Science, Technology, and Society scholar Timothy Stoneman shared his research on missionary radio with the CMS colloquium on Nov. 2. Stoneman’s recent doctoral research takes a historical look at how Christian missionaries utilized radio in developing nations to evangelize.
This proliferation of broadcasting is directly linked to a “sea change” in shifting the locus and population of Christianity from the north to the south on a global basis, Stoneman said.
Stoneman focuses his research on the period between 1931, with the first missionary broadcasts, through the 1970s when the transistor radio changed the medium dramatically. Evangelical radio relied on community receivers, often supplied by missions for free or highly subsidized. The radio functioned as a more social, group activity in developing nations because they were relatively rare. Missionaries were innovative, Stoneman finds, to put the technology to use in a way that fit with the local environments. Often radios were “pretuned” to receive only evangelical broadcasts.
While the radio cannot be solely accredited for conversion, Stoneman asks us to reframe the question from conversion to legitimization. The radio, he argues, made Christianity part of everyday life, normalized, legitimate. While this is not the same as a spontaneous conversion, over time the radio broadcasts have paved the way for a slower, more gradual acceptance and practice.
Other inherent qualities of the medium such as repetition, oral communication, and the personal association with voice all helped radio achieve the mission it was set out to do in developing nations throughout the 20th century.