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How Christian Missions Spread Democracy

This article examines the correlation between Christian missions and the spread of democracy, particularly Protestants who went to British colonies. This diffusion of innovation, or the spread of a new idea, technology, or practice through a social network, resulted from the missionaries’ focus on educating the indigenous people in these colonies and teaching them new tactics for civil organization. These missionaries set up systems in the colonies which built the basis for democratic societies, respecting the indigenous people who lived there rather than forcing their views upon them. The spread of information was crucial in building these democratic societies because the missionaries gave them resources and knowledge, setting up schools and teaching them how to read their own Bibles (which they mass printed and distributed in mass quantities).

People make decisions within a social structure, usually in their local area or neighborhood, based off what their neighbors, friends, or colleagues are doing. At an individual level, it is possible that the indigenous people in these colonies decided to adopt Christianity and/or democracy as a result of informational effects or direct-benefit effects. An example of informational effects in this situation is if people saw their neighbors going to school or reading a Bible and thought that the Protestant missionaries must have some valuable knowledge they should acquire. A direct benefit, on the other hand, of joining neighbors or friends could have been the sense of belonging gained from going to church or the tight community of school.

Christianity and democracy must have had the appropriate amount of complexity, so that the indigenous people could understand the ideas and stories in the Bible and how a democratic government works. These new practices must have also had high enough observability, so that others in the community could see their friends and neighbors practicing Christianity and adopting democratic ideals, and want to join them. Trialability must have been a factor as well, so that community members could try out different religious practices and types of governance, adapting gradually to this new system. Lastly, Christian and democratic values had to have been compatible enough with the indigenous people’s inherent values so that they would be open to such new ideas.

Source: http://thefederalist.com/2015/08/21/christian-missions-and-the-spread-of-democracy/

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