Religious Self and Identity of German Protestant Missionaries

Religious Self and Identity of German Protestant Missionaries

It seems obvious that the Christian religion is intrinsically intertwined with the missionary assignment and that the gradual and strategic alterations of the others initiated by missionaries are based on a long tradition of historical experiences. Despite this matter the missionaries’ experiences of cultural difference, foreignness, alterity in intercultural contexts combined with the transformation of personal self and the interwoven learning processes have scarcely been the subject of empirical studies. This empirical research at hand links scientific perspectives on the psychology of religion with the interest in intercultural communication by specifically concentrating on the intercultural actions and learning behavior of German Protestant missionaries before, during and after their mission activities. The underlying research approach is located within a hermeneutical, interpretive framework of the psychology of religion empirically grounded on the action theory and the science of experience. Between 2004 and 2005 five German Protestant missionaries were interrogated by means of the narrative-biographical interview method on their furlough (each for approximately 2 up to 4 hours). The autobiographical narratives of the interview partners supplied a rich fund of substantial experiences, events and themes ranging from motivational factors for their religious mission over experiences during their activities to postmission reflections. The evaluation of these autobiographical narratives is based on an interpretative, comparative analysis and draws on action-theoretical and culturepsychological orientated textual interpretation, the documentary method and finally thegrounded theory. The meaningful actions and orientations, experiences and expectations, which are ›pragmasematically‹ (pragmasemantisch; Straub, 1999) interwoven with the religious mission of spreading one’s own religious beliefs, are culture-specific and at the same time characterized by one’s own personal biography. This research aims at differentiating certain types of missionary action and religious practice of everyday. Possible differentiations within these types are as well as concern of this empirical study. The results of the interpretive analysis illustrate how the German Protestants’ mission activities and their modes of experience are intertwined with the aspiration of (religious) self-realization. These are on the one hand portrayed in a narrative form as psychical activity and creativity. On the other hand they strive for an individual way of life which is best depicted as a discrepancy between their self-abandonment in their charity service for others and the realization of their strategic missionary goals. Despite some restrictions concerning the practical implementation of this research, the cultural-comparative investigation of missionary actions based on the interpretative, action-theoretical and experience-theoretical orientated, empirical psychology of religion reveals a promising research perspective. This theoretical and methodological framework facilitates the sensitization for the complexity and diversity of individual religiosity and spirituality. Besides that it counteracts research deficiencies regarding posited cultural differences and cultural conflicts.

Publications: Arnold, M. (2010). Das religiöse Selbst in der Mission: Eine kulturpsychologische Analyse missionarischen Handelns deutscher Protestanten. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovač. (ISBN: 3-8300-5056-9)

Close Menu

Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.