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Competitive Religious Entrepreneurs: Christian Missionaries and Female Education in Colonial and Post-Colonial India


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.

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Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science (email:; 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:

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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