Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism

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University of Chicago Press, Mar 9, 2015 - History - 432 pages
This is a fascinating study of the relationship between the arrival of American Protestant missionaries and the emergence of an ethnic nationalism among East Syrian Christians within the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Missionary innovations in media, education, and ritual became integral to the development of a new Assyrian national consciousness among Nestorian Christians dispersed across parts of what would become Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Before the American missions were established in the 1830s, these Christians lived intermingled with a number of other religious and linguistic groups, and tribal affiliation or village of origin were the predominant bases of self-identification. However, by the turn of the twentieth century a national consciousness had developed whereby many of them understood themselves to be descendants of an ancient near eastern race. That nationalist understanding, the author shows, still reverberates in and beyond these Assyrian Christian communities today. Becker effectively connects this Assyrian story to the wider literature on how religion itself is established as a distinct social, cultural domaina process of reification that gains particular force in the Enlightenment s aftermath. He reveals just how much American Protestant missionaries participated in that reinvention of religion. The resulting construction lined up closely with American liberal political projects religious freedom and personal autonomy. That this missionary view of religion proved so useful for forging an Assyrian nationalist discourse is a compelling twist of the story line. The ongoing, unstable play between these two inventions religion and nation is wonderfully detailed throughout. The book speaks effectively to a wide audience of scholars, bringing into focus a kind of missionary modernity that carries significance across various fields and areas of study."

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About the author (2015)

Adam H. Becker is associate professor of religious studies and classics at New York University. He is the author of Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom.

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