The surprising tale of the first American Protestant missionaries to proselytize in the Muslim world
InAmerican Apostles, the Bancroft Prize–winning historian Christine Leigh Heyrman chronicles the first fateful collision between American missionaries and the diverse religious cultures of the Levant. Pliny Fisk, Levi Parsons, Jonas King: though virtually unknown today, these three young New Englanders commanded attention across the United States two hundred years ago. Steeped in the biblical prophecies of evangelical Protestantism, these boys became the founding members of the Palestine mission and venturedto Ottoman Turkey, Egypt, and Syria, where they sought to expose the falsity of Muhammad’s creed and to restore these bastions of Islam to true Christianity.
The missionaries thrilled Americans with tales of crossing the Sinai on camel, sailing up the Nile, and exploring Jerusalem, but their journals tell a different story, revealing that their missions did not go according to plan. Instead of converting the Middle East, the members of the Palestine mission themselves experienced spiritual challenges; some of the missionaries developed a cosmopolitan curiosity about Islam while others devised images of Muslims that would fuel the first wave of Islamophobia in the United States.American Apostlesbrings to life evangelicals’ first encounters with the Middle East. The mission promised Americans a more accurate understanding of Islam, but it bolstered a more militant Christianity.
Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize
“Enthralling.”—The New Yorker
“A striking narrative . . . This is a beautiful book and a delight to read. Americans of the early 19th century found the travels and insights of the missionaries inspiring. They asked new questions of themselves and the world. This reader in the 21st century feels similarly with Heyrman as his guide.”—Edward J. Blum,The Chronicle Review
“[American Apostles] follows a series of US missionaries who, in the early 19th century, abandoned the boosterism of the American Republic for the alien and baffling landscapes of the Middle East . . . Heyrman carefully explains how these crusaders became fascinated by the potential of their mission, but the book’s most thrilling sections recount their struggles when things didn’t turn out as they’d imagined.”—Nicholas Guyatt,The Nation
“American Apostles is a work of surpassing interest and power. On the one hand, it vividly evokes the very particular ethos of 19th-century American evangelicals. On the other, it speaks, at least indirectly, to central issues and concerns of our own time. It achieves this bridging feat by way of meticulous research, shrewd analysis, and supple, elegantly evocative prose.”—Society of American Historians, citation for theFrancis Parkman Prize
“Heyrman's engaging writing makes even obscure points of doctrine seem exciting and relevant, and her focus on the ambitions and misgivings of the diverse individuals populating her narrative will appeal to casual readers and specialists alike. An incisive sociological lens on a religion in flux, which, though centuries distant, continues to hold relevance for the present day.”—Kirkus Reviews
“History with relevance: Professor Christine Leigh Heyrman uses her meticulous research on early American missionaries in the Middle East to explore the origins of present-day American behavior toward Islam.”—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize–winning author ofWhat Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848
“InAmerican Apostles, Christine Leigh Heyrman tells a roistering tale of 'interesting' times when young American evangelicals, still wet behind the ears, ventured abroad to spread their good news, expecting to convert whole heathen nations and make the world over as Christian. Confounded by what they found, Heyrman's 'apostles' responded in radically different ways to cultures and religions that surprisingly often attracted the would-be empire builders. Few two-hundred-year-old stories have as much relevance tothe conflicts of our own time as those Heyrman has uncovered in little-known private letters and dispatches and made vividly new for twenty-first-century readers.”—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author ofMargaret Fuller: A New American Life
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