This article explores the influence of Protestant missionaries on male–female educational inequalities in colonial India. Causal mechanisms drawn from the sociology and economics of religion highlight the importance of religious competition for the provision of public goods. Competition between religious and secular groups spurred missionaries to play a key role in the development of mass female schooling. A case study of Kerala illustrates this. The statistical analysis, with district-level datasets, covers colonial and post-colonial periods for most of India. Missionary effects are compared with those of British colonial rule, modernization, European presence, education expenditures, post-colonial democracy, Islam, caste and tribal status, and land tenure. Christian missionary activity is consistently associated with better female education outcomes in both the colonial and post-colonial periods.
Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science (email:
1 Stark, Rodney and Finke, Roger, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000)
2 Abernethy, David B., The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415–1980 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 226
3 Forbes, Geraldine, ‘In Search of the “Pure Heathen”: Missionary Women in Nineteenth Century India’, Economic and Political Weekly, 21 (1986), 2–8
4 Porter, Andrew, ed., The Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
Cox, Jeffrey, Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818–1940 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002)
5 Trejo, Guillermo, ‘Religious Competition and Ethnic Mobilization in Latin America: Why the Catholic Church Promotes Indigenous Movements in Mexico’, American Political Science Review, 103 (2009), 323–342
Gallego, Francisco A. and Woodberry, Robert, ‘Christian Missionaries and Education in Former Colonies: How Institutions Mattered’ (unpublished manuscript no. 339, Instituto de Economia, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2008)
Bolt, Jutta and Bezemer, Dirk, ‘Understanding Long-Run African Growth: Colonial Institutions or Colonial Education? Evidence from a New Data Set’ (unpublished paper, University of Groningen, 2008)
Woodberry, Robert D., ‘The Shadow of Empire: Christian Missions, Colonial Policy, and Democracy in Postcolonial Societies’, (doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, 2004)
Woodberry, Robert D., ‘Weber through the Back Door: Protestant Competition, Elite Power Dispersion, and the Global Spread of Democracy’, American Political Science Review, 106 (2012), 244–274
Posner, Daniel N., ‘The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Cleavages: The Case of Linguistic Divisions in Zambia’, Comparative Politics, 35 (2003), 127–146
6 Frykenberg, Robert Eric, ed., Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since 1500, with Special Reference to Caste, Conversion, and Colonialism (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), pp. 1–32
Stanley, Brian, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Leicester: Apollos, 1990)
Bellenoit, Hayden J. A., ‘Missionary Education, Religion and Knowledge in India, c.1880–1915’, Modern Asian Studies, 41 (2007), 369–394
Savage, David W., ‘Missionaries and the Development of a Colonial Ideology of Female Education in India’, Gender and History, 9 (1997), 201–221
7 Tembon, Mercy and Fort, Lucia, eds, Girls’ Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2008), pp. 53–66
Krishna, Anirudh, ‘Enhancing Political Participation in Democracies: What Is the Role of Social Capital?’ Comparative Political Studies, 35 (2002), 437–460
Gleason, Susan, ‘Female Political Participation and Health in India’, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 573 (2001), 105–126
Brown, David S., ‘Democracy and Gender Inequality in Education: A Cross-National Examination’, British Journal of Political Science, 34 (2004), 137–152
Chattopadhyay, Raghabendra and Duflo, Esther, ‘Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India’, Econometrica, 72 (2004), 1409–1443
Beaman, Lori, Duflo, Esther, Pande, Rohina and Topalova, Petia, ‘Women Politicians, Gender Bias, and Policy-Making in Rural India’ (background paper for The State of the World's Children 2007, UNICEF, 2006)
8 Porter, ‘Religion’; Cox, Imperial Fault Lines.
9 Berger, Peter L., The Social Reality of Religion (London: Faber and Faber, 1969)
10 Eisenstadt, S. N., ed., The Protestant Ethic and Modernization: A Comparative View (New York: Basic Books, 1968)
David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor (Little, Brown, 1998)
11 Lipset, Seymour Martin, ‘Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy’, American Political Science Review, 53 (1959), pp. 69–105
Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996)
Stepan, Alfred, ‘Religion, Democracy, and the “Twin Tolerations” ’, Journal of Democracy, 11 (2000), 37–57
Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Thomas Nugent (New York: Hafner Press, 1949)
12 Barro, Robert J., ‘Determinants of Democracy’, Journal of Political Economy, 107 (1999), 158–183
Lipset, Seymour Martin, Seong, Kyoung-Ryung and Torres, John Charles, ‘A Comparative Analysis of the Social Requisites of Democracy’, International Social Science Journal, 45 (1993), 155–175
13 Abernethy, Dynamics of Global Dominance.
14 Bollen, Kenneth A. and Jackman, Robert W., ‘Economic and Noneconomic Determinants of Political Democracy in the 1960s’, Research in Political Sociology, 1 (1985), 27–48
Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael E., Cheibub, José Antonio and Limongi, Fernando, Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Bernhard, Michael, Reenock, Christopher and Nordstrom, Timothy, ‘The Legacy of Western Overseas Colonialism on Democratic Survival’, International Studies Quarterly, 48 (2004), 225–250
Arat, Zehra F., Democracy and Human Rights in Developing Countries (Boulder. Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1991)
Lange, Matthew K., ‘British Colonial Legacies and Political Development’, World Development, 32 (2004), 905–922
Diamond, Larry, Linz, Juan J. and Lipset, Seymour Martin, eds, Democracy in Developing Countries: Asia, Vol. 3 (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989)
Weiner, Myron and Ozbudun, E., eds, Competitive Elections in Developing Countries (Durham, N.C.: AEI/Duke, 1987)
15 Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez de Silanez, Andrei Schleifer and Robert Vishny, ‘The Quality of Government’ (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1998)
Treisman, Daniel, ‘The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study’, Journal of Public Economics, 76 (2000), 399–457
16 Acemoglu, Daron, Johnson, Simon and Robinson, James A., ‘The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation’, American Economic Review, 91 (2001), 1369–1401
17 Banerjee, Abhijit and Iyer, Lakshmi, ‘History, Institutions, and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India’, American Economic Review, 95 (2005), 1190–1213
18 McArthur, John W. and Sachs, Jeffrey, ‘Institutions and Geography: Comment on Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2000)’ (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper no. 8114, 2001)
19 Benavot, Aaron and Riddle, Phyllis, ‘The Expansion of Primary Education, 1870–1940: Trends and Issues’, Sociology of Education, 61 (1988), 191–210
Grier, Robin M., ‘Colonial Legacies and Economic Growth’, Public Choice, 98 (1999), 317–335
Brown, David S., ‘Democracy, Colonization, and Human Capital in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 35 (2000), 20–40
20 Bolt and Bezemer, ‘Understanding Long-Run African Growth’.
21 Young, Lawrence A., ed., Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment (New York: Routledge, 1996)
Gill, Anthony, Rendering unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998)
22 Putnam, Robert, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993)
23 Berger, Social Reality, p. 134
24 Berger, Social Reality, p. 134
25 Berger, Social Reality, p. 138
26 Berger, Social Reality, p. 138
27 Berger, Social Reality.
28 Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. Wright, eds, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (London: Routledge, 1995)
29 Eisenstadt, S. N., ed., The Protestant Ethic and Modernization: A Comparative View (New York: Basic Books, 1968)
Walzer, Michael, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965)
30 Walzer, Revolution of the Saints.
31 Berger, Social Reality.
32 Eisenstadt, ‘Protestant Ethic Thesis’, pp. 15–20
33 Weber, ‘Protestant Sects’, p. 305
34 Trejo, ‘Religious Competition’.
35 Chesnut, R. Andrew, Competitive Spirits: Latin America's New Religious Economy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)
36 Gallego and Woodberry, ‘Christian Missionaries’.
37 Trejo, ‘Religious Competition’.
38 Iannaccone, ‘Rational Choice’.
39 Koch, Fred C., The Volga Germans in Russia and the Americas, from 1763 to the Present (London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977)
40 Bellenoit, ‘Missionary Education’.
41 Frykenberg, Robert Eric, ed., Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since 1500, with Special Reference to Caste, Conversion, and Colonialism (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003)
42 Ramusack, Barbara, ‘Cultural Missionaries, Maternal Imperialists, Feminist Allies: British Women Activists in India, 1865–1945’, Women's Studies International Forum, 13 (1990), 309–321
Kent, Eliza F., ‘Tamil Bible Women and the Zenana Missions of Colonial South India’, History of Religions, 39 (1999), 117–149
43 Nurullah, Syed and Naik, J. P., A History of Education in India (During the British Period) (Bombay: Macmillan, 1951)
44 Mani, Lata, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)
Juergensmeyer, Mark, Religion as Social Vision: The Movement against Untouchability in 20th-Century Punjab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982)
45 Frykenberg, ‘Introduction’; Juergensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision.
46 Nurullah and Naik, History of Education; Frykenberg, ‘Christians in India’.
47 Frykenberg, ‘Christians in India’.
48 Nurullah and Naik, History of Education; Stanley, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries; Frykenberg, ‘Christians in India’.
49 Nurullah and Naik, History of Education.
50 Commission of Inquiry, Village Education in India (London: Oxford University Press, 1920).
51 Nurullah and Naik, History of Education.
52 Kamat, A. R., ‘Women's Education and Social Change in India’, Social Scientist, 5 (1976), 3–27
53 Commission of Inquiry, Village Education.
54 Hutton, J. H., Census of India, 1931, Vol. I (Delhi: Manager of Publications, 1933)
55 Savage, David W., ‘Missionaries and the Development of a Colonial Ideology of Female Education in India’, Gender and History, 9 (1997), 201–221
56 Marten, J. T., Census of India, 1921; Part I –Report, Vol. I (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1924)
57 Hutton, Census of India, 1931.
58 Nossiter, T. J., Communism in Kerala: A Study in Political Adaptation (London: C. Hurst, 1982)
59 Hutton, Census of India, 1931.
60 Census of India, 2001. See http://censusindia.gov.in/.
61 Bayly, Susan, Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700–1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989)
62 Frykenberg, ‘Christians in India’.
63 Mathew, E. T., ‘Growth of Literacy in Kerala: State Intervention, Missionary Initiatives and Social Movements’, Economic and Political Weekly, 34 (1999), 2811–2820
64 Cited in Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy in Kerala’, p. 2814.
65 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy in Kerala’.
66 Desai, Manali, ‘Indirect British Rule, State Formation, and Welfarism in Kerala, India, 1860–1957’, Social Science History, 29 (2005), 457–488
67 Bayly, Muslims and Christians.
68 Desai, ‘Indirect British Rule’, p. 470
69 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy in Kerala’.
70 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy in Kerala’; Ramusack, ‘Cultural Missionaries’.
71 Though some Protestant missionaries defended caste hierarchy in church practice; Frykenberg, ‘Introduction’.
72 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy in Kerala’.
73 Ramusack, ‘Cultural Missionaries’; Forbes, ‘In Search of the “Pure Heathen” ’; Kent, ‘Tamil Bible Women’.
74 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
75 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’, p. 2812
76 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
77 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
78 Sengupta, Parna, ‘An Object Lesson in Colonial Pedagogy’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 45 (2003), 96–121
79 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
80 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
81 Kothari, ed., Caste in Indian Politics (New York: Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers, 1970)
82 Hardgrave, ‘Political Paricipation and Primordial Solidarity’; Juergensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision; Frykenberg, ‘Introduction’.
83 Commission of Inquiry, Village Education.
84 Bayly, Muslims and Christians.
85 Bayly, Muslims and Christians, p. 314
86 Bayly, Muslims and Christians.
87 Kooiman, p. 82, cited in Desai, ‘Indirect British Rule’, p. 477.
88 Bayly, Muslims and Christians, pp. 448
89 Desai, ‘Indirect British Rule’.
90 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’, p. 2815
91 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’, p. 2815
92 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’, p. 2815
93 Bayly, Muslims and Christians; Geoffrey A. Oddie, ‘Constructing “Hinduism”: The Impact of the Protestant Missionary Movement on Hindu Self-Understanding’, in Frykenberg, ed., Christians and Missionaries.
94 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
95 Cited in Desai, ‘Indirect British Rule’, p. 471.
96 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
97 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
98 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’; Hutton, Census of India, 1931.
99 Mathew, ‘Growth of Literacy’.
100 Nossiter, Communism.
101 R. P. Singh and Jayant Kumar Banthia, India Administrative Atlas, 1872–2001: A Historical Perspective of Evolution of Districts and States in India (Delhi: Controller of Publications, 2004).
102 These districts are part of the following administrative territories: Ajmer-Merwara, Assam, Baroda, Bengal proper, Berar, Bihar, Bombay, Central India Agency, Central Provinces, Chota Nagpur, Cochin State, Coorg, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Madras, Mysore, North-West Frontier Province and Punjab, Orissa, Rajputana Agency, Travancore, and United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.
103 Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Pondicherry. Goa, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli were annexed by the Indian government in 1961. Pondicherry was ceded by the French in 1956.
104 Hill, M. Anne and King, Elizabeth M., eds., Women's Education in Developing Countries: Barriers, Benefits, and Policies (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)
105 Plantenga, Janneke, Remery, Chantal, Figueiredo, Hugo and Smith, Mark, ‘Towards an EU Gender Equality Index’ (Vredenburg: Utrecht School of Economics/UMIST, 2001)
Dijkstra, Geske A. and Hanmer, Lucia C., ‘Measuring Socioeconomic Gender Inequality: Towards an Alternative to the UNDP Gender-Related Index’, Feminist Economics, 6 (2000), 41–75
Hausmann, Ricardo, Tyson, Laura D. and Zahidi, Saadia, The Global Gender Gap Report (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2009)
106 Tembon, Mercy and Fort, Lucia, eds, Girls’ Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2008)
Benavot, Aaron, ‘Education, Gender, and Economic Development: A Cross-National Study’, Sociology of Education, 62 (1989), 14–32
Stromquist, Nelly P., ‘Gender Inequality in Education: Accounting for Women's Subordination’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 11 (1990), 137–153
Stromquist, Nelly P., ‘Women and Illiteracy: The Interplay of Gender Subordination and Poverty’, Comparative Education Review, 34 (1990), 95–111
Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
107 Hausmann et al., Global Gender Gap; King and Hill, ‘Women's Education in Developing Countries’.
108 King and Hill, ‘Women's Education in Developing Countries’, p. 19
109 Sen, Amartya, Resources, Values and Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984)
Anand, Sudhir and Sen, Amartya, ‘Gender Inequality and Human Development: Theories and Measurement’ (United Nations, 1995)
110 Sen, Resources; King and Hill, ‘Women's Education in Developing Countries’.
111 In Table 1, colonial status also has a positive and statistically significant effect on female literacy.
112 Hutton, Census of India, 1931, p. 324
113 Missing data on educational expenditure have been supplied from the University of Chicago Digital South Asia Library http://dsal.uchicago.edu/ (15 June 2010).
114 Barro, Bobert, ‘Economic Growth in a Cross-Section of Countries’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 106 (1991), 407–443
Easterly, William and Levine, Ross, ‘Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112 (1997), 1203–1250
115 Acemoglu et al., ‘Colonial Origins’.
116 Hutton, Census of India, 1931.
117 Menon, V. P., Integration of the Indian States (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1985)
Fisher, Michael H., Indirect Rule in India: Residents and the Residency System 1764–1858 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991)
118 Bhagavan, Manu Belur, Sovereign Spheres: Princes, Education, and Empire in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003)
119 Hardgrave, The Nadars; Bayly, Muslims and Christians.
120 Reeve Vanneman and Douglas Barnes, ‘Indian District Data, 1961–1991: machine-readable data file and codebook.’(2000) http://www.inform.umd.edu/~districts/index.html. College Park, Maryland: Center on Population, Gender, and Social Inequality (20 May 2010).
121 We are grateful to Abhijit Banerjee and Lakshmi Iyer for sharing their data.
122 Brown, David S., ‘Reading, Writing, and Regime Type: Democracy's Impact on Primary School Enrollment’, Political Research Quarterly, 52 (1999), 681–707
Stasavage, David, ‘Democracy and Education Spending in Africa’, American Journal of Political Science, 49 (2005), 343–358
Baum, Matthew A. and Lake, David A., ‘The Political Economy of Growth: Democracy and Human Capital’, American Journal of Political Science, 47 (2003), 333–334
Kaufman, Robert R. and Segura-Ubiergo, Alex, ‘Globalization, Domestic Politics, and Social Spending in Latin America: A Time-Series Cross-Section Analysis, 1973–97’, World Politics, 53 (2001), 553–587
123 Beer, Caroline and Mitchell, Neil J., ‘Comparing Nations and States: Human Rights and Democracy in India’, Comparative Political Studies, 39 (2006), 996–1018
Varshney, Ashutosh, ‘Is India Becoming More Democratic?’ Journal of Asian Studies, 59 (2000), 3–25
124 Iyer, Lakshmi, ‘Direct Versus Indirect Colonial Rule in India: Long-Term Consequences’, Review of Economics and Statistics, 92 (2010), 693–713
125 There are missing data on post-colonial educational expenditure in Kashmir.
126 Banerjee and Iyer, ‘History, Institutions, and Economic Performance’.
127 Correlation matrixes for the colonial and post-colonial variables are available from the authors upon request.
128 Harrison, Glen W., ‘House Money Effects in Public Good Experiments: Comment’, Experimental Economics, 10 (2007), 429–437
Zorn, Christopher J. W., ‘Generalized Estimating Equation Models for Correlated Data: A Review with Applications’, American Journal of Political Science 45 (2001), 470–490)
129 MacKinnon, James G., and White, Halbert, ‘Some Heteroskedastic-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimators with Improved Finite Sample Properties’, Journal of Econometrics, 29 (1985), 305–325
130 In this and post-colonial analysis the colonial status variable has not been logged because it is a dummy variable.
131 Banerjee and Iyer, ‘History, Institutions, and Economic Performance’.
132 Banerjee and Iyer, ‘History, Institutions, and Economic Performance’.
133 Andrew R. Chesnut, Competitive Spirits: Latin America's New Religious Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
134 Discussed in Frykenberg, ‘Introduction’, p. 9.
135 Frykenberg, ed., Christians and Missionaries, pp. 127–154
136 Commission of Inquiry, Village Education.
137 Jeffrey, Robin, ‘Governments and Culture: How Women Made Kerala Literate’, Pacific Affairs, 60 (1987), 447–472
Heller, Patrick, ‘Degrees of Democracy: Some Comparative Lessons from India’, World Politics, 52 (2000), 484–519
Subramanian, Narendra, Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization: Political Parties, Citizens, and Democracy in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999)
138 Lipset, Seong and Torres, ‘Comparative Analysis’; Barro, ‘Determinants’. The Appendix Table 4 shows though that colonial status positively affects overall literacy levels in the post-colonial, though not colonial period.
139 Chaudhary, Latika, ‘Determinants of Primary Schooling in British India’, Journal of Economic History, 69 (2009), 269–302
140 Banerjee and Iyer, ‘History, Institutions, and Economic Performance’.
* Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science (email: email@example.com); Economics Department, Power System Engineering, Inc., Madison, Wisconsin, respectively. The authors wish to thank the Editor Kristian Skrede Gleditsch and three anonymous referees for providing extremely useful suggestions for improvement of the draft article, the British Academy and De Montfort University for supplying funding for this research, and the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University for providing access to superb research resources as part of its Visiting Research Fellow Programme. They are particularly grateful to the staff of the Indian Institute of the Bodleian Library for support in conducting research for this project; and also grateful for advice on data and comments on earlier versions of the paper to Ed Morgan-Jones, Michael Phillips and Latika Chaudhary. Jing Pan, Inga Saikkonen and Alisa Voznaya provided excellent research assistance. Appendix tables containing additional information are available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007123412000178
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed