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Revival and Awakening

American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism

Revival and Awakening

American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism

Most Americans have little understanding of the relationship between religion and nationalism in the Middle East. They assume that the two are rooted fundamentally in regional history, not in the history of contact with the broader world. However, as Adam H. Becker shows in this book, Americans—through their missionaries—had a strong hand in the development of a national and modern religious identity among one of the Middle East's most intriguing (and little-known) groups: the modern Assyrians. Detailing the history of the Assyrian Christian minority and the powerful influence American missionaries had on them, he unveils the underlying connection between modern global contact and the retrieval of an ancient identity.         

American evangelicals arrived in Iran in the 1830s. Becker examines how these missionaries, working with the “Nestorian” Church of the East—an Aramaic-speaking Christian community in the borderlands between Qajar Iran and the Ottoman Empire—catalyzed, over the span of sixty years, a new national identity. Instructed at missionary schools in both Protestant piety and Western science, this indigenous group eventually used its newfound scriptural and archaeological knowledge to link itself to the history of the ancient Assyrians, which in time led to demands for national autonomy. Exploring the unintended results of this American attempt to reform the Orient, Becker paints a larger picture of religion, nationalism, and ethnic identity in the modern era. 

440 pages | 13 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

History: Middle Eastern History

Religion: Christianity, Comparative Studies and History of Religion, Religion and Society


"A fascinating and detailed account on the complicated and essential role that American Congregationalist, and later Presbyterian, missionaries played in 'the development of a secularized (but not desacralized) national identity among the indigenous Christian population' of Urmia, Iran, and its surrounding territory in northern Mesopotamia."

Reading Religion

“Becker’s masterful work bears on some of the key problems in the contemporary study of religion and modernity. And there are few regions of the world where these issues are more fraught than this once—but certainly no longer—obscure corner of the Middle East. This is a book full of surprises and insights, revealed with a sure hand and impressive erudition.”

Webb Keane, author of Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter

“Becker’s command of Syriac and Neo-Aramaic allows him to open up a Protestant missionary archive otherwise inaccessible to historians of American religion. The novelty of that research is matched by his ingenuity in engaging larger questions about modern formations of nationalism, religion, liberalism, and secularism. From the American Protestant outpost in Urmia, Becker draws a sparkling picture of a ‘missionary modernity’—a portrait marked by both historical subtlety and theoretical sophistication.”

Leigh Eric Schmidt, author of Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality

“Unraveling the complex process in which the American Protestant project of moral and religious reform helped to stimulate the development of ‘Assyrian’ national consciousness, Becker provides an excellent example of how secular modernity could be configured in a non-colonial missionary context in the encounter between two different Christian communities.”

Talal Asad, author of Formations of the Secular

"This book makes a much-needed contribution to the field of the history of Middle Eastern Christianity and the study of American missions. Becker’s elegant writing style, nimble use of theory, and admirable command of an extensive archive make this book accessible to graduate students, faculty, and perhaps advanced undergraduate students. Revival and Awakening will be of interest to scholars in the fields of history of Christianity, Syriac studies, Middle Eastern studies, mission studies, American religious history, and postcolonial studies."

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Table of Contents

Prelude: A Song of Assyria
Note on Transliteration and Names
Introduction: Religious Reform, Nationalism, and Christian Mission

Chapter 1: The Church of the East before the Modern Missionary Encounter: Historicizing Religion before “Religion”
Chapter 2: A Residence of Eight Years in Persia (1843): Mr. Perkins of West Springfield, Massachusetts, meets Mar Yokhannan of Gawilan, Persia
Chapter 3: Printing the Living Word: Moral Reform and the Awakening of Nation and Self (1841–70)
Chapter 4: Being Together in the Living Word: The Mission and Evangelical Sociality (1834–70)
Chapter 5: Death, the Maiden, and Dreams of Revival
Chapter 6: National Contestation and Evangelical Consciousness: The Journals of Native Assistants
Chapter 7: Continuity and Change in the Late Nineteenth Century: New Institutions, Missionary Competition, and the First Generation of Nationalists
Chapter 8: Retrieving the Ruins of Nineveh: Language Reform, Orientalizing Autoethnography, and the Demand for National Literature

Epilogue: Mirza David George Malik (1861–1931) and the Engaged Ambivalence of Poetry in Exile


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