Holy Humanitarians: American Protestants and Global Aid

Team Members/Contributors

Heather D. Curtis Tufts University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

Holy Humanitarians analyzes the complexities and contests that have characterized American Protestant encounters with, attitudes about, and responses to suffering in global contexts. Focusing primarily on the period between 1880 and 1945, this project aims to provide crucial historical background for a range of current debates about the meaning and practice of Christian charity in an increasingly interconnected world. By analyzing how American Protestants in an earlier era of globalization dealt with various forms of trauma they encountered overseas, Holy Humanitarians exposes the tensions that have often accompanied attempts to transmit Christian ethical ideals across territorial borders, social barriers, and cultural boundaries. From the 1880s through WWII, missionaries frequently found themselves working among communities caught up in the throes of violent political conflict, intense economic crisis, or catastrophic natural disaster. Studying the strategies missionaries employed to cope with these calamities on the ground while encouraging their supporters at home to respond to distant suffering elucidates enduring political, ethical, and theological concerns about the relationship between Christian almsgiving and American empire-building. Recent deliberations about the ethics of the aid industry, the propriety of faith-based diplomacy, and the ongoing entanglement of humanitarian intervention with American imperialism indicate that many of the contentious questions that vexed an earlier generation of Christian philanthropists remain relevant – and unresolved. By exploring how Protestants influenced, debated, and sometimes resisted the extension of American aid (and imperialism) abroad prior to WWII, this project seeks to place the complex challenges that bedevil contemporary humanitarianism in broader critical perspective and in so doing to foster fruitful dialogue about the nature and significance of Christian charity in our own globalizing age.

Image Title Year Type Contributor(s) Other Info
Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid 2018 Book Heather D. Curtis