Strangers in a strange land: the rise and demise of the early LDS Japan mission, 1901-24 Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Neilson, Reid Larkin
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • I begin this dissertation by employing the themes of mapping, meeting, and migration to explore nineteenth century encounters between the Latter-day Saints and Asia. There were a number of interpersonal meetings between both American religious groups and East Asians. As missionaries, travelers, and residents of the American West, the Mormons were able to interact with and evaluate a number of Chinese and Japanese at home and abroad. Migration illuminates how the Mormons and Protestants interacted with East Asian immigrants in America. In chapter two, I document that by the turn of the twentieth century LDS Church leaders determined to shift some of their church's evangelistic resources from North America and Western Europe to the nations of East Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe. But they did not feel the need to adapt their missionary program to non-Christian, non-Western peoples. The Japan Mission, which lasted from 1901 until 1924, overlapped the heyday of the American Protestant foreign missionary enterprise. But the Mormons and Protestants employed different evangelistic approaches. The Mormons had developed a unique method of evangelism in the Protestant North American and Western European historical context, which I call the "Euro-American missionary model." In chapter three I argued that the Mormons felt like strangers in a strange land in Japan. They were uncertain how to missionize the Japanese who came from such different cultural and religious backgrounds. Unlike the Protestants who stressed education and social welfare efforts, the Latter-day Saints emphasized personal contacting and the dissemination of Christian literature. When the Mormons tried to modify their traditional evangelistic practices they ended up mostly entertaining the Japanese. After nearly two and a half decades of sluggish missionary results in Japan, president Heber J. Grant determined to close his church's only Asian mission. I argue that the LDS wholesale transplant of the Euro-American missionary model to Japan was largely responsible for the mission's dismal results and closure. The homogeneity of the missionaries' personal backgrounds, lack of missionary preparation, and costly financial burdens, together with the church's relative neglect of the Japan Mission's need for human resources, compounded these problems.
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  • In Copyright
  • Maffly-Kipp, Laurie F.
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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