Pieper Scholar and professor of religion David W. Scott recently presented research entitled “Religious Organizations as Migratory Systems: Methodist Chinese in Malaysia” at the Migration and Mission in Christian History conference, which was hosted by the American Society of Church History and the Ecclesiastical History Society at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK, from April 3-5.
Scott was among 100 scholars, professors and researchers at the international conference. Scott presented in a panel that included two other scholars, Princeton Theological Seminary doctoral student Christie Chui-Shan Chow, who presented research entitled, “Migrants and Morality: Turning to Seventh-day Adventism in Wenzhou” and independent scholar Rachel Erickson-Rui, who presented “Chinese Christians Overseas: Overlapping Motivations in Migration, Mission, and Business.”
Scott’s independent research was inspired by his dissertation entitled, “The Crossroads of Earth and Heaven: Methodism’s Malaysia Mission and the Making of the Global World, 1885-1915.” Scott received a Ph.D. in Religious Studies with a concentration in the History of Christianity from Boston University in 2013.
Some of Scott’s research on Chinese Methodists in Southeast Asia has been published in Mission Studies and Methodist History journals, and his latest research is set to publish next year.
Within his research, Scott argued that religious organizations can influence where and how people migrate. “This is a bit of a surprising discovery,” said Scott. “Usually the literature on migration focuses on how family, kinship groups or groups based on where you’re from form the networks that influence where and how people migrate.”
“[I] looked at Chinese migrants from Southeast China to Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) at the turn of the twentieth century,” said Scott. “Sometimes people moved to places not because they had family there, but because there were people from their same religious group there.”
Scott examined archives, including newspapers and church reports. Within these reports, Scott sometimes found difficulties finding the migratory patterns. “This ability to play detective and connect the dots in historical materials serves me in the classroom,” said Scott. “It makes me better able to guide student research, having gone through that process myself.”
By ‘connecting the dots’, Scott remembers his research process when preparing class materials and lectures. For example, within his upcoming “Religious Models of Servant Leadership: Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.” class, Scott’s research in uncovering the role of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) altered his perception of the Civil Rights Movement.
“FOR doesn’t usually get much attention, because they always worked behind the scenes,” said Scott. “Once you start paying attention, you can put together the brief mentions here and there.” The organization helped, “transmit Gandhi’s ideas about non-violence resistance to Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders,” said Scott.
Scott said studying religion helps him better understand culture and history, ultimately highlighting different features and connections within the human experience. “One of the things that’s always interested me about studying religion is the ways in which religion and culture interact. Often culture shapes religion, but religion is also capable of pushing back and changing culture.”
“Religion isn’t something that’s disconnected from the rest of human experience but rather deeply intertwined. That makes studying religion, especially the history of religion, really interesting because in the process you get to learn about all of these other aspects of human life.”
-Kaylie Longley ’15
Saint Francis, WI
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