Source criticism and cultural models: constructing life histories of women missionaries

  • Eila Helander University of Helsinki
Keywords: Methodology, Women missionaries, Gender, Missions -- Africa, Evangelistic work, Proselytizing, Objectivity, Christianity and African religions


Research work is an interpretive enterprise. The variety of sources poses some central methodological questions for constructing religious life histories. There is an apparent discrepancy between the source categories concerning the content of the information. Private diaries and letters provide information on women's work and life which is not available in official reports and letters. They reveal dates, events and individuals which are not mentioned elsewhere. In histography the question of discrepancy is normally solved by comparing the sources with an aim to arrive at the "true picture" of how things have been. Such a picture is believed to portray not only the true life situation of the individual or group in question but, depending on the nature of the data, also the epoch and time situation itself. From the viewpoint of social sciences and comparative religion one will ask: could the variety of sources be approached and utilized in some other way? The second question posed by the data concerns the content of each source category. The information can be located on the continuum "highly subjective — stereotyped". Subjective information, including reflections on personal experiences may not be the best source e.g. for constructing the flow of historical events, but it is of uttermost importance if we want to show how individuals respond to social constraints and actively assemble social worlds.
Feb 1, 1999
How to Cite
Helander, E. (1999). Source criticism and cultural models: constructing life histories of women missionaries. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 17(2).