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Empire, Mission, Ecumenism, and Human Rights: “Religious Liberty” in Egypt, 1919–1956

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2014


Historians identify many connections between human rights and religion, including the influence of religious organizations on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Protestant ecumenical movement and American Protestantism played important roles in this regard. Historical analysis has so far taken insufficient account of another contemporaneous phenomenon important in terms both of religion and of rights—the British Empire. Its authorities typically offered a “fair field” to Christian missionaries irrespective of their nationality or denomination. They might also offer protection to religious minorities. In Egypt the situation was complicated. An Islamic country and a vital part of Britain's “informal” empire in the Middle East, Egypt was also an important area of missionary activity. To Egyptian government and British imperial representatives alike missionaries asserted their right and that of Christian converts to “religious liberty.” Focusing in part on Anglican mission in Egypt, this article examines the complex interplay of empire and Anglo-American ecumenism in missionary assertion of religious freedom. It also shows how imperialism and debates about “religious liberty” in Egypt and the Middle East influenced both “universal” and Egyptian national ideas about freedom of religion up to 1956.

Copyright © American Society of Church History 2014 

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