Interview with Emily Conroy-Krutz (Warren Center Visiting Scholar)

This interview was conducted over Zoom on February 2, 2021 between Dr. Emily Conroy-Krutz and Anthony Trujillo. It was transcribed using and edited for accuracy and brevity by both parties.
Anthony Trujillo  Thank you for taking the time today to talk about your work and your experience as a Warren Center faculty fellow this year. As you were anticipating starting the Warren Center program, what were some of the things that you were looking forward to and hoping for? And what have been some of the opportunities that have opened up from being part of this community?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  What I was looking forward to the most was having the time to write in a community. One of the differences between the first book and the second book is that your first book is your dissertation –you have a cohort of people you're talking with about your research on a regular basis. You lose that a little bit when you're doing your second project. I was looking forward to having a space to really be intentionally working alongside people who were interested in similar things and were going through the same process together. What's been amazing to me, considering the virtual shift, is that I do still feel like we have a community and there are people to check in with and to talk with about how things are going. And the conversations about people's work have been so enlightening, and getting to know people a little bit better, and having them get to know my work better has been really exciting. The time has just been wonderful.

Anthony Trujillo  Your first book, Christian imperialism: Converting the World in Early American Republic, and the book you're currently working on, tentatively titled Missionary Diplomacy: Religion and American Foreign Relations in the 19th Century, both look at the central role of missionaries – primarily Protestant – and missionary boards played in the growth of the United States as an imperial power. What is it about the stories, motivations and entanglements of American Protestant missionaries that you find so compelling and important?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  My interest in 19th century American missionaries really comes from finding people in unexpected places. These are really globally-oriented folks in a period that we aren't used to thinking about as global. When I first started working on them in graduate school, it was just like: Who are these people and what are they doing? What I find really compelling about them is the way that they position themselves when they're seen by others as representative of their country and of their government, even when they aren't. The missionaries are the Americans on the ground. If you're talking about Asia, Africa, Middle East, they’re there. There are merchants and sailors, too—but in terms of people who stay long term, the missionaries are the folks who are the face of America to people from those parts of the world in this period. And as I'm exploring in the new book, they're often actually working for and with the government. So even as they try to draw a line between missionary work and government work – and certainly the government tries to do this as well – there are fuzzy areas in between where we see slippage between those categories. It's really, really messy. And the fun of it is in exploring that messiness.

Anthony Trujillo  As you started your research, is there a person or a place that kind of made you like buzz a little?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  Well, let’s see the first one, who got me to actually write my first book was Anne Judson. I was in Laurel Ulrich’s research seminar and was writing a paper on missionary marriage. I had started reading all of these missionary women's memoirs, largely looking at their engagements and why they decided to marry men they largely didn't know. Her story of being on her way to Burma, but then going to India, and then the war of 1812 starting, and then running away from the police, and then eventually ending up in India – it just blew my mind. There was no space for that story in what I had learned about early republican politics. This group of Americans who suddenly find themselves in British India in 1812: what do they do then? Their optimism and self-assuredness and the arrogance of that idea – behind Judson and her husband and everyone else on that boat – is what keeps me compelled with these folks.

Anthony Trujillo  That leads into the next question. The subtitle of your first book is “Converting the World.” How would you describe the world these missionaries looked out upon and sought to convert?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  In terms of what they saw, I actually have a bit in my new book about maps. On the one hand, they are seeing a world that is engaged in a struggle between the kingdom of God and heathenism. And so some of the maps that they will produce use various types of grayscale, between the places that are the Christian world and the places that are the “heathen” world. And this gives us in one sense, a very binary sense of the world. But they also understand a gradation between those two poles. In my first book I talk about the “hierarchy of heathenism” that helps missionaries decide where are they going to go. They're looking for places that have been affected by “civilization,” that have already gone part of the way towards making it to that lighter side of the color scale. And it is, of course, white that they depict as the places that are Christian. And usually that corresponds to a relationship to an Anglo-American Empire. They are coming from a deeply racist world and worldview and they have all kinds of ideas about how racial difference fits into these categories of civilization, and what it would look like to be a good Christian. Race culture, government, gender relations all play into that. And that's the mess, right, is that they see these things are so deeply implicated with each other.

Anthony Trujillo  I'm interested in this relationship between the US diplomatic corps – the official State Department – and the missionaries in terms of placement. Were there significant geographical distinctions in the places where missionaries went and where U.S. diplomats were assigned?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  This is a fabulous question. I'm building up maps to try and trace this out over the course of the century, and this is why I'm taking a longer look at this process from the 1810s to 1920s, to allow for the story of the diplomatic corps to grow and to really become a presence in a lot of these places. In the beginning of the century, there is really not a major American diplomatic presence in the parts of the world missionaries care about the most. There are so few legations early on, and those are mostly concentrated in Europe and, later, Latin America. The consular system is really the story for the 19th century. The consular system is set up to facilitate American commerce around the world. But even then, there's a real gap with where missionaries are focused. Consuls are badly paid (if at all) and there’s a lot of turnover.

So if you're talking about South Asia, East Asia, East Africa, the Middle East, we’ve got missionaries throughout, and they want consuls to call upon when they get into trouble. And what all of that means is that you do have missionaries who will serve as consuls. The story that I'm finding in this book is a constant negotiation over how much say to the missionaries have. Can they pull consuls to them? Are they going to drive American diplomacy? To what extent does the US government have to protect them?

And so what I'm arguing in this book is that, as you have the State Department grow over the course of the 19th century, the relationship between the missions and the state shifts. You go from a period of the earlier part of the century where the missions are really driving a lot of the story – they are the experts, they know the language, they know the people, they are the ones who can sort of tell America what they should care about these places – to, by the end of the century, when the State Department is much bigger, has more experts on the ground and is able to claim that role much more. But you still have this legacy of a really entwined relationship.

Anthony Trujillo  This is a really interesting position to be in as a missionary. On the one hand, you're there preaching and evangelizing, and that's not always well received – in fact, it's often expressly forbidden. But there's also a way in which they're conveying something about the people they are missionizing. I'm curious about how you’re seeing local populations influence the missionaries, who are then influencing diplomats? What's happening there?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  Right. This is the boomerang effect that David Hollinger talks about, and it's happening in this period, too. And it's messy, which is the easiest way to answer. Over the course of the century, you have more and more missionaries who are going to be we're going to be changed and challenged by the world they see.
There's a few things going on here, I think. There’s an individual story that matters here: some people go into mission work prepared to be moved by the people whom they meet. The world they come into is beautiful and complex and has things to teach them just as much as they have to teach others, if not more. There's a generational story: where you have that back and forth over the years—the experiences of older generations will shape the expectations and outlook of their children. And then there are the theological changes, with a shift towards pluralism—though when we’re talking about missionaries, there is a bit of a chicken and egg situation going on here.

Anthony Trujillo  Are there particular moments in which you see instances of rupture or disjuncture between missionaries and the State Department's program or the consular services?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  Definitely. The 1870s and 80s seem to be the turning point. That's when I see State Department increasingly using the phrase “missionary troubles.” Basically, they're talking about moments in which missionaries are breaking laws, or getting themselves into conflicts. In the earlier part of the century, diplomats are sympathetic most of the time, but as problems arise more frequently in the 1870s, that starts to change by the ‘80s, by the ‘90s, and for sure by the time that you get into the Boxer Uprising. After that, you see a public conversation in the US afterwards start to sound like one of the sources I'm taking for a chapter title: “What is a missionary good for anyway?” What are they doing? And what is the point?

Anthony Trujillo  (laughing) That does tie into the topic of your upcoming presentation: “The Rights of Missionaries: Citizenship and International residence in the mid-19th century.” You know, can you give just a brief preview of that and, how you see this topic connecting to the theme of religion and public life, the focus of the Warren Center program this year?

Emily Conroy-Krutz  This chapter looks at a set of questions that missionaries start asking in the 1840s 1950s: whether they retain their citizenship when they go abroad, and if they do – which they do – what does the government have to do to protect them? You're talking about a group of Americans who expect to spend the rest of their lives abroad. So do they then stay a citizen? And what is their relationship to the country? What you see is, the missionaries are asking – and more often demanding – that their rights as U.S. citizens be protected abroad. And they're very clear that they’re not asking for protection as missionaries, but as citizens who are going about their lawful business. And that becomes complicated when your lawful business is to evangelize, potentially in communities that don't want to be evangelized. And so the chapter looks at a couple of different moments in which that that question really rises up.

There is, I think, a really interesting story about Hawaii, where the French show up and threaten to attack the islands if the Hawaiian government doesn't sign a treaty with France. The French send a message to the American ambassador on the islands saying that they will protect Americans – except for missionaries, whom the French understood to be effectively Hawaiians. And in other places around the globe, you have stories of American missionaries who fly the US flag at various points to try and claim protection. The chapter explores what that means. What we see is that all the Americans are in agreement that, yes, American missionaries maintain their citizenship when they leave the country. But what exactly that means, what rights they hold when they're abroad continues to be the question.

Anthony Trujillo  That’s interesting because that's also an injection of American sovereignty into a foreign country.

Emily Conroy-Krutz  Yes, extraterritoriality as a set of legal ideas become super important, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

Anthony Trujillo 
Which is an expansion of empire.

Emily Conroy-Krutz  It is. And the question is how to understand these really complicated questions between the state  and the missions. They are built up together in the mid-19th century. And it's going to take a long, long, long time to undo those interwoven histories.

Anthony Trujillo  Speaking of like taking a long time to undo those interconnections, and how do you see these issues continuing to play out today? 

Emily Conroy-Krutz  Yeah, it continues in different ways. I mean, that if you want to trace the trajectory into the 20th century, there's David Hollinger, Melani McAlister, and Matt Sutton who all look at different aspects of these connections in the 20th century. But the questions I am looking at in the 19th century come up today—if you look John Allen Chau, the missionary to the islands in India who was killed in 2018, or Reverend Andrew Brunson, who President Trump welcomed in the Oval Office after his release from Turkey. We still see missionaries who get themselves in difficult situations abroad, and the question can still come up of what the state is going to do in response.

Another space where you see this is the question of expertise; it is less pronounced now, of course, when there are so many ways to learn about the world. But you do still have missionaries who bring the world home to local churches and communities in America. They still do this as they did in the 19th century, because it still works as a way to inform American Christians about the world and about the causes that the missions care about. The implications are different now, but the ways that information about the world travels, continues to be important.

We can't lose sight of how essential missionaries have been to American engagement with the globe. And we need to include them in our understanding of U.S. diplomacy because they have been, and they continue to be, such powerful figures in representing America in and shaping how Americans to understand the world.

Anthony Trujillo  Well, thank you once again, for taking the time to talk about your work. This is incredibly fascinating. I look forward to reading your chapter and to the conversation next week.

Emily Conroy-Krutz  My pleasure. Thank you. Take care.