Imagine the scenario: A missionary is dropped into a completely foreign context, tasked with making a case for Christianity (i.e.“converting” the indigenous population), and then regularly writes reports back to his or her sponsoring organization. Even if the missionary has learned the local dialect, how much of the story might be “lost in translation,” not only through deficiencies in language, but through a lack of understanding of the culture and history of the people in question?

That scenario has led Arun W. Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism, to gather scholars of world Christianity to probe the historical record of native Christians in an all-day conference titled “Can the Native Christian Speak? Discerning the Voices of Indigenous Christians in Missionary and Colonial Archives,” Wednesday, May 28 at Emory. Register online

The conference will discuss the largely unexplored topic of the lack of indigenous Christian perspectives in primary sources scholars use for historical research, and how that gap can skew the lens through which a people’s story is viewed.

Jones says he began to notice a poor representation of the native Christian’s voice during his own research for a forthcoming book on the history of the church in North India in the 19th and 20th centuries. When he asked other historians if they had noticed the same gap, he discovered a recurring theme that spurred his interest in developing the conference.

“After contacting many colleagues who were engaged in similar research, I realized this was a universal problem,” says Jones. “As a result, there has been a real excitement for a conference such as this one, that will delve into the barriers to accurate historical research.”

The conference panel will feature historical scholars on each of three geographical areas: Asia, Africa and the Americas. Each scholar will present a summary paper, and then the scholars and the audience will engage in discussion to provide feedback and perspective on the issue. 

The scholars’ papers will be published in a forthcoming book edited by Jones.

“The goal is to shed light on how different the writing of history is for different communities, and to bring awareness of the pitfalls in the histories of indigenous cultures around the world,” says Jones.

“It’s my hope that the conference will also provide a new set of tools for writing these histories, and encourage those who research not to give up on finding the authentic voice.”

Participating scholars


Jay Carney, Creighton University
Paul Kollman, University of Notre Dame
Dianne Diakité, Emory University


Adrian Hermann, L. Maximilians University, Munich, Germany
Mrinalini Sebastian, Independent Scholar, Philadelphia, Penn.
Haruko Nawata Ward, Columbia Theological Seminary

Latin/Native America:

Yanna Yannakakis, Emory University
Kenneth Mills, University of Toronto
Christopher Vecsey, Colgate University

Respondents to papers:
Gyanendra Pandey, Emory University
Dana Robert, Boston University

The conference is Wednesday, May 28 from 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. at the Emory University Conference Center and Hotel and is open to all. Cost is $10 for the general public, $5 for students. Registration includes breakfast, lunch and a snack.

Click here for more details and to register.