The messianic work of translation in lowland Ecuador
Victor Cova (University of Aarhus)
Paper short abstract:
In the evangelical mission town of Macuma, in lowland Ecuador, missionaries and Shuar people have been translating the Old Testament for over 30 years. This paper will look at the messianic politics that make this work meaningful and distinguish it from both settler colonialism and indigenous politics.
Paper long abstract:
"What are the missionaries (still) doing here?" I was often asked this question by Shuar people when I told them that I was looking at the history of the mission in Macuma. Unsatisfied with my answer, that they were translating the Bible, they looked for hidden and, to their eyes, more rational explanations for their continued presence, 60 years after their arrival. Their suspicion mirrored that of the State and of various investigative journalists who had accused SIL missionaries of furthering various hidden political motives. In this paper, I want to focus instead on the actual work done by Macuma's missionaries with the evangelical church, and on the politics that shape it and that it enables. The work of translating the Bible only makes sense in the wider context of evangelical messianism and anti-colonialism, although one that remains at a distance from indigenous politics. It tries to subvert national political economies of knowledge and opens the way for an elitist form of resistance to the State. Translation work mobilizes the Church as an alternative political body to State institutions and indigenous federations, one that mobilizes transnational networks around principles of autonomy, equality, and free gifts.
The failed utopia: 'enlightening' the contradictions of christianisation, secularisation and civilisation in the Americas