Posted by: thebluemusicblog | July 12, 2016




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.

IMG_2877On 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.



Research Agenda

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

ETH Zürich

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

Senior Researcher

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.

Universität Frankfurt

Senckenberganlage 31

60325 Frankfurt am Main

CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘YMCA and Education in Japan and Korea’


Prof. Albert L. Park

Associate Professor

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, CA

CONFIRMED TITLE: ‘The YMCA and scientific rural reconstruction in Korea’


Prof. David Henry Anthony III

Associate Professor

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

Purdue University

Assistant Professor
History Dept.

Lafayette, IN

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

Assistant Professor
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’



  1. Johan, I really enjoyed and appreciated this article. However, I am not sure what you mean by the comment, “Shaping of gender norms and ideals.” It seems to be a strange comment and I never realized the YMCA had an agenda to “shape gender norms” (whatever that means) or that the YMCA had defined any kind of “gender ideals.” I am hoping that this principle is a poor translation and not an attempt to limit “gender norms and ideals” to fundamental Christian beliefs. I don’t believe that is the YMCA way and I believe that would be in conflict with, “that we may all be one.”

    • Hi, Bill,The article is written by a professional historian, Dr Harald Fischer-Tiné. This is not a YMCA initiative, it is a professional conference of historians to analyse certain aspects of the history of the YMCA. I found it fascinating.”Shaping of gender norms and ideals” has nothing to do with what we as YMCA are doing today, but is a historian’s analysis of our past.I am glad you found it interesting, but this is not reflecting my opinions, but those of historians 🙂 Friendly greetings Johan.

      • Thanks for clarifying. Heading to Georgia in September to celebrate their 25th anniversary.
        Grace and Peace

  2. Thanks, Bill, and have a good trip to Georgia!

  3. Than you, good message, have a nice Summer

    New Gen Secretary of Swiss Ymca, Peter Munderich, and and Administrative secretary Marcel Chappuis will be in Lausanne YMCA and Geneva YMCA Friday 28 October 2016.

    They would very much like to visite the WAYMCA, then the World YMCA.

    Details follow


    Primo Bursik

    YMCA Geneva Board

    French Speaking YMCA delegate

    Member of Swiss General Delegates conference of YMCAS





    > Message du 12/07/16 15:04 > De : “Blue Music Blog” > A : > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] YMCA THE FIRST INGO TO PUSH A MODERNIZATION AGENDA ALL OVER THE GLOBE!§ > >

    thebluemusicblog posted: ” 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 wit”

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