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Beyond the Book

232 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, notes, bibl., index

ISBN  978-1-4696-1893-7
Published: August 2014

The Gospel of Freedom and Power

Protestant Missionaries in American Culture after World War II

By Sarah E. Ruble

In the decades after World War II, Protestant missionaries abroad were a topic of vigorous public debate. From religious periodicals and Sunday sermons to novels and anthropological monographs, public conversations about missionaries followed a powerful yet paradoxical line of reasoning, namely that people abroad needed greater autonomy from U.S. power and that Americans could best tell others how to use their freedom. In The Gospel of Freedom and Power, Sarah E. Ruble traces and analyzes these public discussions about what it meant for Americans abroad to be good world citizens, placing them firmly in the context of the United States' postwar global dominance.

Bringing together a wide range of sources, Ruble seeks to understand how discussions about a relatively small group of Americans working abroad became part of a much larger cultural conversation. She concludes that whether viewed as champions of nationalist revolutions or propagators of the gospel of capitalism, missionaries--along with their supporters, interpreters, and critics--ultimately both challenged and reinforced a rhetoric of exceptionalism that made Americans the judges of what was good for the rest of the world.

About the Author

Sarah E. Ruble is assistant professor of religion at Gustavus Adolphus College.


"Recommended. Graduate students and researchers/faculty."

“Ruble’s readable analysis of the dilemmas inherent in what is often cast as benevolence reaches out to historians of culture, foreign policy, and religion, and complicates the claims of all who presume to advocate for a 'gospel of freedom.'”
--Journal of American History

“A fine study of what various Americans have thought and said about missionaries and freedom. . . . Ruble brings to light an important insight about American culture.”
--American Historical Review

"Part history, part American studies, and part literary culture, this book has the potential to recast many preconceptions about the links between missions and larger issues. Ruble has marshalled her many sources to create a sophisticated book that is unique in its field."
--Daniel H. Bays, Calvin College

"Very well written. Ruble goes beyond standard intellectual documents to look at sources from small denominational newspapers and local sermons to make a valuable contribution to ongoing conversations about national power, gender, religion, and popular culture."
--Melani McAlister, The George Washington University

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