Focus Statement, Take Two, and Boy is it Longer…

During the late 1800s, a number of American women left their homes in the United States, some within a month of marriage, and travelled thousands of miles, almost halfway around the globe, to East Asia, all in the name of a ‘call’ and a ‘mission’. These women were the first female missionaries to the tiny, very culturally different, country of Korea and their job entailed ministering to their Korean counterpart – the women of the “Hermit Kingdom”. So after their arrival, how did these American women missionaries, steeped in western ideals, create connections with Korean women who were highly influenced by very different and often conflicting Confucian ideals?

I contend that the American women built cultural bridges in purposeful actions of commensurability as well as non-purposeful, as far as evangelism is concerned, spatial decisions. I argue that American women missionary’s work in introducing education and health-care to Korean women opened the door to creative interchanges, which led to formations of understanding as well as productive misunderstandings. I also ague that their decision, not based on overtly using the home for ministry, to build western style, large homes, actually produced a ‘safe’ space for Confucian women to interact with the American women.

Underlying this argument is the assumption that creative discourse, which includes the creation of understandings as well as productive misunderstandings, helps to bridge a cultural divide. The ideas of Sanjay Subrhamanyam on commensurability and non-commensurability as well as Georg Simmel’s ideas on ‘the stranger’ are helpful to show that this is indeed true. Also underlying this argument is ways in which I state women see their home, Korean and American. In looking at these ideas, theories on space by Gaston Bachelard are helpful.

Many scholars of missionary work write about the work in education and medicine of missionary women and may see this work as “going down the same road.” This work, however, will focus intently as the first interactions between Korean women and American women and the relationships that develop, not so much at the educational or medicinal efforts of the missionaries. These activities will be looked at only to the extent that the work became a vehicle in developing connections. This paper will also look intently at the ways in which women view their home in Korea and America and how missionary homes become a place that both Korean and American women felt ‘safe’ and could explore cultural differences.

In examining the connections between American women missionaries and Korean women, I will lay a foundation for arguing that women played a large role in the rise of Christianity in Korea. The paper will also show that looking at the relationships and intercultural communication, which develops between people from different cultural backgrounds, creates better understandings of World History at large. In this project, I will use American missionary records, journals from the time period published in America and Korea and dissertations written in Korean and English about Christian Korean women.

Dr. Jones, is this way too long now?????


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4 Responses to Focus Statement, Take Two, and Boy is it Longer…

  1. KJ

    A focus statement is an object that helps you see the direction of your work, so while Single opts for a few sentences, I think of the assignment as whatever works for you. It’s obvious that you are working through a lot of ideas about what questions/evidence the theories are leading you to investigate — writing out your thoughts on those connections as often as you can seems like a very useful exercise, even if there are more words on paper/screen than you might want. Long way of saying…whatever helps at the moment. In future, you’ll probably make it more succinct.
    I do wonder if perhaps house/home/space isn’t your focus rather than these particular missionaries to Korea. The Korean context becomes a lens, or case study for looking at the role of the home — a gendered space — in missionary work (and in conveying the value,benefits of Christianity to the women of the country)? Somehow, by highlighting home rather than missionaries, it seems like you will make a significant contribution to the ways historians think about women missionaries. It’s a slight shift in focus, because you will have to think about the agency of missionaries v the agency of space — but of the two, looking at space seems more cutting edge. (In the 1980s there were several popular studies on gender and space–can’t put my finger on authors right now, but let me know if you are interested and I’ll see if I can resurrect a few from the depths!)
    Faith, is this way too long????

  2. faithskiles

    No, Dr. Jones, not too long! Thank you for your input. It is greatly appreciated. I also think you are right about writing it down. As I did this exercise, I even could see how my ideas are evolving and trying to land somewhere solid. In thinking about building cultural gaps, I think of the space of the mission house as truly an agent that helped build bridges to interactions and connections. I think of it as one of the agents in this process. I think of actions, and frankly probably of attitudes, within the women themselves as another. As I am interested in initial interactions between Americans and Koreans, it makes sense to me to look at early missionaries. Although, as missions pushed into the interior, new encounters happened.

    Anyway, I think this whole process is giving me hope that it will get “somewhere solid” in the near future. I do have some works on gender and space. I don’t want you to have to look for something I already have; however, I am very interested in them if I don’t have them already! This whole process, I believe, is an exercise in focused uncertainty…Focused in the sense of identifying a research question and argument, uncertain in knowing that it will evolve and change.

  3. Carmen Bolt


    I think you have a really strong argument that addresses several key aspects of your research. I wonder if, in slightly shifting your focus to center on space instead of missionaries, you might be able to make the same arguments, perhaps just flipped around? For instance, your argument could be that the decision by missionary women to build these home actually facilitated the building of these cultural bridges, as well as the understandings and misunderstandings you mention.

    Perhaps you were already leaning in this direction, but it definitely seems as if a spatial perspective will be key in your project no matter what.

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