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  • Inger Marie Okkenhaug

The last few decades have seen a rise in the number of studies on Christian missions. These studies are located within a wide range of fields and are written from different perspectives. They tend to abide by national boundaries and to focus on mission organizations and missionaries, not least because of the availability of source material in Western languages. Recent historiography on Christian missions to the Middle East, however, has seen a profound change in approach, methodology, and sources. We can locate three main shifts: a national to a transnational approach, a reevaluation of local agency, and a new emphasis on unintended consequences.

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Inger Marie Okkenhaug is a Professor in the Department of History, Volda University College, Volda, Norway; e-mail:
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1 See Sharkey, Heather J., ed., Cultural Conversions: Unexpected Consequences of Christian Missionary Encounters in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2013); Fleischmann, Ellen, “Living in an ‘Isle of Safety’: The Sidon Female Seminary in World War I and the Constraints of Compassion,” Jerusalem Quarterly 56–57 (2013–14): 4051; Fleischmann, , “‘Under an American Roof’: The Beginnings of the American Junior College for Women in Beirut,” Arab Studies Journal 17 (2009): 6284; Hauser, Julia, German Religious Women in Late Ottoman Beirut: Competing Missions (Leiden: Brill, 2015); and Berg, Heleen Murre-van Den, ed., New Faith in Ancient Lands: Western Missions in the Middle East in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 2006).

2 Rodogno, Davide, Struck, Berhard, and Vogel, Jacob, introduction to Shaping the Transnational Sphere: Experts, Networks and Issues from the 1840s to the 1930s, ed. Rodogno, Davide, Struck, Berhard, and Vogel, Jacob (New York: Berghahn, 2015), 2.

4 Heleen Murre-van Den Berg has also used local sources to analyze interactions between missionaries and local actors. See Berg, Heleen Murre-van Den, “A ‘Good and Blessed Father’: Yonan of Ada on Justin Perkins, Urmia (Iran), 1870,” in Protestant Mission and Local Encounters in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, ed. Nielssen, Hilde, Okkenhaug, Inger Marie, and Skeie, Karina Hestad (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

5 During the 18th and 19th centuries male and female Catholic missionaries established a large number of churches, schools, orphanages, and hospitals in the Middle East. They encountered many of the same issues that met the Protestant missionaries, and they and their mission were similarly impacted by local encounters. See, for example, Heyberger, Bernard, Hindiyya: Mystic and Criminal, 1720–1798: A Political and Religious Crisis in Lebanon (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 2013).

6 See Hilde Nielssen, Inger Marie Okkenhaug, and Karina Hestad Skeie, introduction to Protestant Mission and Local Encounters, 1–22.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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