CPs advocated mass literacy so that everyone could read the Bible and interpret it competently. Their attempt to convert people through education threatened other elites and spurred these elites to also invest in mass education. In contrast, high education rates among nonconversionary religions (i.e., Jews after the second century CE) did not evoke a similar response. CPs’ centrality to the spread of mass education is demonstrated by
- who advocated and resisted educational expansion,
- when education expanded,
- which regions got more education, and
- which type of individuals received more education
Before the late nineteenth century, economic elites throughout Europe resisted educating women and the poor because they feared it would undermine stability. Countering this elite pressure, religious groups (particularly CPs) educated women and the poor and developed techniques that made mass schooling possible, such as teacher training, child focused texts, dividing students into age/ability groups, etc.
At the end of the nineteenth century, countries, provinces, and regions were more literate if they were Protestant than if they were Catholic. The Catholic Church did invest heavily in education where it competed with CPs (Ireland, North America and the British Colonies) or in a secularizing state (France). It did not so invest where it held a monopoly position (Spain, Portugal, or Italy).
This is all extremely consistent, but it could still be spurious. But if we look at the colonies we find the case strengthened.
Some areas in which missionaries settled were already colonized, whereas others were not, but regardless of where Protestant missionaries went they started schools soon after arrival. Even colonizer-financed education generally resulted from missionary. Other religious groups did not emphasize mass literacy prior to Protestant competition in, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, or the Middle East.
Interestingly, Calvinists tended to promote higher education while Pentecostals did not as much, noting that both promoted education strenuously.
However, non-missionaries invested little in education regardless of the colonizer. Most whites wanted a small indigenous elite they could control and thus wanted most education to be limited to manual training. Thus statistically, the prevalence of Protestant missionaries strongly predicts both historic and current education rates and removes the impact of many other factors. Moreover, the association between Protestant missions and education is consistent both in cross-national analyses and in subnational analyses in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and China. […]
Data from Africa, Asia, and Oceania consistently suggest that Christians (especially Protestants) are disproportionately educated and have higher educational expectations for their children than non-Christians: [in] East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Africa, [and] Worldwide. In Latin America, Protestants are disproportionately poor, yet still seem to put a greater emphasis on education than their non-Protestant neighbors.
CPs also dispersed power by developing and spreading new organizational forms and protest tactics that allowed non-elites, early nationalists, and anticolonial activists to organize nonviolent political protests and, in British colonies, form political parties prior to independence. Many scholars argue that this type of organizational civil society helps foster democracy. […]
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, new modular forms of social protest and special purpose organizations emerged in Great Britain and North America, crystallizing in the 1820s and 1830s. Not surprisingly, these two countries had the greatest concentration of Nonconformist Protestants.
To carry that point a bit farther, they were and are cousins. Most of this was centered in East Anglia, spreading down to London in England and centered around Boston, spreading out to the frontier in the United States. Those East Anglian Nonconformists did a fair amount of emigrating to New England, where they came to be called Puritans. This is also the basic fact involved in relating the English Civil War and the American Revolution as connected wars, cousin’s wars, if you will, fought for the same goals, against the same elites, just on different continents. These are also two of the earliest societies to become almost universally literate, including women and the poor, for all the reasons we’ve been discussing.
Nonconformist and Evangelical Protestants (i.e., CPs) pioneered most of the nonviolent tactics and organizations they describe—boycotts, mass petitions, and signed pledges. […]and they organized and led virtually all the organizations and movements that formalized these tactics in the early 1800s. […]Moreover, these new organizations and tactics emerged concurrently in both the urban Northeast and rural Western frontier.
The theories which depend on the urbanization and state penetration just will not work at all on the American frontier, where neither existed in any real sense. And yet, these association developed concurrently with the American Northeast, and only a short time behind England.
India was much the same story in the 1820s and 1830s. And yet, they didn’t emerge in France until the 1830s and much later than that in Southern Europe.
The levels of state penetration and capitalist development do not seem to have been consistently higher in Great Britain, the Western frontier of North America, and Calcutta than in continental Europe and East Asia. Conversely, CPs were active in all the places where early SMOs emerged and were restricted in the places where they lagged. Moreover, CPs were disproportionately represented among both the leaders and supporters of the earliest SMOs. Thus the prevalence of CPs seems important to the rise of SMOs and nonviolent protest.
In addition, there are theoretical reasons to expect a close link between CPs and the rise of SMOs and nonviolent protest. Because they do not have the ability to tax their members, nonstate religious groups had to instill voluntarism and charity in their congregants to survive. In the process of running religious organizations, ordinary people (and especially women) gained habits, skills, and networks that they could use for other types of social movements. Conversionary groups also developed techniques for mass propaganda and for precipitating changes in behavior for large numbers of people—for example, tracts, rallies/revivals, pledges, public repentance from individual sin and social sins such as slavery. Revival movements, denominations, and missions organizations linked people over broad geographic areas and pioneered techniques for organizing, financing, and sustaining long-term religious movements. Nonconformist religious groups also fought for the rights of organizations to function outside state control, partly as a way to defend themselves from discrimination and government interference.
These organizations were that rarest of things, something new under the sun. The areas where they first started out, still today have a much more vibrant volunteer sector.
Current data on both civil society organizations and individuals reflect these CP origins. Wherever we have statistics, Christians—especially nonstate Protestants— are the most active creators of organizational civil society, and Protestant or mixed Protestant/Catholic countries and regions have the highest levels of voluntary association involvement. […]
Religious civil society is crucial for dissipating elite power because the poor are generally as involved in religious groups as are the wealthy, unlike with other civil society promoters, such as education. Moreover, because religious groups are not primarily political, they are more likely to spread and survive during authoritarian regimes. Thus to the extent voluntary organizations and nonviolent social movement organizations promote stable democracy, we would expect greater democracy in areas where CPs had longer and more pervasive influence.
Next: COLONIAL TRANSFORMATION