This book provides a history of the idea and the practices of missions, from early Christians’ words and lives up to the 20th century. The text offers readers a global story which – thanks to geographical exploration and the consequent widening of the boundaries of possibility – spans the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Africa. The older religious orders initially engaged in evangelization efforts – the Franciscans and the Dominicans – were gradually joined by newer ones, above all the Capuchins and the Jesuits. The latter, in particular, carried out missionary activities in Latin America which stretched well beyond mere proselytization and promoted the creation of tangible political and institutional tools. From the modern age onwards, the Roman Catholic Church lost its monopoly on overseas missions, which were challenged and sometimes replaced by followers of Protestant denominations. Did decolonization spell the end of missions? Certainly not, but it did usher in a paradigm shift, probably completed during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) with the emergence of a more widespread ecumenical outlook.
Claudio Ferlan is a research fellow at the Italian-German Historical Institute of the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento.
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