Translating Race: Mission Hymns and the Challenge of Christian Identity

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“Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race,” “The race that long in darkness pined,” “To heal and save a race undone,” and “Sanctify a ransomed race” are a few examples of many references to “race” that exist in English-language hymnody. Throughout the nineteenth-century, hymns containing lines such as these, were exported from Britain into mission fields where translators had to find new ways to conceptualize notions of race and, in effect, created new group identities. This requires asking critical questions about the implications of what happened when ideas of race, in the Christian sense, interacted with non-religious notions of race in the colonial contexts where these missions were established, how ideas of race had to be rethought and were received in the colonial settings where missions were often established. Accordingly, this article explores the different notions of race expressed in English-language hymnody and, with reference to specific examples from various settings around the world, to show how missionary translators dealt with notions of race, how the term was expressed in Indigenous languages, how ideas of race were received and understood, and the implications this had for the creation of new Christian communities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)90-103
Number of pages14
JournalYale Journal of Music and Religion
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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