of spaces were opening up: of “intercultural encounters, intermixture and fusion, as much as conflict and separatism” (Holton 2002: 159) within and across the borders of nations, empires and colonial boundaries of race, class and gender. A key sphere of cross-cultural and transnational activity was that of religion, specifically the missionary movements based in the metropolitan centers, in which both colonizing and colonised women played important roles as proselytizers and activists in a variety of transnational networks. Sandra Stanley Holton (2002) in her study of British Quaker women reformers active in the transnational movements over segregation and racism during the period argues there is a shift in thinking about racial difference. A more ambiguous continuum of positions is produced she suggests, in the interstices of scientific racism, and maternalist feminism on the one hand, and a growing auto-critique of British racism and colonialism, alongside a more visible (to the white reformer) autonomous agency of black activists. This was a continuum in which “some black individuals appeared more equal with white than others” at the same time as there was “a weakening of the form and degree of identity that had previously been possible between black and white activists” (ibid. p. 19). This paper uses a case study of the 1910 World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Australian, Indian and British women’s involvements within and around it, to explore Holton’s idea of an ambiguous continuum of racialized positioning in terms of the concepts of whiteness, cosmopolitanism and anti-colonialism. In so doing, the paper contributes to a deeper historical sociology of gender and colonialism, and the ways in which women participated in the making of new cross-cultural spaces and discourses in the early c20th.

Jane Haggis is member of Centre for Development Studies, School of International Studies, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Flinders University Adelaide, Australia. Author of: Imperial Emotions: Affective communities of Mission in British Protestant Women’s Missionary Publications c1880-1920, Journal of Social History, Spring 2008, p. 691-716 initially presented at Panel: Missionary Women and Global Christian Communities, 2005 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, June 2-5 2005 at Scripps College, Claremont, California ; “Beyond Race and Whiteness? Reflections on the New Abolitionists and an Australian Critical Whiteness Studies” in D. Riggs (2007) ed. Taking Up The Challenge: Critical Race and Whiteness Studies in a Postcolonising Nation, Crawford House, Adelaide, 2004, p. 307-321 ; (with Meera Kosambi, Ed) “Reconstructing Femininities: Intersections of Gender, Race, Religion and Class”, special edition of Feminist Review, 2000, Issue n° 65 (with Margaret Allan).


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