Provincializing Albert Schweitzer's Ethical Colonialism in Africa

The European Legacy 16 (1):71-86 (2011)
Abstract
Unlike many commentators who tend to see Schweitzer's mission one-sidedly, I show the coexistence of liberal and conservative elements in his mission. While his mission intent was mostly motivated by the former, his mission practices largely show the latter. In this essay, I analyze them in detail in three parts. I first explain how such opposite elements can coexist by applying Dipesh Chakrabarty's notion of provincializing Europe. Like most nineteenth-century Western liberals, Schweitzer advocated Enlightenment rights for Europeans, but denied them to the colonized. I then argue that Schweitzer's mission was motivated by the liberal elements of his theology. When his critical theology led him to deny the divinity of Jesus, he found a new basis for Christianity in Jesus? ethical activism, which led him to become a medical missionary to Africa. I then examine Schweitzer's conservative practices in Africa: by applying the developmental model of Hegelian-Marxist historicism to African society, Schweitzer opposed both decolonization and advanced learning to Africans. Schweitzer's missionary practices in Africa, I therefore conclude, were more conservative than those of the typical European missionary
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