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Missionaries, Anthropologists, and Human Rights

A special theme issue of the journal Missiology

Guest editor: Thomas N. Headland, Summer Institute of Linguistics
General editor: Darrell L. Whiteman, Asbury Theological Seminary

In 1994 the President of the American Anthropological Association called for a special symposium titled "Missionaries and Human Rights." This two-day Presidential Session was held at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the AAA in December 1994, with 17 speakers presenting papers. Media reports on that symposium were published in over one hundred newspapers in the USA and overseas in early 1995.

In May (1996) the American Society of Missiology published several of those papers as a special theme issue of their journal Missiology: An International Review (vol. 24, no. 2). While avoiding polemics, opposing authors in this 108-page debate argue both for and against the Western Christian mission enterprise.

The volume begins with a powerful essay by James Peacock, the recent past President of the American Anthropological Association; a final chapter is a bibliographic goldmine of 53 annotated key references on the history of the anthropologist-versus-missionary conflict.


Roberto Benedito -- Filipino, lawyer, Ph.D. in anthropology; Chair, Human Rights Desk, Philippine Anthropological Association, and assistant professor at U of the Philippines; discusses missionaries and human rights among Philippine tribal peoples.

Randall Borman -- Ecuadorian, president of Organizacion Indigena de Nacionalilad Cofan del Ecuador; has led human rights demonstrations in Quito; his story featured in Life Magazine (Sept. '93) and on CBS television's "America Tonight" in June 1994; discusses human rights issues affecting the Cofan people and the role missionary organizations have played.

Ricardo Falla -- Guatemalan, Ph.D. in anthropology; member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits); pastoral work in the war zone of Quiche, Guatemala; describes his experience as a missionary priest.

Thomas Headland -- American, Ph.D. in anthropology; member of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and adjunct professor at U of Texas/Arlington; reviews the history of the missionary/anthropologist ambivalence and the positive and negative roles missionaries have played in social justice in frontier areas.

Thomas Moore -- American, Ph.D. in sociology; associate professor of sociology at Asbury College; analyzes the rhetoric of "human rights."

James Peacock -- American, Ph.D. in anthropology, professor of anthropology, U of N. Carolina, Chapel Hill; President of the American Anthropological Association 1993-95; writes an anthropologist's commentary on this issue.

Allyn Stearman -- American, Ph.D. in anthropology; professor of anthropology, U of Central Florida; discusses her development work among the Yuquí and the role of the New Tribes Mission.

Jeffrey Webster -- American, M.A. in linguistics; member of Summer Institute of Linguistics, main compiler of the annotated bibliography, reviews 53 key references on relationships between missionaries and anthropologists.

Darrell Whiteman -- American, Ph.D. in anthropology; professor of anthropology, Asbury Theological Seminary; describes how missionaries were at the forefront in protecting Melanesians against the human rights abuses of the South Pacific labor trade.


1. "Missionaries, Anthropologists, and Human Rights: An Anthropological Commentary" by James Peacock
2. "Missionaries and Social Justice" by Thomas Headland
3. "Better Fed Than Dead" by Allyn Stearman
4. "South Pacific Labor Trade" by Darrell Whiteman
5. "Survival in a Hostile World" by Randall Borman
6. "Emerging Standard on Indigenous People's Rights" by Roberto Benedito
7. "Massacres in the Jungle" by Ricardo Falla
8. "Human Rights & Christian Missions" by Thomas Moore
9. "Conflicts Between Missionaries and Anthropologists: An Annotated Bibliography" by Jeffrey Webster and Thomas Headland.

Highly recommended as a supplementary text for courses in anthropology, culture change, sociology, religion, Third World issues, and missiology.