The 2014 annual meeting of the Yale-Edinburgh Group concluded last week with an inspiring collection of 60 papers from colleagues around the world, revolving around the theme of ‘Gender and Family in the History of Missions and World Christianity’. The conference was co-sponsored by the University of Edinburgh, Yale Divinity School, and the Overseas Ministries Study Center. Over one hundred delegates were in attendance.
Regionally, the papers included a large selection discussing various African countries, and a strong representation of work focusing on China, India, Syria, South America, and exotic lands like Scotland and the United States. The papers methodologically tended to be much more historical in nature, however there was a growing number of social scientific and theological studies as compared with previous conferences. The diversity of the papers highlights Christianity’s expansion across time and space. It also showed some of the varied interests of academic research currently being conducted.
The focus on gender was a welcome turn from past historiography which has tended to focus on male missionaries. Papers highlighted the role of wives of missionaries, missionaries who happened to be wives, and the many single women on the missions field. The conference also brought to light the tragic subordination and, at times, oppression of women on the missions field and within the worldwide church.
The second focus of the conference theme was on the family. A number of papers highlighted the challenges missionaries experienced in caring and teaching their children, and the importance of the support provided by extended families. Other papers looked at how the Christian family has become a kind of surrogate family for new communities in world Christianity.
Questions around gender and family raised during the conference should reorient our understandings of missions and world Christianity. They represent the clashing of cultures, religious perceptions, and practical considerations. These subjects have too much been on the sidelines, and the conference has clearly shown their importance in future studies. We look forward to the publication of many of these papers in a future issue of Studies in World Christianity or in other forms.