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a form of activity by religious organizations and churches having as its aim the conversion of non-believers and the return of apostates to the bosom of the church. In actuality, missionary work involves broader tasks, promoting the realization of the political aims of the social groups and governments that the missionaries serve.
In Buddhism, missionary activity was frequently carried on by wandering monks and became widespread in the third century B.C. Christian missionary activity began in the fourth century A.D. In the 13th through 16th centuries Christian missionaries penetrated into India, China, and Japan. The sowing of Christianity in its Catholic form in Eastern Europe was an ideological coverup for German feudal colonial expansion (the Drang nach Osten).
Missionary work by the Catholic Church became more active after the formation of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires in the 15th and 16th centuries. The missionaries helped the colonizers to seize and “open up” new lands. For the supervision of Catholic missionary work, Pope Gregory XV established the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in 1622 (which became the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 1961). Catholic missionary societies were later formed in a number of countries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Netherlands and Great Britain adopted a colonial policy, the leading Protestant churches in those countries began to develop their missionary activity. In the early 19th century missionary organizations arose in the USA. Missionaries became more active in the last third of the 19th century, the period of struggle among the imperialist powers to divide up the world. The activity of Christian missionaries in Africa expanded. Supported by colonial administrations and subsidized by governmental bodies and monopolies, the missionary institutions became the possessors of substantial capital and lands and acted as implementers of the colonial policies of their own governments. The overwhelming majority of the educational institutions in African countries were (and in some countries still are) in the hands of religious missions. They also extended their control to medical institutions and to cultural, sports, and other public social organizations.
Missions in Africa (and to a lesser extent in Europe during the early Middle Ages) allotted an important place to schools. However, this part of their work reached only a small percentage of the local population and usually was ultimately aimed at preparing people for service in the colonial administration.
The functions of missionaries of Islam were often performed by Muslim merchants, and later, with the development of Sufism, by wandering monks, the Sufis.
In Russia, missionary work was closely associated with the forced Christianization of non-Russian peoples, monastic colonization, and the struggle with schism and sectarianism. In the 14th century Stefan of Perm’ spread Christianity among the Zyrian (Komi). In the 16th century missionary activity by Christian monasteries among the local population of the Volga region was intensified. In the 18th century and first half of the 19th it was intensified among the peoples of Siberia and the Caucasus. In 1870 the Orthodox Missionary Society was founded in Moscow, uniting various Siberian missions. In 1867 the Brotherhood of St. Gurii in Kazan became involved in implanting Christianity among the Tatar population. A number of Russian Orthodox missions were created outside of Russia. Overall supervision of missionary work in the Russian empire was in the hands of the Synod, which developed regulations for missionary organizations and conducted all-Russian and regional conferences of missionaries.
After World War II, with the disintegration of the colonial system, the rise of the national liberation movement, and the gaining of independence by many former colonies, the struggle against national liberation movements and the spread of anti-communist propaganda came to occupy a large place in the activity of the missionaries. Missionary activity became a transmitter of the policies of neocolonialism. By 1969 the African missions had about 16,000 male and 30,000 female members of various Christian orders (the majority non-Africans). In order to adapt to new conditions, the church began to change its ways of doing missionary work; it created a church hierarchy of local people, included local religious cult rituals in Christian worship, introduced cult dances and music into religious services, conducted services in local languages, and employed radio and television in missionary propaganda. Taking account of the strength of the national liberation movement, the missionaries, in order to maintain their position, have begun to come out against racism, especially in the countries of Africa. In 1971 the Catholic order of White Fathers recalled all its members from Mozambique as a protest against the crimes of the Portuguese colonial authorities and the collaboration of the church hierarchy with the colonialists. The antimissionary movement has intensified with the growth of the national liberation movement.
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M. M. SHEINMAN