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Butterflies & Barbarians: Swiss Missionaries and Systems of Knowledge in South-East Africa
Ohio University Press, 2007
304 pp., $32.95
This book should become required reading, alongside David Maxwell on Zimbabwe, Birgit Meyer on Ghana, and John Peel on Nigeria and the Yoruba, when it comes to illuminating the missionary enterprise, and as an important text for the relation between Christianity and the sciences. It is also a work of cultural history, juxtaposing the modernization of Switzerland with modernization in southeast Africa, through a lens provided by missionaries from the Free Church in the French-speaking cantons of the Swiss Romande, above all the cartographer, naturalist, linguist, and pioneering anthropologist Henri-Alexandre Junod. This remarkable man saw himself as simultaneously spreading the light of Christianity and the enlightenment of reason and science.
We are by now acquainted with the very different relations between Christianity and the Enlightenment that obtained in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, England, Scotland, and the United States, but are probably rather vague about the specific situation in Switzerland, poised as it was between French influences and Prussian ones. In Switzerland the heirs of Calvin created a tolerant, broad, and enlightened church very closely aligned with regional consciousness and governance. In the course of the upheavals of the first half of the 19th century, a Free Church emerged which retained the regional consciousness but separated itself from the religious and political establishment in a way reminiscent of the Great Disruption in Scotland. It did so in response to various intellectual and religious developments, including influences from English evangelicalism, and retained throughout a scientifically informed high culture. Relevant points of reference are intellectual developments in Presbyterian Princeton as well as in Scotland, and I would think it useful to cross-reference this particular piece of cultural history with Colin Kidd's The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, especially his chapter ...