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Missionaries of the State, Missionaries of the State, 0817315152, 0-8173-1515-2, 978-0-8173-1515-3, 9780817315153,

Missionaries of the State
The Summer Institute of Linguistics, State Formation, and Indigenous Mexico, 1935-1985
by Todd Hartch

2006. 272 pp.
No illus.
Price:  $44.95 s

An account of American missionary activity abetted by Mexican nationalists.
Lázaro Cárdenas, president of Mexico 1934–40, is widely remembered as the most nationalistic and populist Mexican executive and was demonized by foreign investors scandalized by his nationalization programs, particularly in the oil industry. Less well known are his efforts to ‘Mexicanize’ indigenous populations and to reduce the power of the conservative Catholic hierarchy by encouraging anti-clericalism and Protestant evangelical activity. Common aims therefore united Cárdenas and Cameron Townsend, an American Protestant missionary.
With the support of Cárdenas and like-minded Mexican officials, Townsend formed the Summer Institute of Linguistics, or SIL, a training school for Protestant missionaries who undertook to learn indigenous languages and to translate the Bible into those tongues. The official justification of this project was that the Indians’ new vernacular literacy would serve as a bridge to learning Spanish and thus to assimilation into the larger national population. If at the same time Townsend’s linguists also served as evangelists of a fundamentalist form of Protestantism, so much the better; in doing so, the SIL effort would undermine the Catholic hierarchy, which was seen as a rival of the Mexican state and its plans for secular national development.
This unusual yet enduring alliance of a national government not known for friendship to foreigners and an unlikely collection of North Americans who united scholarship, political savvy, and religious zeal is this book’s topic. The author relates the development of the SIL from its close association with official Mexico in the early 1930s to the late 1970s, when a growing anti-SIL alliance led by a new generation of Mexican anthropologists induced the Mexican government to curtail its support for the SIL.
Hartch contributes objectivity to a topic that has been dominated by the polemics of either SIL supporters or opponents, recognizing the self-interest that actuated all parties, but also acknowledging that SIL, whether or not it meant to, empowered and enriched many indigenous communities through the provision of literacy. 

Todd Hartch is Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Eastern Kentucky University.

"Historian Hartch (Eastern Kentucky Univ.) traces the rise, fall, and rise again of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) in Mexico. William Cameron Townsend, a Protestant American missionary, founded SIL in 1934 with the goal of translating the New Testament into Mexican indigenous languages. The group, known as Wycliffe Bible Translators to their benefactors in the US, achieved an unusual degree of cooperation from the Mexican government. By 1951, the Secretariat of Public Education formalized the relationship by effectively turning the missionaries into the state department of linguistics. Using evidence from archives in both the US and Mexico, Hartch makes a convincing case that SIL achieved acceptance from a nationalistic government through a concerted charm campaign as well as a fortuitous overlap of goals. Following the fortunes of SIL reveals insights about the Mexican state's campaign to integrate its indigenous population. SIL's eventual expulsion illustrates the role of social scientists in shaping official policy. Hartch offers only a glimpse of how the targeted populations themselves reacted to missionary presence, but indicates that the effects were far from what either SIL or the government intended. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty."

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