Seventy years before Samuel Huntington there was Basil Mathews. Jonathan Conlin and historian Todd Thompson revisit a forgotten text that launched “the clash of civilizations”.
Samuel P. Huntington’s 1996 book made “the clash of civilizations” a catchphrase and bone of contention among scholars of the Middle East and beyond. As it happens, the phrase had first appeared in the 1920s, in the work of the Pan-Asianist Shumei Okawa and of the Christian missionary Basil Mathews (1879-1951). Whereas Okawa is fairly well-known, however, Mathews has been almost entirely forgotten.
Widely read (at the time, at least) by Protestants across the anglophone world, Mathews’ Young Islam on Trek: A Study in the Clash of Civilizations (1926) sketched a future for youth-focused Christian mission in the Muslim world: one centred on the formation of the ‘character’ Mathews felt was needed to resist the competing claims of Panislamism, Bolshevism, nationalism and feminism. In this podcast Jonathan Conlin asks Todd Thompson to situate Mathews in the broader history of Christian mission and Christian-Muslim relations.
Todd Thompson is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Biola University, with interests in global intellectual history and the relationship between violence and religion. His study of a later missionary figure was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press/Hurst as Sir Norman Anderson and the Christian Mission to Modernise Islam.