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ABSTRACT

Prelude to Irony: The Princeton Theology and the Practice of American Presbyterian Missions in Northern Siam, 1867-1880
by
Herbert R. Swanson

Protestant Christianity first arrived in northern Siam in 1867, when the Rev. Dan-iel and Sophia McGilvary, American Presbyterian missionaries, moved their family to Chiang Mai, the chief city of the region, and founded a new mission, known as the "Laos Mission." After a brief period of evangelistic success, the mission experienced a period of persecution and repression that severely limited its growth. It only slowly managed to establish itself on a permanent basis in a process that lasted until roughly 1880. In the course of its work, the mission failed to contextualize its message and methods, with the apparent result that only a relatively small number of northern Thais converted to Christianity. This study investigates the reasons behind the Laos Mission's rejection of contextualization. Its thesis is that the mission drew on a "system of meanings and doctrines" to shape its work, which system led it to shun contextualization, and that the writings of the Princeton circle of theologians help demonstrate the relationship of that system to missionary behavior and strategies. The Princeton Theology was related to the Laos Mission in two ways. First, the two leading members of the mission both graduated from Princeton Seminary, and their records reveal generally close parallels with their mentors at Princeton. Second, the other pioneer members of the mission did not show such direct parallels, but their work and writings indicate that they shared Princeton's orthodox evangelical theological and ideological orientation.

After discussing the historical background of the Laos Mission (Chapter I) and its relationship to the Princeton Theology (Chapter II), the dissertation outlines the system of doctrines and meanings shared by the missionaries and Princeton theologians (Chapter III). That system begins with a set of assumed theological principles drawn from Reformed confessionalism and Common Sense Philosophy, which principles informed their piety and led them to emphasize the apologetical defense of their faith. Their shared system of doctrines and meanings was a closed, dualistic system that drew clear boundaries between truth and falsehood, faith and impiety, and Christianity and heathenism. It was a "scholastic" system that utilized an epistemological approach to establish its own ability to know God and the truth. A survey of the history of the mission's evangelistic and medical work (Chapter IV), work with its converts (Chapter V), and educational activities (Chapter VI) confirms the thesis of the dissertation. The Laos Mission carried out its work on the basis of a closed system of doctrines and meanings that encouraged it to preserve the Western, alien form and content of the Christian faith it brought with it from the United States.

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