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Title: Muscular Christianity : the Church of Scotland Mission, Gikuyu, and the question of the body in Colonial Kenya, c1906-c1938
Author: Cunningham, Thomas
ISNI:       0000 0004 7969 3638
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis is a social and cultural history of the Church of Scotland Mission to Kenya (CSM) and a study of colonialism in Kenya's Gikuyu highlands during the period between c1906-c1938. The thesis identifies and critically examines a principle that underpinned and informed much of the thought and practice of this particular Christian mission's colonial-evangelical project: the mission's modernist, imperial, liberal, ambition to "uplift," "emancipate," and "develop" Gikuyu by inculcating new, individual, conceptions of the self through the radical transformation of their physical culture in general, and their bodies in particular. The thesis explores how this corporeal, colonial project challenged and connected with pre-colonial Gikuyu conceptions of embodiment, improvement, and self-mastery. And it explores its contested place among a number of competing colonial projects in the region at this time. Immortalized in Gikuyu novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo's 1965 classic The River Between, commemorated in plaques, monuments and church buildings in present-day Gikuyuland, and still alive in the memories of Gikuyu Presbyterians today, the CSM's "civilising mission" has nevertheless been largely overlooked, under-played or misunderstood, in much of the historiography on colonialism in this otherwise heavily researched region. Using archival material together with oral history interviews with dozens of one-time mission students and their descendants, I offer a new history of the CSM arguing that it is crucial to our understanding of colonialism and its legacies in this part of the world. At its heart, the thesis documents and explores the CSM's fraught and contested attempt to re-make Gikuyu persons totally, and by means of their bodies. I dub this "Muscular Christianity," re-purposing a term prevalent in late-Victorian Britain which referred to patriotic protestant reform movements aimed at developing boys and young men morally and physically through exercise and games. The missionaries of the CSM were Muscular Christians in this sense. But this was just one facet of their altogether deeper and wider-ranging attempt to turn Gikuyu into modern, imperial, Christian subjects with appropriately "civilised" bodies. The CSM's corporeal colonial-project included but was not limited to: a sustained effort to reform Kenya's colonial labour system, which they alleged had a deleterious effect upon the colony's "able-bodied" males; a high-profile campaign against the Gikuyu custom of "female circumcision"; and the whole series of everyday techniques and pressures they brought to bear upon scholars in their boarding schools - from ablution regimes to clothing regulations, from technical training in crafts to athletics programmes. Examining pre-colonial Gikuyu conceptions of the body and the person, I show that one of the most significant aspects of the CSM's colonial-evangelism was the emphasis it placed upon the cultivation of forms of embodied individuality which were completely new in this part of the world. The CSM played an important, if ambivalent, role in the colonisation of Gikuyuland. Seeking to fundamentally re-organise almost every aspect of the lived world of Gikuyu people, they were, in a sense, the most thorough-going of Kenya's colonisers. Nevertheless, the CSM's "Muscular Christianity" contradicted the established trends of the colonial order, which relied upon the assertion of racial boundaries, subordination, and the enforcing of authority through violence and oppression. Thus, the CSM were far from whole-heartedly supported by Kenya's other colonisers, many of whom regarded their "civilising" project with anxiety, condemning it for the "detribalising," and therefore "destabilising," effects it was purported to have upon the colonised population. By the same token, the mission occupied an ambiguous place in Gikuyu culture: though many Gikuyu decried and resisted the mission's advance, thousands of others actively sought out a CSM schooling, seizing the liberal promises of Christianity and literacy, and embracing the new styles on offer at the mission station. By the late 1920s another kind of "Muscular Christianity" had emerged in Kenya's Gikuyu highlands - that which informed the political imagination of the anti-missionary, and anti-colonial, ethnic patriotic movement of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), whose general secretary was the one-time CSM educated Johnstone "Jomo" Kenyatta. The thesis culminates with an analysis of Kenyatta and the KCA's attempt to establish Gikuyu as a "body politic".
Supervisor: Molony, Thomas ; Stanley, Brian ; Nugent, Paul Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Church of Scotland Mission to Kenya ; colonial-evangelical project ; physical culture ; embodiment ; Gikuyu ; oral history ; colonialism ; Muscular Christianity ; female circumcision ; Kikuyu Central Association ; Johnstone Kenyatta