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Lecture note for BD IV- Rev. P.C. Vanlalhruaia

Course Code: BHC04 - Role of Women in the History of Christianity

I. Introduction: Seeing history through the eyes of women, Feminist historiography, Silencing in
history- how women have been excluded/neglected in the writings of history of Christianity.

1. What is history?

• History in Greek “historia” means an enquiry, research, investigation and exploration, and also
the result of such an enquiry.

• For centuries history was thought to be a record of facts & Was treated as a catalogue of events
chronologically serialized in a descriptive manner

• These were not history; they were statements about the past. They neither answer questions
nor were the result of scientific study.

• In the late 19th century German philosophers (like Dilthey) began to challenge the primacy of
facts in history.

• Croce argued ‘All history is contemporary history’. He propounded that the main job of the
historian was not to record but to evaluate.

• E.H. Carr- “a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending
dialogue between the present and the past.” He gave importance to interpretation of facts &
said the selected facts need to be interpreted to become history.

• Thus, writing history involves

-Investigating events -Finding facts with authentic evidences & -Interpreting those events in a
way relevant to the present

2. Development that leads to feminist historiography with spl. Ref. to History of Christianity in India

2.1 Colonial Mission Historiography

• Written by Western missionaries working in India and not Indians

• Main purpose was to stimulate and enlighten their Western readers

• Not from the perspective or for the enlightenment of the Indian Christians.

• To demonstrate the need for mission they stressed its successes and challenges.

• Exaggerated/misinterpreted the alleged depravity and superstition promoted by the traditional

Indian religion, particularly Hinduism.

• Devalued the social, religious and cultural values of the colonized people and

• Wrote history from European imperialistic perspectives.

• Exaggerated the achievements of western missions and

• Minimized/ignored the contribution of the indigenous Christians

2.2 Institutional Historiography

• From 1930’s Indian Christians began to realize the need to write the history of Christianity in
India from an Indian perspective.

• Indian Christian historians have identified the inadequacies of earlier histories and cultural bias
of the Europeans.

• 3 factors led this new stream of historiography.

-The mounting Indian nationalism

-The formation of the CHAI in 1935

-Church union movements in North and South India which made the Indian Christians
curious about their history

2.3 CHAI Historiography

• By 1960s a shift from institutional history was attained through the inspiration and initiatives of
Kaj Baago.

• CHAI rejected the western church expansion perspectives of the mission histories and the
more institutional ‘Church history’ approach

• Favored the socio-cultural history of the Christian community in India. Basically focuses on the
social and cultural perspective of history.

• Its perspective is wide-ranging dealing inclusively with all the characteristics of Christianity and
its correlation to other religious and secular movements.

• But CHAI is not always beyond criticisms. Sometimes CHAI history has even been branded as
‘discriminative or bias’ by certain quarters.

2.4 Cotemporary Historiographies

• In the context of all these earlier insufficient historical schools of thought different
contemporary perspectives and methodologies have emerged. Perspectives such as Post-
colonial theory, Subaltern, Dalit, Tribal and Feminist have influenced many recent works on the
history of Christianity in India.

• These contextual methodologies and historiographies have challenged the writings of history of
Christianity in India in the 20 th century and provided new tools to analyze the history from
diverse perspectives.

3. Feminist Hisoriography

• History, thus far has been viewed as the history of men and this approach to history give a
twisted interpretation of history.

• Feminist historiographers argue for need for a reinterpretation and rewriting of history from a
feminist/women’s perspective.

• Gerda Lerner- The interpreted record of the past about human race is only a partial record
because it leaves out half of humankind. It is distorted, because it tells the story from men’s

• It is in the light of such incomplete history that feminist history has emerged into the

• Feminist historians set about including the noticeable omissions from the stories of
major events specifically women’s participation in social change and development.

• They have also scrutinized/examined power relationship, the language used, and the
observer’s biases.

4. Mizo Bible Women- an example of how women have been neglected in the History of Christianity

• The first historical writings on Christianity in Mizoram were by the Western missionaries

• Whose historical methodology has shaped within a colonial framework

• Were essentially the reports of their mission

• Were especially meant for Western readership with the purpose to promote financial and
other forms of support from their home base church.

• Then followed by historical books written by early Mizo church leaders

• Usually were loyalists to the missionaries- for they were trained, employed and thus were
very much influenced by the Western missionaries

• Their historical writings were characterized by internalization of Mission histories.

• Instead of making critical effort to improve interpretations, these historians uncritically

narrate events and pay less heed towards the subalterns.

• Subalterns continue to receive a very little concern while the white paternalism still reigns,
promoting the works of the Western missionaries

• Albeit the forthcoming few model-works by contemporary historians, the prevailing

historical writings of Christianity in Mizoram still seem to be biased in perspective and

• The rapid growth of Christianity in Mizoram could rightly be credited to the efforts of the
Mizo Christians.

• However, historical writings on Christianity in Mizoram emphasized the role of the Western
missionaries and subordinated the Mizos in their own history

• Besides, as they are mainly the products of male writers, written from a patriarchal
perspective, all emphasize the men and ignore the significant role women played. Hence, significant
role and the indispensable contributions of Women were neglected or ignored by the prevailing

• The reason behind this should only be the gender bias of the historians as well as their
understanding of the proper subject of historical study i.e., what kinds of people are important.

• The biased view of the writers is clearly evident. It is interesting that they are often
mentioned in passing in the annals of historical literature, but rarely dealt with in any detail.

• Critically investigating the way how these historical writings present the role and
contribution of Women, the biased view of the writers is clearly evident.

• Women are often mentioned in passing in the annals of historical literature, but rarely dealt
with in any detail.

• For instance, the ministry of Mizo Bible Women whose main areas of ministry were –

• Evangelism

• Formation of Women’s Fellowship

• Handful of Rice Collection (Buhfaitham)

• Education- Women education, Reading & Writing, Singing

• Healing- Trained in midwifery saved many babies & mothers, besides almost like
doctors in those days

• Handicrafts- sewing, knitting, stitching, etc

• Health Education- cooking, hygiene, cleanliness, etc – Extremely needed in those


• Their outstanding contributions like the Handful of rice collection (Buhfaitham) and
the formation of a separate Women’s Fellowship are one of the supporting pillars of
the Presbyterian Church of Mizoram, even today.

• What is noteworthy is that their salaries were met from the contributions of Mizo
Christians; the funds raised from the handful of rice collection were set apart for
their salary.

• In spite of how immensely significant their ministry was, they were not given due
recognition as they deserved.

• J.M. Lloyd’s History of Christianity in Mizoram (1991) is 361 pages, but it gave only 2
pages for dealing with the role and contributions of the Bible Women. Rev.
Saiaithanga‘s Mizo Kohhran Chanchin speaks of the Bible Women in only 2 pages
out of 200 pages. Rev. Zairema’s “God’s Miracle in Mizoram (1978), gave 2 pages
out of 45 pages. Rev. Chhuanliana’s Mizoram Presbyterian Kohhran Chanchin (2007)
having 492 pages, also deals with the role and contributions of the Bible Women in
almost 5 pages only. J.V. Hluna gave 3 pages for role and contributions of the Mizo
women evangelists in his “Education and Missionaries in Mizoram” which has 236

• Looking at this, it is clearly evident that the Bible Women were not given enough
attention and their roles and contribution were unacknowledged in the existing
historical writings.

• Historical writings of Christianity in Mizoram so far did not give significance to these
Bible women probably because they were women and furthermore, they were not
the Western missionaries.

• Thus, their interpretation of the record of the past about Christianity in Mizoram
was only a partial record.