Cuttino Scholars Travel the World
 

The George P. Cuttino scholarship is a substantial grant awarded to a junior history major to design and carry out a historical research project in a foreign country during the summer between the junior and senior year. In summer 2000, two history majors used Cuttino scholarships to travel literally around the globe. We asked them to describe their experiences.

ABORIGINES IN AUSTRALIA.

Robert Rutland-Brown from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is a double major in history and psychology. After graduating in May, 2001, he plans either to teach or to work at a non-profit job next year.

This past summer I spent six weeks studying and traveling in Australia, thanks to the Cuttino Scholarship of Emory’s history department. I wanted to investigate the interaction between the Christian missionaries and the Aborigines. I spent time in state libraries in Sydney and Melbourne, university campuses such as the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, and Melbourne University. I also traveled into the interior of the country to Alice Springs where I gained some information on the Aborigines.

When I left for Australia, I was not certain what I wanted to research. My background as a Methodist minister’s son and personal experience with missionary efforts spurred my interest in the missionary aspect of Australia’s history. My curiosity about the Aborigines of Australia caused me to look into the interaction between these two groups.

What I learned both fascinated and disturbed me. The Christian missionaries were quite unsuccessful in converting the Aborigines. Although efforts to teach the Gospel to the Natives began formally on the continent as early as 1799, Aboriginal resistance was strong. The isolation of the Aborigines for over 30,000 years as well as the nomadic tendencies of the Natives were factors that frustrated the missionary efforts. Furthermore, because the Aborigines’ spirituality was tightly linked to their relationship with the land and to their entire culture, it was difficult for the missionaries to impose a new religion.

The missionaries carried with them an attitude of selfishness, superiority, and inflexibility that influenced their interactions with the Aborigines. This attitude was an underlying obstacle to successful conversion, and even worse, it contributed to the deterioration of Aboriginal society. The Aborigines were taught by the Christians that their traditions were bad and their spirituality was wrong. The natives lost their land and their self-determination to the Europeans, and the missionaries stripped them of their self worth.

What I learned from my research in Australia caused me to feel somewhat angry toward the missionaries, although one must remember that a sense of cultural relativism was not common in their day. In addition, the Christians saw themselves as saving the Aborigines from hell.

I am very appreciative to have had the opportunity to research abroad something of interest to me. I have learned a tremendous amount through my trip to Australia and through my continued work on my senior history honors thesis on this topic.

LIBERATION IN SOUTH AFRICA

Eric DeSobe, from Houston, Texas, is also graduating in May. After graduation he plans to join Teach for America (the national teaching corps) in Los Angeles for a two year program, then he will complete a Masters of Theological Studies at Harvard.

Stanley Mogoba, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, told people gathered at the opening service of the World Council of Churches central committee meeting in Johannesburg in January 1994 that “Christianity has compromised with war for too long.” Mogoba’s comment reflects a growing attitude in Methodist Conferences worldwide: not decisively resisting governmental oppression is the same as supporting it.

Mogoba's words cover a wide scope of religious history, and Methodist history in particular. As one of the winners of the George P.Cuttino Scholarship I studied one aspect of that history in Cape Town, South Africa. My research focused on the Methodist response in South Africa to the World Council Churches' Programme to Combat Racism. The PCR challenged Christians across the world, and particularly Methodists in South Africa, to ask two important questions: precisely when (or whether) armed struggle could be theologically justified and did the financial support of WCC member churches, as put forth in the PCR, only enlarge coffers of terrorists not concerned with liberation.

By examining Methodist Conference meeting resolutions and minutes from 1955-1975, I found it possible to sketch the evolution of Methodist policy on this issue. Moreover, the Methodist Conference newspaper, The Dimension, provides numerous editorials, Conference summary articles and letters to the editor dealing with the PCR specifically and the role of violence in Christian theology more generally. Finally, records from Rosebank United Methodist Church in Cape Town shed light, albeit dim, on what one small, Methodist church thought of the PCR and the increasingly oppressive government policies that prompted the WCC to adopt the PCR.

Together, these sources show the tense and heated arguments supporting both sides of the PCR debate and the Methodist Conference’s attempt at constructing a compromise plan. The records also reveal the beginning threads of contextual theology in a South African context. Early arguments for this type of theology developed during church debates over violence and participatory politics. Contextual theology would not become influential until the 1980s, yet its formation had a strong impact on debates regarding the PCR. Ultimately, the Methodist Conference did not participate in the PCR program, and would not fund "liberation" organizations in South Africa until a decade later.

The eight weeks in Cape Town sharpened my academic senses and expanded my own self-awareness. I lived in a three room flat with two other roommates (four if you count their “significant others”). Both of them grew up in South Africa, one in a Coloured township and the other in a black area of the city. They answered my incessant questions, cooked me good food and eased my transition to a new culture. These types of relationships were not hard to come by. My co-workers at the Research Institute of Christianity in South Africa at the University of Cape Town also deepened my perspective about the country and its people.

A word of advice from my boss before I left led me to post-graduate plans. He suggested that after graduation I try to do something that taught what it meant to be human. Heeding his advice, I applied and was accepted to Teach for America, a two year Americore program that sends college graduates to under-resourced schools. After that, I will pursue my interest in South African religion and politics at Harvard Divinity School.