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American Evangelicals in Egypt

American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire

Heather J. Sharkey
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    American Evangelicals in Egypt
    Book Description:

    In 1854, American Presbyterian missionaries arrived in Egypt as part of a larger Anglo-American Protestant movement aiming for worldwide evangelization. Protected by British imperial power, and later by mounting American global influence, their enterprise flourished during the next century.American Evangelicals in Egyptfollows the ongoing and often unexpected transformations initiated by missionary activities between the mid-nineteenth century and 1967--when the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War uprooted the Americans in Egypt.

    Heather Sharkey uses Arabic and English sources to shed light on the many facets of missionary encounters with Egyptians. These occurred through institutions, such as schools and hospitals, and through literacy programs and rural development projects that anticipated later efforts of NGOs. To Egyptian Muslims and Coptic Christians, missionaries presented new models for civic participation and for women's roles in collective worship and community life. At the same time, missionary efforts to convert Muslims and reform Copts stimulated new forms of Egyptian social activism and prompted nationalists to enact laws restricting missionary activities. Faced by Islamic strictures and customs regarding apostasy and conversion, and by expectations regarding the proper structure of Christian-Muslim relations, missionaries in Egypt set off debates about religious liberty that reverberate even today. Ultimately, the missionary experience in Egypt led to reconsiderations of mission policy and evangelism in ways that had long-term repercussions for the culture of American Protestantism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3725-0
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Note on Transliteration, Translation, and Spelling
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  2. CHAPTER 1 The American Missionary Encounter in Egypt
    (pp. 1-17)

    In 1854 American Presbyterian missionaries arrived in Egypt as part of a larger Anglo-American Protestant movement that aimed for universal evangelization. Protected by the armor of British imperial power and later by mounting American global influence, their enterprise flourished during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and enabled them to establish the largest Protestant mission in the country. This book describes the massive, mutual, and ongoing transformations that their activities in Egypt set off.

    In the century that stretched from 1854 until decolonization in the mid-1950s, American missionaries opened dozens of schools, medical facilities, and public libraries; initiated rural...

  3. CHAPTER 2 The American Mission, Coptic Reform, and the Making of an Egyptian Evangelical Community, 1854–82
    (pp. 18-47)

    In 1852, four years after the U.S. government installed its first American-born consul in Egypt,¹ Dr. J. G. Paulding of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church mission in Damascus, Syria, visited Egypt to recover his health. Writing to leaders of his church in Pennsylvania, Paulding praised Egypt as an open field for Christian mission. Church leaders seized upon his idea, and in 1853, at a meeting in the western Pennsylvania town of Allegheny, entered the following decision in their register: “Resolved, That our missionaries be instructed to occupy Cairo at their earliest convenience.”² This language of deployment and occupation anticipated the...

  4. CHAPTER 3 The Colonial Moment of the American Mission, 1882–1918
    (pp. 48-95)

    The period from 1882 to 1918 was an important chapter in modern Egypt, the British Empire, and the Anglo-American Protestant missionary movement. It began with Britain’s invasion and occupation of Egypt, and ended with the closure of world war I and the defeat of the ottoman Empire. Egyptians had to face in 1882 the onset of de facto colonial rule and in 1918 a future in a post-ottoman world where the symbolic geographic unity of Muslims was gone; the consequences for the formation of Egyptian nationalism were enormous.¹ These were also years when Britain reached its imperial apogee by asserting...

  5. CHAPTER 4 Egyptian Nationalism, Religious Liberty, and the Rethinking of the American Mission, 1918–45
    (pp. 96-148)

    During the American Presbyterian mission’s first sixty years in Egypt, missionaries occasionally endured the vituperation of Coptic bishops and priests and taunts from Muslim crowds. But such events had been isolated and had not tempered missionaries’ hopes. The situation began to change in the 1920s when challenges appeared on multiple fronts. Thus, if 1882 to 1918 had constituted a high-confidence period in the history of Protestant missions in Egypt, then the interwar years represented, for missionaries, a period of chronic low–grade anxiety. Missionaries were buffeted by financial troubles and by criticism of foreign missions that emanated from the American...

  6. CHAPTER 5 The Mission of the American University in Cairo
    (pp. 149-178)

    In 1916, Charles R. Watson sent a letter to the United Presbyterian Church of North America, resigning his position as secretary of its foreign mission board in Philadelphia. With the strong support of this church and its missionary wing, Watson had been laying the foundation for a Christian university in Egypt. He was resigning to devote himself to fund-raising, finding a site in Cairo, and securing approval from British authorities who had imposed a wartime protectorate on Egypt. In his resignation letter Watson reflected, “I cannot feel that I am severing my connection with the missionary cause that has occupied...

  7. CHAPTER 6 Turning to the Life of the Church: American Mission in an Age of Egyptian Decolonization and Arab-Israeli Politics, 1945–67
    (pp. 179-214)

    Egypt had been technically independent since 1922, a constitutional monarchy since 1923, and a member of the league of Nations since 1937. Yet by the time World War II ended in 1945, Egyptian nationalists felt that the country was still lacking some basic trappings of sovereignty. Britain continued to maintain troops in the Suez Canal Zone and to sideline Egypt in international affairs, while foreigners in Egypt ran businesses and schools that functioned like metropolitan outposts. Thus as the tide of decolonization began to sweep across the British Empire, Egyptian nationalists were eager to purge foreign influence and assert full...

  8. CONCLUSION Conversions and Transformations
    (pp. 215-232)

    Viewing the long stretch of the mission’s history, from 1854 to 1967, four periods stand out. The first extended from 1854 to 1882, and began when American Presbyterians, inspired by the idea of universal evangelization, initiated their mission in Egypt. Constrained by social strictures against conversion from Islam, the Americans focused mostly on Copts and set out to trigger what they hoped would be a reformation of Coptic Orthodoxy. They slowly drew a following and began to organize the Egyptian Evangelical Church, which emphasized the primacy of the Arabic Bible for worship and encouraged laypeople to participate in church affairs....