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Candace Lukasik, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, UC Berkeley
Transnational Anxieties: Shaping a Minority Community between Egypt and the United States

Hannah Waits, PhD Candidate in History, UC Berkeley
Missionary, Go Home: Contesting the Global Activism of American Evangelicals in the Postcolonial Era

 

This panel explores how subaltern actors and communities have operated within the transnational hegemonic discourses, logics, and imaginaries of white American Protestantism to challenge forms of oppression and advocate for support. In the context of American Protestantism’s global influence and its ambitious worldwide activism, different groups of Christian actors across the Global South in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have marshalled critiques of that hegemony while simultaneously trying to partner with US Protestants to secure protection, resources, or authority.

In “Transnational Anxieties,” Candace Lukasik examines the effects of Coptic Orthodox Christian emigration to the United States since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, focusing on the role of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Egyptian state, and geopolitical conditions in reshaping transnational political subjectivities and religious practices. In the midst of this contemporary shift, Copts have engaged American Protestantism on a variety of fronts—to support political efforts at alleviating “persecution” of Christians in the Middle East, to engage new forms of ecumenicalism, but also to oppose their aesthetic and theological influence. For fieldwork, Lukasik focused on three main arenas between Egypt and the United States in which Copts have adapted to these geopolitical shifts: 1) the education of Coptic youth, 2) mission trips and clerical engagement between Egypt and the United States, and 3) Coptic political activism.

In “Missionary, Go Home,” Hannah Waits traces the 1970s and 1980s global clashes between American evangelical missionaries and missionized communities throughout the Global South that challenged missionaries’ presence, methods, and epistemologies. She outlines the ways that Christians from the Global South voiced their critiques using the language of US evangelicals’ logic of individual conversion—these critics insisted that if missionaries really wanted to evangelize every person on earth, then missionaries should transfer structural and epistemological power to local Christians across the world, who could convert their neighbors far more effectively than racially and culturally foreign missionaries could. Waits also tracks American missionaries’ responses to these criticisms, and shows that by agreeing to some external changes while avoiding core transformations, missionaries embraced racial and cultural diversity while also preserving institutional whiteness within spaces in which Western white dominance was declining.

Together, these presentations point to the ways that minoritized communities have grappled with and tried to exploit the discourses and logics of white US Protestantism in recent decades. By examining those dynamics within the Coptic Orthodox diaspora and US evangelical missionary networks, this panel expands our knowledge of how subaltern groups have harnessed dominant white epistemologies and structures for autonomous ends.