The study of Christianity, international relations, and the United States is going through something of a boom period at the moment. Scholars are working to understand how Christians looked at the outside world at various moments in U.S. history, how they understood their actions to be in line with their faith, and their actions shaped both domestic politics and foreign policy. Heather Curtis’ Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid
, published by Harvard University Press in 2018 contributes to this burgeoning field by analyzing what motivated evangelical humanitarian aid in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
To tell this story, Dr. Curtis focuses on one intra-denominational Christian newspaper, the Christian Herald
. Founded in 1878, the Christian Herald
was founded in part out of concern that the American Protestant community was becoming divided over doctrinal disputes and an underlying fear that the Christian identity of the United States was being undermined. International aid for humanitarian causes was one way to evangelize while also uniting American Protestants around a specific issue. The Christian Herald
raised funds for famine relief in India and Russia, humanitarian relief in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and to support Armenians being persecuted in the Ottoman Empire. Curtis also notes the tension between the Christian Herald
and the American Red Cross as both organizations sought to become the premier relief organizations in the U.S.
By focusing on the Herald
, Curtis sheds light on the occasionally contradictory motives that informed this aid, unveiling a tension between cosmopolitan charity that sought to provide help to anybody, and a kind of “tribal charity” that went to people who were similar to the benefactors. She highlights how techniques of publicizing catastrophes were refined, particularly the emphasis on suffering victims (as well as criticisms of those techniques coming from afflicted regions). Lastly, she exposes ongoing debates as to what it meant to be an American and a Christian.
Zeb Larson is a PhD Candidate in History at The Ohio State University. His research is about the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.