WARNING: THIS IS SERIOUS STUFF, BUT STILL FASCINATING!
I am in my office in dear old Geneva in the middle of summer. The previous 6 months have spiralled me around the globe in interesting, fascinating travels to far away parts of the world. Always with a YMCA scope, always with a YMCA as the goal for the travels. Summer days like these feel like the centre of the storm where all go quietly all of a sudden. I get time to read papers that have not reached the top of the priority piles. I get time to think and reflect, to get outside the box.
On the other side of this storm centre lies another autumn spiral of travels and meetings and encounters with fascinating people. But now I am in the peaceful centre. And I read so that my eyes get wet and my heart starts to feel proud again. Listen to this, for example!
Written by: Prof. Dr. Harald Fischer-Tiné, Professor of Modern Global History, ETH Zürich
“The Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) was founded in London in 1844 as a shield against the rapid cultural transformations and social disruptions taking place in industrializing Britain during the first half of the 19th century. The subsequent spread and growth of the Christian lay organisation was spectacular: Countless branches opened in various European countries and particularly in the USA and Canada, to where the gravitational centre of new association soon shifted. As early as 1855, its spokesmen laid claim to its being a universal organization at the first Y.M.C.A world conference held in Paris and in 1878 a permanent Headquarters of the World Association was established in Geneva.
Whereas the Y-movement has for a long time been mostly associated with a religious agenda and accordingly studied mostly by theologians and historians of religion, recent scholarship has suggested that it should be regarded as harbinger of a new form of a global civil society with a powerful secular agenda that included sports, education, urban social hygiene and rural development schemes as well as various forms of philanthropic and humanitarian activities. The Y’s ‘secular’ program was partly rooted in the Anglo-American notions of the ‘social gospel’ that became popular in the 1890s. It increasingly influenced the North American Y.M.C.A.s activities from the early decades of the 20th century onwards and was soon universally received.
Some authors go so far as to claim that ‘the Y’ can be understood as the first INGO (International Non- Governmental Organization) that was effectively pushing a modernization agenda all over the globe.
Pointing to the problematic aspects of this modernizing mission, Australian historian Ian Tyrrell has famously stressed the imperial entanglements of the movement by associating the Y with the establishment of America’s ‘moral empire’ during the first three decades of the 20th century. The knowledge on which these interpretations are based, however, is still rather fragmentary. This is because ― slightly at variance with the global character of the movement ― the bulk of existing historical research on the Y.M.C.A. has focused on the isolated national contexts of North America, the British Isles and, to a lesser extent, China.
The proposed workshop wants to fill the existing gaps and break new ground by analysing the non-religious activities of the Young Men’s Christian Association on a truly global scale. It thus aims to contribute to current debates on the role of religious organisations for world-wider transformation processes that have long been understood as ‘secular’. The case studies explore the impact of the peculiar ‘scientific’ and professionalized type of social and educational work developed by YMCA secretaries on highly diverse societies in Asia, Africa the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. Focusing on the YMCA’s work in more than a dozen countries on four continents will allow to assess commonalities, differences and connections of the specific trajectories. By concentrating on one of the most widespread and influential representatives of the ‘Protestant International’, it is hoped we can gain new insights on the rise and growth of global civil society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and their multifarious legacies for today’s world.
Based on the understanding that the Protestant organization was predicated on the vision of a particular type of ‘Protestant Modernity’ and became crucial in circulating various forms of knowledge and practices that were connected to this vision, the contributions examine one or several of the following six inter-related core areas of the YMCA’s ‘secular’ work:
- Dissemination of Science and ‘useful knowledge’
- Popularization of sports, physical culture and self-disciplinary bodily practices
- Shaping of gender norms and ideals
- Leadership Training and ‘education for ‘democracy’
- Agricultural reform, village development and ‘rural hygiene’
- Humanitarianism and Philanthropy
The papers attempt to assess the concrete effects of the Y’s work for local populations, but, even more importantly, they seek to analyse the exact process of the integration (or ‘assimilation’) of the Y.M.C.A.s “Gospel of Modernity” into alien cultural contexts. For example, the claim to ‘scientificity’ and expertise created hierarchies in social work, which gave especially North American and Western European Y-workers a prominent position and delegitimized allegedly less scientific local practices in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A related topic is the question how Y.M.C.A missionaries represented non-western societies, cultures and religious traditions to Euro-American public and if / how such images changed over time. Last but not least attempts of indigenization and inculturation in non-western societies are scrutinized and contrasted with indications of the alleged role of the Y.M.C.A. for the establishment of an Anglo-American cultural hegemony. These inquiries are always conducted against the backdrop of a changing world order and geopolitical situation that characterized the century under study. The specific constellations of Late imperialism, the Cold War and Decolonization are therefore pivotal contexts in which the analysis of the Y.M.C.A.’s work is embedded.”
This is taken from an invitation to an International Conference of historians in Zurich in January 2017, and our own IT & Social Media Manager Claude-Alain Danthe is invited to participate! Look at the interesting people and topics for this scientific conference – it is absolutely amazing!
List of confirmed Participants and Topics
Prof. Dr. Harald Fischer-Tiné
Professor of Modern Global History
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA and the production and dissemination of Science and “useful” knowledge in South Asia (c. 1890-1950)’
Dr Stefan Hübner
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA, the First World War, and Global Sportive Democratization (1914-1929)’
PD Dr Katrin Bromber
Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘Education for Leadership: The YMCA in post WWII Ethiopia’
Jon Weier, M.A. PhD Candidate
Western University, London, Ontario
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘Global Protestant Humanitarianism: Towards a transnational history of the war work of the YMCA’
Dr. Lance Cummings
Asst. Prof. of English
University of North Carolina, Wilmington
152 Morton Hall
Wilmington, NC 28403-5947
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The Idiom of Modernity: The YMCA and Language Teaching in the US and abroad’
Dr Murat Yildiz
Manoogian Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Michigan
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘A Marketplace for Western Knowledge: The YMCA in the interwar Middle East’
Ryan Bean, M.A.
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Chief Archivist and Researcher
Kautz Family YMCA Archives; 318 Andersen Library
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA’s Indian Guides and the Construction of Masculinity in North America’
Dolf-Alexander Neuhaus, M.A.
60325 Frankfurt am Main
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘YMCA and Education in Japan and Korea’
Prof. Albert L. Park
Claremont McKenna College
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA and scientific rural reconstruction in Korea’
Prof. David Henry Anthony III
Humanities Division/History Department
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘Mediating modernity in making men: the YMCA and race in South Africa’
Dr Ondrej Matejka
Département d’Histoire Générale
Faculté des Lettres
Université de Genève
5, Rue de Candolle
CH – 1211 Genève 4
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA in interwar Czechoslovakia’
Prof. Margaret Tillman
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YWCA, social hygiene and the establishment of nurseries in 1940s China’
Prof. Claudia Guedes,
San Francisco State University
Dept. of Kinesiology
San Francisco, CA
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA and the emergence of modern Sports in Brazil’
Prof. Yurou Zhong
Department of East Asian Studies
University of Toronto
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘ “Sacred, the Laborers”: the YMCA and the First Modern Chinese Mass Literacy Program in WWI France’
Prof. Patricia Vertinsky
Distinguished University Scholar
The University of British Columbia
Dept. of Kinesiology
CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘Counterflows of Knowledge: Muscular missionaries, Yoga and the global ambitions of the “Y’ in a modernizing society’