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On how missionaries changed the world

Summary

Robert Woodberry says Christian missions have profoundly benefitted people – though not always.

Summary

Robert Woodberry says Christian missions have profoundly benefitted people – though not always.

Transcript

When we look at the missionary movement as a whole, its average effect has been profoundly beneficial for the vast majority of people who have interacted with them.

That doesn’t mean it’s been entirely beneficial. Missions is probably associated with increasing ethnic violence in places like Asia, where you had an established religious hierarchy and a written language that tended to respond violently and hostilely to conversion. In those contexts, missionaries sometimes accentuated religious and ethnic tensions.

But on average, on the vast majority of outcomes that I have looked at, the effect of missions – particularly Protestant missions – seems to have been strongly positive. They have profoundly influenced the life conditions of the vast majority of people that they have interacted with, at least on average, even if they did not convert – by introducing mass education, by introducing Western medical care, by introducing voluntary associations, by introducing mass printing and newspapers and other things like that, and by increasing religious liberty and political liberty. And the effects of those are quite strong.