Report by Simone Bleuer to the workshop "New Approaches to Mission History", June 2016 in Fribourg. (in German)
Master's thesis by Simone Bleuer:
Cultural production and transformation in the Africa discourse of the Swiss Bethlehem Fathers. Functions, tensions, possibilities and limits.
Research on missions as integral phenomena of globalisation and transculturation is a growing field in historical science. This Master’s thesis focuses on mechanisms of construction, on representations and on tensions in the discourse about Africa in the reporting of the Bethlehem Mission Society between 1939 and 1950. It reveals interdependent representations of the ‘other’ and the ‘self’ and their functions for the Swiss population. Textual and visual material in the publications were analysed, and unpublished resources were also investigated in terms of possibilities and limits of the reporting. In this way editorial interventions as well as moments of silence or invisibility were also illustrated, allowing for the analysis of the discursive construction of identity and alterity in the complexity of its production contexts.
It can be shown that the traditional, very colonial stereotypic representations of African people in 1939 were sometimes reproduced in the 1940s, but also sometimes fully differentiated. By constructing identity and otherness, in their reporting about Africa, the Bethlehem Fathers produced additional religion-based offers of interpretation and orientation for Swiss society. Thus, the mission also worked as an essential cultural actor regarding the cohesion in the Catholic milieu. The results are a contribution to the new historical research on missions as actors in global entanglements on the one hand, and on the other hand to the research on the Catholic milieu during and after the Second World War.
Master's thesis by Barbara Miller: "Representations of the African other in the Mission of the Swiss Bethlehem Fathers."