Influencing Culture – Language and Science

William Carey, the so-called Father of Modern Missions gave his allegiance first to Jesus Christ. Then he gave his allegiance to Jesus’ Mission. Finally, he gave his allegiance to the peoples of India.

The somewhat outdated and negative view of the missionary has at least got one thing right: the missionary was indeed trying to influence culture.

Missionaries – the spoilers of Culture
The negative view has them destroying local culture and manipulating the indigenous population, making them dress and behave like foreigners in order to make them passively submit to a Western colonial agenda. The idea of ‘God’ was the most powerful tool in their manipulative process.

At best these Victorian missionaries are viewed as naïve and under the spell of the ‘Empire’ themselves – at worst, deliberately undermining and destroying the innocent culture of an unspoilt people.

Preserving and Promoting Local Languages
In the last post we saw how one brilliant Indian intellectual viewed the missionary work of William Carey, particularly as it related to Carey’s desire to put the Bible into the hands of Indian people. We saw how the careful translation work of the Bible actually helped preserve local languages in India.

Mangalwadi notes how Bengali, the language Carey worked so hard to formalise for the purpose of translating the Bible, is, today, the only Indian language which ‘has the pride of earning a Nobel Prize for literature, for Rabinda Nath Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’. (Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, p.81)

Quoting SK De, he adds, ‘it was Carey and his missionary colleagues who ‘raised the language from the debased condition of an unsettled dialect to the character of a regular and permanent form of speech.’’ (SK De, Bengali Literature in the Nineteenth Century, quoted by Mangalwadi, ibid. p.81)

Carey’s Quiz – What Did Carey Do?
Mangalwadi proposes a quiz to the best-informed Indian students at an All-India Universities Competition. The simple question is: ‘Who was William Carey?’

Carey – the Scientist, the Botanist
‘William Carey was the botanist after whom Careya herbacea is named. It is one of the three varieties of Eucalyptus, found only in India.

‘Carey brought the English daisy to India and introduced the Linnaean system to gardening. He also published the first books on science and natural history in India such as ‘Flora Indica’…Carey believed that nature is declared ‘good’ by its Creator; it is not ‘maya’ (illusion), to be shunned, but a subject worthy of human study.

He frequently lectured on science and tried to inject a basic scientific presupposition into the Indian mind that even lowly insects are not souls in bondage, but creatures worthy of our attention.’ (ibid. p.1)

We’ll continue Carey’s Quiz next time. Click here for the next post

For the first part of the William Carey story click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

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