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Nature and the Godly Empire The Pacific, 1795-1850: Science and the Evangelical Mission in

By: S Sivasundaram

236 pages, b&w illus

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Nov 2005 | #164092 | ISBN: 0521848369
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NHBS Price: £71.99 $94/€82 approx

About this book

Nineteenth-century historians have described how science became secular and how scientific theories such as evolution justified colonialism. This book changes this narrative by offering the first account of the relationship between nineteenth-century science and Christianity outside the Western world. At focus are the intrepid missionaries of the London Missionary Society who reverently surveyed the oceans and islands of the Pacific and instructed converts to observe nature in order to interpret God's designs. Sujit Sivasundaram argues that the knowledge that these missionaries practised functioned as a popular science that was inextricably linked with religious expansion. He shows how Britain's providential empire found support from popular views of nature as much as elite science and how science and religion came together in communities far from the metropolis even as disputes raged in Europe. This will be essential reading for historians of empire, science and religion, cultural historians, environmental historians and anthropologists.

'Sivasundaram makes a fine case for considering missionary natural history as a credible form of science during the early nineteenth century. ! This book will force historians to question sharp modern distinctions between science and religion, the spiritual and the material, evangelicalism and enlightenment, colonies and metropolis, tradition and modernity, when it comes to understanding missionary and indigenous categories. Only by finding more adequate organizing concepts, and provincializing the binary categories generated by the historical experience of modern Europe, will we understand cultural transformations during a period in which Christianity, dwindling in its old European heartlands, boomed beyond the West.' British Journal of the History of Science 'For once a cover blurb gets it right: this is the first sustained account of the relationship between nineteenth-century science and Christianity outside the western world, and it mounts a powerful challenge to traditional interpretations of the relationship between science, religion and empire.' Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History '! an intriguing exploration ! adds depth to the field through its fresh reading of missionary publications and visual archives of this episode of Britain's world-wide evangelical push.' American Historical Review 'An impressive, methodologically successful, example of the unification of the history of science and imperial history ... an important contribution to British history' Sehepunkte


1. The light of the sun: stimulus for mission; 2. The growth of the mind: nature and mission education; 3. The seed of the soul: conversion illustrated by nature; 4. The body that will bloom: death and its theology of nature; 5. The plants of the land: building settlements of civilisation; 6. The idol of weeds: the exchange and display of nature.

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Sujit Sivasundaram is Research Fellow in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

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