Thesis

"To love the least of these" : an ethnographic portrait of evangelical humanitarianism

Thesis (M.A., Anthropology)--California State University, Sacramento, 2016.

The world of evangelical humanitarianism is a sprawling social nexus, deeply rooted in Christian history, and constantly evolving on contemporary global scale. Since its earliest days, it has been fraught with cultural, religious, and political-economic tensions. While conventional approaches risk falling short of tapping the currents of meaning that flow under the surface of the humanitarian exchange, I use relational, multi-sited ethnographic analysis to provide an intimate portrait of evangelical humanitarian sensibility. This ethos is embodied by a handful of creative agents who structure their lives around international short-term mission endeavors. By including their voices and conceptual structures built from evangelical mythology, I hope to both capture the intricacy and depth of the evangelical humanitarian worldview, and add flavor to the critical discourse of evangelicalism. 
 Short-term missionaries labor under the weight of heavy scrutiny—the worst of which they inflict upon themselves. The narrative portraits I offer illuminate humanizing inflections of self-awareness, doubt, faith, and resilience. By focusing on social spaces of conflict and negotiation, this thesis explores the subjectivity of these actors suspended between worlds, as they mobilize distant members of the “body of Christ” in the exchange of material, relational, and spiritual meaning. I argue that their position is marginalized, even within the evangelical community—and yet it is also abundantly fruitful. These subjects demonstrate the depths of creativity, grace, and sacrifice required to embody both evangelical and humanitarian identities, in the hope of “loving like Christ,” and uniting the global Church.

The world of evangelical humanitarianism is a sprawling social nexus, deeply rooted in Christian history, and constantly evolving on contemporary global scale. Since its earliest days, it has been fraught with cultural, religious, and political-economic tensions. While conventional approaches risk falling short of tapping the currents of meaning that flow under the surface of the humanitarian exchange, I use relational, multi-sited ethnographic analysis to provide an intimate portrait of evangelical humanitarian sensibility. This ethos is embodied by a handful of creative agents who structure their lives around international short-term mission endeavors. By including their voices and conceptual structures built from evangelical mythology, I hope to both capture the intricacy and depth of the evangelical humanitarian worldview, and add flavor to the critical discourse of evangelicalism. Short-term missionaries labor under the weight of heavy scrutiny—the worst of which they inflict upon themselves. The narrative portraits I offer illuminate humanizing inflections of self-awareness, doubt, faith, and resilience. By focusing on social spaces of conflict and negotiation, this thesis explores the subjectivity of these actors suspended between worlds, as they mobilize distant members of the “body of Christ” in the exchange of material, relational, and spiritual meaning. I argue that their position is marginalized, even within the evangelical community—and yet it is also abundantly fruitful. These subjects demonstrate the depths of creativity, grace, and sacrifice required to embody both evangelical and humanitarian identities, in the hope of “loving like Christ,” and uniting the global Church.

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