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date: 17 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

American Presbyterian missionaries in the Middle East, through their linguistic, educational, and religious activities combined with similar European efforts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, transformed sociocultural and political conditions in the native Christian and surrounding communities where they worked. By introducing faith alternatives where traditionally few had existed, Presbyterians separated religious identity from ethnicity, creating a way for Assyrians in Persia, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Egyptian Copts, and other ethnic groups to view themselves through the lens of nationalism, or as entities within their own countries with distinct legal-political status. This was an unintended effect of Middle Eastern missions, which were originally directed toward the dominant but largely resistant Muslim population and later revised to focus on renewing the ancient Christian churches that had been established earlier by minority groups instead of on planting new churches. Nationalism contributed to, but did not cause, ancient rivalries between religions and ethnic groups, which became more heated and violent amid larger imperial contests (such as “Christian” Russia or Britain against “Muslim” Egyptians, Ottomans and Turks, or Persians). Although the Presbyterian missions failed to convert large numbers of Muslims or to transform ancient Christian sects, they did eventually facilitate the formation of independent Middle Eastern denominations and the emigration of Christian refugees to America. Descendants of both groups are now challenging Western narratives of religion and culture, while the number of Muslim converts in the Middle East is growing. They are proliferating through “new media” missions, forming underground house churches in Iran and seeking the help of American Presbyterians to establish congregations in Turkey, modeling for their Western brethren culturally sensitive evangelism in Islamic cultures, and reversing the historical trajectory of missional agency from the West to the East.

Keywords: Persia, Iran, Ottoman Empire, Turkey, missions, renewal, nationalism, United States, education, World War I

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