The Early Swiss and German Mission in Japan

Paradoxes of Liberal Theology

Esben Petersen

© Chisokudō Publications, 2021. vi + 327 pages

In this book, Esben Petersen draws on a wealth of original sources drawn from archives in Germany and Japan to explore various aspects of the reception and appropriation of Liberal Christianity in modern Japan. In particular, he presents a detailed history not only of the early Swiss and German mission movement belonging to the Allgemeinen Evangelischen Protestantischen Missionsvereins during the Meiji and Taishō periods, but also of the dynamic networks, both religious and academic, that developed around it.

In its interactions with Japanese Christians and Buddhists, Liberal Christianity—a rather heterogeneous Christian movement, which, in its modern manifestation, emphasized “individual religious experience as the basis for the definition of all truth”—came to play an important role in the intellectual development of modern Japan. Nevertheless, it failed to make a permanent impact on Japan. Through a series of historical narratives, Petersen offers an explanation by pointing to paradoxes inherent to Liberal Christianity itself that worked against its own missionary ideals.

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