Robert Woodberry: The World the Missionaries Made

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Christianity has profoundly shaped what we consider to be modernity.

What kind of impact have missionaries made on the world? Have they harmed the world by merely exporting western values, or have they improved the world? Robert Woodberry addressed these questions and more in a lecture for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture.

By examining historical patterns and statistics between 1820 and 1920, he explains how missionaries have influenced healthcare, education, printing, social reform, economic development and democracy.

Missionaries made an overall positive impact, he argues. For example, Christians were the first to pursue educational opportunities for all people, regardless of their socio-economic status. They brought mass printing to places that had never had it.

“Christianity has profoundly shaped what we consider to be modernity,” Woodberry said.

Woodberry is the director of the Project on Religion and Economic Change, associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore and visiting fellow at the University of Notre Dame. His research uses both historical and statistical methods to analyze the long-term effects of Protestant and Catholic missionaries on the societies where they worked.

Woodberry’s works can be found in “The American Political Science Review,” “Social Forces,” “American Sociological Review” and “Journal of Democracy.” He received awards from the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, the Association for the Sociology of Religion,and the Excellent Research Award from the National University of Singapore for his research on the social impact of missions.

Woodberry delivered his lecture on April 23, 2015, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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Center for Faith and Culture

The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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