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This Heathen People: The Cognitive Sources of American Missionary

Westernizing Activities in Northern Siam, 1867-1889

Herbert R. Swanson

Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Maryland
in partial fulfillmentof the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts



Abstract 2006 Intro 1987 Intro Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Conclusion Bibliography

Although an apparently simple-minded, almost childish world-view, the Laos Mission's dualism expressed itself in a complex system of thought that encompassed all of reality and provided the missionaries with a secure, comforting definition of their place in the divine scheme of Creation. The particular conservative American Presbyterian system revealed in the activities of the Laos Mission combined several cognitive traditions, the most important of which were the idea of conversion and Scottish common sense philosophy. The missionaries in northern Siam, in other words, spoke a particular "dialect" of dualism, one that depended upon conversionism and common sense philosophy for its vocabulary.


Dualism posed a problem for nineteenth-century American evangelicals. Believing that all non-evangelicals and even other evangelicals denied God and Truth because of their beliefs, evangelicals had to have some way of relating to non-believers. Evangelicalism solved that problem through the idea of conversion. It sought to change heathens, savages, and infidels into true believers by convincing them of the error of their beliefs and the truth of evangelicalism.

As youths, Daniel McGilvary, Edna Cole, and Mary Campbell had personal conversion experiences. Sophia Bradley McGilvary and Sarah Bradley Cheek came from a home environment that taught the value of such experiences. And all of the missionaries saw it as their mission to convert the heathen to Christianity. In 1869, the year after his arrival in Chiang Mai, Wilson expressed gratitude that he could participate in preaching Christianity to the northern Thai. He believed that God called him to that work to prepare the way for future large-scale conversions to Christianity.[1] Dr. Vrooman spoke for all the mission when he wrote that his first duty, even as a missionary doctor, was to convert the heathen and, thereby, establish the "Kingdom of God" in northern Siam.[2] In later years, McGilvary wrote to a newly appointed area secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions to express his joy that the secretary had committed his life to the world's conversion, which was "the great work of the Church."[3]

The idea of conversion had a long, honorable history in the Christian tradition going back to the earliest days of the Christian church. Pope Innocent IV (1243-54) at the time of the Crusades provided Christian Europe with a rationale for conversions when he ruled that, while Christian armies should not forcibly convert Muslims, Christians had the God-given right to proselytize Muslims and to conquer Muslim territory when their rulers prevented Christian missionaries from exercising that right.[4] The Innocentian tradition of aggressive conversionism carried over into Protestantism and played an important role during the Reformation. A century later, English Calvinists carried their Protestant version of the "Innocentian Conception" with them to North America where the ideal of conversion had a powerful influence, especially in New England.[5]

The emergence of the revivalistic New Light party at the time of the Great Awakening made the concept of conversion a key concept among colonial Presbyterians as well. The New Lights believed that each personal conversion experience required a struggle between the Holy Spirit and the unregenerate heart. They accepted the guidance of theologians and revivalists, such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, who taught that every true Christian must have a personal conversion experience. Without that experience they could not hope to live the life of self-denying service and high morality expected of the truly pious.[6]

The same movement that gave birth to the New Light Presbyterians, the Great Awakening, also give birth to revivalism as a powerful force in the evangelical drive to convert the unconverted. Perry Miller calls revivalism a "central mode" in America's search for a national identity and notes that the use of revivalistic techniques represented a "dominant theme" in American society between 1800 and 1860.[7] And revivalism influenced the ways in which Protestants understood and expressed themselves religiously to such an extent that Handy terms it the "most powerful force in nineteenth-century Protestant life."[8] The ascendancy of revivalism, moreover, reinforced the importance of the idea of conversion among American Protestants. During the Second Great Awakening, which began in the 1790s and continued into the 1830s, local churches took as their chief purpose fostering conversion experiences among the churched and unchurched alike.[9]

By the time of the American Revolution, New Light revivalism dominated the Presbyterian Church, thereby assuring that the idea of conversion and the techniques of revivalism would play an important role in the post-Revolutionary era Presbyterian thinking. A series of 1786 student revivals at two Virginia Presbyterian colleges helped stir the Second Great Awakening. Early nineteenth-century conservative Presbyterian revivalists, however, did not approve of the hand-clapping, foot-stomping frontier revivalism of the Methodists and Baptists. They drew, instead, on the New Light tradition of rational conversion experiences to fashion the antebellum Old School Presbyterian understanding of revivalism.[10]

Old School Presbyterians practiced an emotionally subdued form of revivalism that prized rational, intellectually sound conversion experiences based on reason and a right understanding of reality. They believed that emotional frontier revivalism threatened Calvinistic orthodoxy by over-emphasizing the inner religious experience and giving too large a role to human initiative in the process of salvation. While never rejecting revivalism as such, Old School Presbyterians did reject the emotional, egalitarian revivalism that seemed hostile to the things orthodox Presbyterians valued most including reason, scholarship, an educated clergy, and a larger role for religion in political and social issues.[11]

Old School Presbyterianism's particular brand of revivalism profoundly influenced the ways in which the Laos Mission went about its work. McGilvary himself experienced an almost classic Old School personal conversion that took place gradually, quietly, and in the confines of his desire to reason out the meaning of religion for his own life. Significantly, he had that experience despite attending a Methodist Church that exhibited the livelier, more emotional revivalism of Methodism.[12] The Laos Mission carried over into its activities precisely this model for revival and conversion.

Conversion, for the Laos Mission, meant change. It meant a complete change by which the convert became a new person with a new set of values, social relationships, and beliefs. Pa (Aunt) Kammol, for example, experienced deep tension with her family when she converted to Christianity in 1876. Her brother, the head of the family, demanded that she continue to make certain ritual offerings to the family spirits even after her conversion. When she refused, the brother called a family meeting and loudly threatened her with dire consequences if she did not fulfill her family obligations. She again refused and sought a compromise with her brother by promising to pay the family a lump sum of money that would cover her obligations.[13]

Lung (Uncle) Tooi also came into tension with traditional structures once he converted to Christianity. In April 1877 a member of the royal family ordered him to go to work out in his fields on a Sunday and warned him that he would go to jail if he did not show up on the appointed day. Lung Tooi knew that he dared not miss the mission church service if he wanted to remain in the good graces of the missionaries, and so he sought to satisfy both his new religion and his old patron by going to worship and then waiting until Sunday afternoon to go, at the last possible moment, to work in the fields. His ploy did, to some extent, work. The missionaries reprimanded him for being intimidated by merely earthly powers and for working on the Sabbath but decided to be lenient because Lung Tooi seemed genuinely repentant of his sins.[14]

The tensions Pa Kammol and Lung Tooi felt typified the experience of the convert community. Converts ceased to live according to the rhythms of Buddhism, the heart and core of northern Thai culture, and began to live according to a calendar centered on the Christian Sabbath. They lived under a new set of strictures concerning their social relationships. The convert community defied traditional attitudes about educating women. Converts began to dress differently. They could not marry according to the traditional northern Thai forms. In later years as the number of Christians slowly increased, courts of law had to excuse Christians from taking the traditional oath because it involved acknowledging the Buddha. The convert community required a separate medical system because converts could not avail themselves of the animistic practices of traditional medical treatments. Conversion to Christianity represented such a radical break with northern Thai culture, in fact, that relatively few individuals did convert.[15]

The missionaries, then, intended to create an entirely new culture in northern Siam, one that would embody their vision of a truly Christian community. They drew upon the Innocentian tradition of conversion and the evangelical emphasis on revivalism to frame a radical definition of conversion. They, in effect, required converts to give up their former culture as well as their former religion when they accepted Christianity. The missionaries' understanding of what it meant to live in a dualistic world left them no choice but to create a new culture for their convert community.

The idea of conversion and the techniques of revivalism, as it turned out, both fed upon and elaborated the dualistic world view not only of the members of the Laos Mission but also of conservative Presbyterians in general. Early nineteenth-century conservative Presbyterians used the ideas and techniques of revivalism to combat alien philosophies, particularly deism, in much the same way that the Laos Mission of fifty years later used them to attack northern Thai Buddhism. As a result, they evolved through the course of the nineteenth century a standard, closed attitude towards non-evangelical and even "liberal" evangelical systems of thought. Conservative Presbyterians attacked those systems as "atheistical" or "infidel" and sought to destroy their influence and assimilate their adherents into their own system of thinking and acting.[16] Presbyterians in the United States and Presbyterian in northern Siam, in short, worked for exactly the same ends: the conversion of the heathen (or infidel) to conservative Presbyterian evangelicalism. In northern Siam the missionaries interpreted that conversionist program as meaning they must create a counter-culture for their converts.

In the restrained manner of the Old School, the Laos Mission did not make much of revivalism directly. From time to time McGilvary could comment on the need of the mission and/or its churches to experience "a baptism of the Holy Spirit." He believed that only a revived "full heart glowing with the love of God" could reach and convert the heathen, and he berated himself when he failed to have that revived heart.[17] The mission more often, however, linked revivalism to statistical head counts. In 1886, for instance, the minutes of the North Laos Presbytery observed that its churches had experienced a "constant revival" because of their impressive gains in the number of converts won.[18]

In its later history, the Laos Mission displayed a fixation with such statistical measures as its members tried to demonstrate the progressive success of its evangelistic efforts.[19] This concern for statistics reflected the dualistic, revivalistic conversionism of American evangelicalism as it searched for ways to measure the success of its crusade to convert the world and establish an ideal society. That search planted a fascination with statistics among Presbyterians, as well as other evangelicals, that continued into the twentieth century and provided the Presbyterian Church bureaucracy with an easily obtained, easily evaluated measure for denominational success.[20]

In the end, however, each convert added to the roles of a northern Thai church represented something more than a number. They stood for the unfolding of a missionary counter-culture based on the conversion of individual northern Thai "heathens" to Protestant Christianity. The idea of conversion, in sum, set the Laos Mission's agenda.


Nineteenth-century conservative Presbyterians, including the members of the Laos Mission, drew on the cognitive tradition of Scottish common sense philosophy to express the ideas of conversion and revivalism in the rationalistic, intellectual categories Presbyterians valued so highly. Although no party identified itself with common sense philosophy any more closely than conservative Presbyterianism, that common sense philosophy enjoyed a more broadly based popularity in the United States. The Laos Mission, thus, used widely accepted categories of American thinking in its own work in northern Siam.

Until the end of the Civil War, all American evangelical Protestants framed their campaigns to convert non-evangelicals in terms of common sense philosophy. They used its categories to express their hopes and fears, and they found comfort in its reassuring "proofs" of the correctness of evangelical beliefs. Common sense philosophy, furthermore, greatly influenced intellectual discourse in the United States and contributed to the development of American higher education, various specific academic fields, American jurisprudence, and themes in the arts. Scottish philosophy also influenced the thinking of a variety of individuals and groups including particular political leaders such as Jefferson and Madison, revivalists, abolitionists, and even apologists for Southern slavery.[21]

Nowhere, however, did common sense philosophy receive a warmer welcome than among conservative Presbyterians. Introduced initially just before the Revolution by John Witherspoon at the College of New Jersey, Scottish philosophy became the standard expression of Presbyterian orthodoxy after Archibald Alexander began to teach it at Princeton Seminary. Princeton Seminary, the alma mater of McGilvary, Wilson, and Martin, remained the center of American Presbyterian common sense thought throughout the nineteenth century, and from that center Presbyterian educators, ministers, and missionaries taught and preached its precepts throughout the United States.[22]

The events surrounding the first northern Thai to convert to Christianity demonstrated how the Laos Mission used common sense philosophical categories in the conduct of its own work. Nan Inta first visited the McGilvarys in 1868 when he asked for medicine for a mild cough, and he soon began to visit them regularly to talk about religion. According to McGilvary, Nan Inta felt uneasy in his Buddhism and showed a keen interest in the differences between the Buddhist and the Christian (that is, western) cosmologies. McGilvary described him as an intelligent man who desired to know the truth and showed an affinity for science. In his pursuit of truth, Nan Inta learned to read Siamese so that he could study the Bible and other missionary literature. The turning point in Nan Inta's thinking came when McGilvary's accurate prediction of a solar eclipse proved to Nan Inta that his largely mythical Buddhist cosmology was not true. McGilvary, however, made it clear that Nan Inta did not rush into his decision but carefully thought out his position. McGilvary has left the enduring image of Nan Inta walking in the rice fields one day, head bowed in contemplation of the missionaries' religion, and then suddenly exclaiming, "Its true!"[23]

Later missionary accounts of Nan Inta's conversion turned it into a heroic, near epic confrontation between the forces of God and Satan that resulted in the triumph of Truth. Nan Inta represented for them a paradigm of success, the model of what they sought for all of northern Siam.[24] In that light, the missionary reports of Nan Inta's conversion experience portrayed a number of themes strikingly reminiscent of common sense philosophical categories.

Stated together, those themes included the fact that Nan Inta had to make a choice between competing cosmologies and decided which of them represented reality as it "really" exists. The missionaries saw his choice as one between a speculative, godless, thoroughly human system of superstition and a rational, common sense description of the universe as God created it. In making his choice, moreover, Nan Inta carefully thought out his decision, and his moment of decision to convert culminated a much longer rational, studied process that relied on "inductive reasoning" to fit known facts into a common sense world view. Science played a key role in convincing Nan Inta of the truth of the missionary world view. And, finally, his decision led Nan Inta to make a total break with northern Thai Buddhist culture. He became the first member in the missionaries' counter-culture.

Competition between competing cosmologies and philosophies in the time of the Enlightenment provided the impetus for the emergence of the Scottish school of common sense philosophy. It grew out of the philosophical challenge issued by Hume and Berkeley to ordinary Christian faith. Hume, in particular, argued that the human senses do not provide reliable verification for the existence of an external world, that cause and effect cannot be proven to exist outside of the human mind, and that human beings can have no certain knowledge concerning the existence of God, metaphysics, or the human soul. The Scottish philosophers attacked Hume's philosophy because it cast grave doubts on Christian faith.[25]

They sought to establish the reality of the external world as commonly perceived by our senses and drew heavily upon the scientific thinking of Bacon, Newton, and Locke to accomplish their task. They reasoned that through scientifically guided introspection the philosopher can achieve a predictable and universal description of how the human mind operates and, thereby, establish beyond doubt the reliability of the human senses.[26] Through this method of introspection, termed "inductive reasoning," the Scottish philosophers sought to establish the existence of certain self-evident "first principles." Such first principles arise from the every day, ordinary "common sense" understanding of reality that gives sensible people confidence in their own personal existence and in the material world of their senses.[27]

The Scottish philosophers used their concepts of common sense and first principles to defend orthodox piety and traditional morality. God, they reasoned, created the principles of human common sense, and those principles themselves bear witness to the objective reality of God and the factuality of the Christian religion.[28] Those who follow their consciences, furthermore, base their actions on an objective, pre-existent standard created by God. Conscience is an immediate, intuitive, fundamental, and self-authenticating process that in and of itself proves that the Author of the Universe must also be a Moral Being.[29]

Stated most baldly, Scottish common sense philosophy served as an elaborate defense of orthodoxy and traditional morality against modern philosophies and ideologies. It provided a reassuringly complex schema proving that God did, in fact, exist and had, equally to the point, created the world of the sense and established commonly accepted, old-fashioned behavior. It fit, then, the needs of the American Presbyterians for a defensive philosophy with which to fend off competing theologies, philosophies, and ideologies.

The missionary descriptions of Nan Inta's conversion experience expressed these themes perfectly and revealed the fact that common sense thinking shaped their habits of mind. As representative of the Old School, conservative wing of nineteenth-century American Presbyterianism, they could hardly have thought otherwise. Princeton Seminary, a dominant force in shaping the conservative Presbyterian intellect, promoted the spread of common sense philosophy throughout the Presbyterian Church in the form of the so-called "Princeton Theology." And the Princeton Theology had a forceful impact on the missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, particularly their attitudes towards the people they sought to save. Scottish philosophy taught them that all peoples everywhere had the same nature and lived within the same reality. All they had to do in order to "save" the lost was to demonstrate to them the errors of their thinking and then remove them from the "heathen condition" that made them inferior. Coleman observes of Presbyterian missionaries working with the Indians that while their correspondence with the Board of Foreign Missions seldom discussed theology, nonetheless, the "spirit of Princeton pervades their letters."[30]

That same spirit pervaded the thinking of the Presbyterian missionaries in northern Siam as well. Their use of science provides an excellent example. Bozeman summarizes common sense philosophy in its Scottish and American forms under the rubric of "Baconianism" because it drew heavily on the scientific thought of Roger Bacon, especially for the "inductive method" it used to reach its philosophical conclusions.[31] Scottish philosophy and the Old School Presbyterians in America, indeed, showed a special affinity for the natural sciences to the extent that many leading Presbyterian clergy dabbled in scientific studies "on the side" and Presbyterian journals prominently featured scientific articles. The Presbyterians generally saw a close connection and harmony between science and theology by which the natural sciences revealed the "facts" from which inductive reasoning could reconstruct and comprehend reality. They held that that scientifically-correct understanding of reality, in turn, pointed towards the Creator of the universe. According to these views, scientific study was a worshipful undertaking.[32]

Nan Inta, it will be remembered, made his decision to convert on the basis of scientific evidence and reasoning that he learned from the McGilvarys. Daniel McGilvary, in particular, often put himself in the role of interpreter of western scientific thinking. From his interpretation of Nan Inta's conversion, McGilvary drew a conclusion. Since the time of the solar eclipse that led to that conversion, he wrote, "I have thought a great deal of our need of a thoroughly scientific man in the field, with astronomical and philosophical instruments to teach science in connection with Christianity." A good telescope, he concluded, would convince more northern Thais of the foolishness of their religion than any amount of teaching.[33] Although the Presbyterian Church never sent such a person to northern Siam, the Laos Mission frequently turned to the teaching of western cosmology and science, especially geography and astronomy, to prove the truth of Christianity. In 1873, for example, McGilvary spent considerable time with a northern Thai prince imparting both scientific and religious information to him. On another occasion, in 1876, he convinced another prince of the sphericity of the earth by showing him the moon and stars through a small sea glass.[34]

Common sense philosophy, in sum, represented a "habit of mind" for the members of the Laos Mission. It reinforced their intellectual commitment to a rational orthodox theology. It gave them assurance that their orthodoxy truly defined the reality of the universe. It described for them the process by which people became "warm-hearted" converts to the Christian faith. The members of the Laos Mission, then, used common sense philosophy as interpreted to them through the Princeton Theology to make sense, common sense, out of their world.


Most striking of all, however, was the way in which common sense philosophy and the Princeton Theology served the Laos Mission as yet another weapon in its dualistic arsenal. In the end, that philosophical and theological tradition proved most useful to conservative Presbyterians because it defended their orthodoxy and traditional morality while providing the means to attack the beliefs of the unconverted. In theological terms, common sense philosophy and the Princeton Theology proved useful because of their value to Christian "apologetics," the defense of the faith.

The Princeton theologians based their defense of their religion on the fundamental premises of common sense philosophy. Archibald Alexander, the dean of the Princeton theologians, believed that the senses give a reliable picture of reality, accepted the idea of first principles, and believed that God created the world of cause and effect and its first principles. He believed that a person's conscience provides a reliable inner guide to right behavior and showed that the Creator of the universe (and the conscience) was a moral being.

Building on these common sense ideas, Alexander began his defense of the Christian faith with yet another Scottish premise: that human reason was the same everywhere, in all situations and cultures, and in every age. He went on to argue that the Bible contained the sole measure of truth and reason, and taught the reasonable moral laws upon which people can live happily. Alexander claimed, in other words, that there was only one truth and that truth was universal.

Charles Hodge, who taught both McGilvary and Wilson, refined Alexander's use of common sense philosophy into an intricate defense of the Bible. He claimed that the Bible contain all truth, that no truth existed apart from it, and that the inductive method provided the method for bringing that truth to light. In the cautiously methodical fashion of common sense reasoning, the inductive method gathered the facts contained in the Bible, discovered the connections between those facts, and inferred from those connections a larger system of truth.[35]

Hodge used common sense philosophy, then, as a tool to maintain Calvinism's traditional emphasis on the Bible as the repository of all truth, and he and his successors evolved the doctrine of "plenary inspiration" in order to prop up the assertion that the Bible contained all truth That doctrine claimed that the Holy Spirit authored the Bible and insured that no errors of any type, scientific or otherwise, appeared in it. The Bible, therefore, was the consistent and self-validating standard of measure for all other truths.[36]

Hodge, furthermore, displayed the circular reasoning to which common sense philosophy so easily lent itself. He began with the assumption that the Bible contained all truth and then moved in a series of carefully delineated steps based on that assumption to demonstrate that it did, in fact, contained all truth. The closed system of his thinking allowed Hodge to have confidence in the correctness of his theology and, as importantly, confidence in his attacks upon those who did not believe as he did. Hodge and the other Princeton theologians created a closed circle in which the assertion of truth led to belief in that truth which led, finally, to the assertion that all who would be "saved" must also believe that truth. These thinkers and their church made of "common sense" what they wanted it to be and then posited on that "common sense" the aura of objective, incontrovertible truth.[37]

By its very nature, the Princeton Theology perpetuated among Presbyterians a closed attitude towards the larger world that encouraged Presbyterian missionaries to draw only upon American Protestant ideas and activities for their work. The highly influential writings of the Rev. James S. Dennis, an 1867 graduate of Princeton Seminary and well-known Presbyterian missionary in Syria, demonstrated the extent to which the Princeton Theology influenced Presbyterian missions. Dennis accepted the "Baconian" principle that a single, universal standard of common sense applied equally to all peoples. They all had the same religious needs and, therefore, the same need for the same salvation. Like Alexander and Hodge, Dennis sought to prove the truthfulness of the Christian religion and entitled his first book, Christian Evidences. In keeping with his views, Dennis declared that Islam, was an "irrational" religion the inferiority of which was "self-evident." He believed that the Ottoman Empire could escape its degraded social, moral, and religious condition only with the help of American Protestant missionaries.[38]

The same circular reasoning that Alexander and Hodge taught at Princeton and Dennis lived out in Syria suffused the attitudes of the missionaries in northern Siam with a self-confident belief in the truth of their world view and an equally self-confident rejection of everything northern Thai. Thus, they attacked Buddhism as a mere "speculative" system, trusted in the reasonableness of their own religion, and believed in the scientific truth of the Christian religion. Thus, they divided their world into separate realms of Good and Evil, secure in the common sense knowledge that the "real world" was so divided.

In his classic study of white American attitudes about the American Indian, Roy Harvey Pearce points out that Scottish philosophy contributed a great deal to the white American understanding of savagism and civilization. It described a single, universal pattern for human development in which nations and peoples progressed from "rude" savagism to civilization. Every aspect of human culture and society participated in that pattern so that all peoples everywhere must attain civilization in the same way as the civilized European societies attained it. Since people everywhere and of every race, according to common sense philosophy, had the same nature, inferior people could only be the product of an inferior sociocultural environment. Scottish philosophy judged the Indians as culturally (not racially) inferior because they lived in a savage condition.[39]

The logic of antebellum American attitudes regarding the American Indian would have made perfect "sense" to the missionaries of the Laos Mission because they faced a similar situation. They lived among what they believed to be an inferior people in desperate need of "salvation." They identified the same factor, culture, as the cause of northern Thai inferiority.

Common sense thinking provides an understanding of the hidden assumptions that under girded missionary thinking. They assumed that all peoples everywhere were the same and in need of the same salvation. They assumed that there must be only one measure of truth. They assumed that their Protestant, conservative Presbyterian truths provided that measure. They assumed that any system of thought that varied from their own must be mere, idle, impotent, unreasonable, dead, human speculation. In all and through all, they assumed that the world and values they believed in were the world and values God created. For the members of the Laos Mission all of these assumptions amounted to nothing less than good common sense.

In terms of the activities of the Laos Mission, those assumptions and the hidden labyrinths of Scottish philosophy and Princeton theology boiled down to one simple premise: if the Laos Mission was to save the northern Thai then it must destroy the cause of their heathenism, traditional, Buddhist-centered culture. The activities of the Laos Mission must tear down the edifice of Buddhism and replace it with a new, Christian-centered culture.


In her 1903 book on northern Siam, missionary Lillian Curtis described in dramatic fashion the trials and problems Nan Inta suffered through in reaching his decision to convert to Christianity. She wrote how he hesitated to convert because he would "be cut off from his own people and kindred, and would be branded as an outcast. An outcast amidst friends and loved ones!" Nan Inta faced, she thought, a test of his manhood because conversion would cut him loose "from every tie that binds him to the past and present, from family and organized society." Satan tempted Nan Inta so that he labored to make his decision in the midst of an almost cosmic struggle until, at last, he yielded up himself fully to God. Curtis called the struggle of Nan Inta's conversion to Christianity "the birth-throes of Light into the midst of a people in darkness."[40]

Implicit in her presentation of that great moment of missionary joy when they won their first convert lay the attitudes of revivalistic conversionism and the Scottish tradition of conservative Presbyterian theology. Conversion meant radical change. It meant no compromise with the forces of evil. It meant living and believing the way God created all peoples everywhere to live and believe. It meant casting off the ugly mantle of heathenism and taking on a new way of thinking and behaving. Conversion in the Scottish mode meant that the converts must give up their former culture and assimilate themselves to a missionary counter-culture.

The missionary image of Nan Inta walking among the rice paddies, finally, distilled the dualistic, conservative understanding of conversion and common sense into one moment. In the Innocentian tradition, the Laos Mission brought a radical, aggressive conversionism to northern Siam. In the Old School theological tradition, it expressed that conversionism in the rationalistic categories of common sense philosophy. The two streams melded quite comfortably into a subdued yet intense missionary understanding of what it meant for a northern Thai to convert to missionary religion and culture. Upon those two streams, the Laos Mission built its work.


[1] Wilson, Letter, n.d., Foreign Missionary, 27(May 1869): 240.

[2] Vrooman to Irving, 6 February 1872, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[3] McGilvary to Dr. Arthur Mitchell, 23 August 1884, vol. 4, BFM Records.

[4] Benjamin Z. Kedar, Crusade and Missions: European Approaches toward the Muslims (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 159-61; and Robert I Burns, "Christian-Islamic Confrontation in the West: The Thirteenth-Century Dream of Conversion," American Historical Review 76(December 1971): 1386-434.

[5] Harold J. Grimm, The Reformation Era 1500-1650 (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 318ff, 417ff; and John T. McNeil, Calvinism, 107-18, 237-54, 290ff; William S. Simmons, "Conversion From Indian to Puritan," The New England Quarterly 52 (June 1979): 197; and Jerald C. Brauer, "The Rule of Saints in American Politics," Church History 27(September 1958): 245.

[6] Edwin Scott Gaustad, The Great Awakening in New England (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1965), 48, 85; Marsden, Evangelical Mind, 31-3; Joseph Conforti, "Jonathan Edwards's Most Popular Work: 'The Life of David Brainerd' and Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Culture," Church History 54(June 1985); and Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 205-06.

[7] Miller, Life of Mind, 6-7.

[8] Handy, History, 29. See also Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Abingdon, 1957); 45-6, 78; and Marion L. Bell, Crusade in the City: Revivalism in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1977), 19.

[9] Donald G. Mathews, "The Second Great Awakening as an Organizing Process, 1780-1830: An Hypothesis," American Quarterly 21(Spring 1969): 38.

[10] Sweet, Revivalism, 119; Loetscher, Facing the Enlightenment, 22-5, 242-44; and Andrew W. Hoffecker, Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1981), vi-vii.

[11] Henry F. May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 321-23; Theodore Dwight Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science: The Baconian Ideal and Antebellum American Religious Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 164; Loetscher, Facing the Enlightenment, 33-4, 112-13; and Miller, Revolutionary College, 200-03.

[12] McGilvary, Half Century, 26-28.

[13] McGilvary to Irving, 12 August 1876, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[14] Sessional Records, 56-9.

[15] Swanson, Krischak Muang Nua, 130-32; Curtis, The Laos, 112-13; and Hughes, Proclamation and Response, 12-13.

[16] See Loetscher, Facing the Enlightenment, 65-6, 177-81. See also Loetscher, Broadening Churc, 21-2; and Fred J. Hood, "Presbyterianism and the New American Nation, 1783-1826: A Case Study of Religion and National Life" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1968), 52-3.

[17] McGilvary to Lowrie, 8 November 1875, vol. 3, BFM Records; cf. McGilvary to Irving, 20 April 1871, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[18] McGilvary, letter, Foreign Missionary 27 (November 1868): 143-45; Minutes of the North Laos Mission 1887-1888, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia.

[19] Swanson, Krischak Muang Nua, 63.

[20] Ernest G. Borman, The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985)< 136-41, 163; Bell, Crusade, 165; Leonard I. Sweet, "The View of Man Inherent in New Measures Revivalism," Church History 45 (June 1976): 212; and Richard W. Reifsnyder, "Presbyterian Reunion, Reorganization and Expansion in the Late 19th Century," Journal of Presbyterian History 64 (Spring 1986): 27-38.

[21] Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 356; Mark A. Noll, "Common Sense Traditions and American Evangelical Thought," American Quarterly 37 (Summer 1985): 219-20; Hood, Reformed America, 90-2; Vander Stelt, Philosophy and Scripture, 62; Lillian B. Miller, "Paintings, Sculpture, and the National Character, 1815-1860," Journal of American History 53 (March 1967): 698; McLoughlin, "Pietism," 169; Roy Branson, "James Madison and the Scottish Enlightenment," Journal of the History of Ideas 40 (April-June 1979): 235-250; McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 69, 120-21; Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 84; and M.L. Bradbury, "Samuel Stanhope Smith: Princeton's Accommodation to Reason," Journal of Presbyterian History 48 (Fall 1970): 189-202.

[22] Bozeman, Baconian Ideal, 22ff, 33-8.

[23] McGilvary, A Half Century, 96-9; McGilvary, letter, Foreign Missionary 28 (August 1869): 58-9; Annual Report of the Laos Mission, 30 September 1868, vol. 3, BFM Records; and McGilvary to Irving, 12 January 1869, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[24] See Curtis, The Laos, 263-65.

[25]Frank Thilly, A History of Philosophy, revised by Ledger Wood, 3d ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1957), 358-68; and John C. Vander Stelt, Philosophy and Scripture: A Study in Old Princeton and Westminster Theology (Marlton, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., 1978), 17-22.

[26] Gladys Bryson, Man and Society: The Scottish Inquiry of the Eighteenth Century (1945; reprint, New York: August M Kelly, 1968), 18-20; cf. Bozeman, Baconian Ideal, 5-6.

[27] May, Enlightenment in America, 344-45; S.A. Grave, "Reid, Thomas," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 7 (New York: Macmillan & The Free Press, 1967), 120; and Miller, Revolutionary College, 165.

[28] Grave, "Reid," 120-21; and S.A. Grave, The Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), 159.

[29] Hoveler, James McCosh, 10-12; and D.H. Meyer, The Instructed Conscience: The Shaping of the American National Ethic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), 40-1.

[30]Coleman, "Presbyterian Missionaries," 68; cf. 52-67, and Coleman, "Not Race," 60.

[31]Bozeman, Baconian Ideal, 5-6. Induction: The process of inferring a general law or principle from the observation of particular instances. See The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "induction."

[32] Bozeman, Baconian Ideal, 39-43, 53-60, 72-7, 96-101.

[33] McGilvary, letter, Foreign Missionary 28 (September 1869): 81.

[34] Annual Report of the Laos Mission, 1 October 1875 to 1 October 1876, vol. 3, BFM Records; and McGilvary to Irving, 28 February 1873, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[35] Hoffecker, Princeton Theologians, 58; and Bozeman, Baconian Ideal, 151.

[36] Ernest R. Sandeen, "The Princeton Theology: One Source of Biblical Literalism in American Protestantism," Church History 31(September 1962): 307-21.; and Vander Stelt, Philosophy and Scripture, 142.

[37] Miller, Revolutionary College, 277-78; and Marsden, Evangelical Mind, 234.

[38] William H. Berger, "James Shepard Dennis: Syrian Missionary and Apologist," Journal of Presbyterian History 64 (Summer 1986): 97-111.

[39] Pearce, Savagism and Civilization, 82-91.

[40] Curtis, The Laos, 264-65.