Supplementary Reading Report on
Anthropological Insights for Missionaries,
Paul G. Hiebert
MB520 (IDL), Anthropology
Supplementary Reading Report
Charles H. Kraft, Spring 1998
Fuller Theological Seminary, School of World Mission
This report focuses on the main differences between
Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, by Paul Hiebert and the
main text for this course, Anthropology for Christian Witness, by
Although both texts develop and focus on concepts of
incarnational mission and have quite similar titles, the general structures
and intents of Anthropological Insights for Missionaries and Anthropology
for Christian Witness are quite different. While Kraft's text is intended
as a comprehensive introduction to cultural anthropology from a Christian
perspective, Hiebert's text is focused more specifically on certain insights
for missionaries and does not cover much of the anthropological material
that is included in Kraft. Hiebert does, however, include some valuable
sections in a book more specifically focused towards missionaries that
Kraft does not have. Basically we have one text (Hiebert) focusing on mission
work and applying some anthropological insight to that work and another
text (Kraft) focusing on anthropology and then applying it to cross-cultural
mission. Both approaches are certainly valid. Reflecting their own missionary
experiences, Hiebert's examples are drawn primarily from India and Kraft's
from Nigeria, although both draw widely from other sources as well.
Topics covered in Kraft, but either not mentioned
at all or mentioned with only very little detail in Hiebert include: race,
technology, economic systems, religious systems, life cycle, grouping,
social control, various aspects of change, ethics of change, worldview
change dynamics, and research methods. Rather than devoting whole chapters
to these subjects, they are usually mentioned in a paragraph or two in
another context. Kraft gives helpful and much more detailed discussion
of all of these aspects of culture. Such topics as education, family, and
status and role (covered comprehensively in Kraft's treatment) are discussed
in Hiebert but primarily in the context of a missionary's life and mission
rather than on broader anthropological ground.
Valuable material in Hiebert that Kraft does not
have or discuss in detail include sections on: cycles, symptoms, and dynamics
of adapting to culture shock; communication theory1;
the bicultural community; and the missionary in relation to various groups:
wife and children, missionary colleagues, national Christians, sending
churches, mission board, and national non-Christians. Hiebert also draws
together a more comprehensive discussion of contextualization of both cultural
forms and local theologies, as well as working towards a transcultural
theology for the worldwide church. He likewise, focuses on the cultural
assumptions of North American missionaries in one chapter. Kraft also covers
both of these topics (contextualization and missionary cultural assumptions),
but they are, in general, scattered throughout his book.
Definition of Culture
Primary to the study of anthropology is the concept
of culture. Here I compare the definitions of culture given by the two
authors. Hiebert defines culture as "the more or less integrated system
of ideas, feelings, and values and their associated patterns of behavior
and products shared by a group of people who organize and regulate what
they think, feel, and do. (30)" The "ideas, feelings, and values" in this
definition refer to three dimensions of culture: cognitive, affective,
and evaluative. Hiebert sees culture as manifested in behaviors and also
in products. Kraft defines culture as "a society's complex, integrated
coping mechanism, consisting of learned, patterned concepts and behavior,
plus their underlying perspectives (worldview) and resulting artifacts
(material culture). (38)" Note that while Kraft's definition speaks specifically
of only material products, he later elaborates to include nonmaterial products
such as customs and rituals.
What are the differences in these two definitions?
I would contend that Hiebert and Kraft understand culture in basically
the same ways, although what they stress in their definitions may be significant.
Here are the two definitions broken into more or less into parallel concepts:
|integrated system which organizes and regulates
||complex, integrated coping mechanism
|ideas, feelings, and values
||learned, patterned concepts; underlying perspectives (worldview)
|patterns of behavior
||learned, patterned behavior
|shared by a group
|organizes and regulates thinking, feeling, and doing
||learned, patterned concepts and behavior
One thing explicit in Kraft's definition and not in Hiebert's is that
culture is learned. Another distinction may be made in that in Hiebert's
definition, culture appears to be active - a system which organizes and
regulates. For Kraft, however, culture never does anything. It is
a coping mechanism which is used by the members of the society which has
How about the two text's definitions of worldview ("world
view" in Hiebert)? Both authors would define worldview most simply as "basic
assumptions." Kraft gives a more detailed definition: "the culturally structured
assumptions, values, and commitments/allegiances underlying a people's
perception of reality and their responses to those perceptions. (52)" Hiebert
does not explicitly define worldview, but to summarize him, he might say
something like: "the cognitive, affective, and evaluative assumptions about
reality which provide people with a way of looking at the world that makes
sense out of it, that gives them a feeling of being at home, and that reassures
them that they are right. (47)" Again Kraft's definition is static and
used by people, while for Hiebert worldview is more active. (Perhaps Hiebert
does not really see worldview as "doing" anything, but is simply not as
careful as Kraft to avoid this connotation in his language.)
The two author's main differences on worldview can
more easily be seen by comparing the worldview functions they give. As
is seen by the following table, Kraft goes into much more detail than Hiebert.
|provides us with cognitive foundations
||patterning the way we use our wills
|gives us emotional security
||patterning the use of emotions
|validates our deepest cultural norms
||patterning logic and reason
|integrates our culture
||affect and pattern motivation
|monitors culture change
||patterns of explaining
||patterns of pledging allegiance
||patterns of relating
||patterns of adapting
||patterns of regulating
||patterns for getting psychological reinforcement
||patterns for integrating and attaining consistency in life
and the way it is structured.
Form and Meaning
Anyone who has studied anthropology at Fuller's School
of World Mission will probably know the great difference in opinion between
Kraft and Hiebert on the subject of form and meaning. Kraft repeatedly
insists that meanings are never in forms, but that meanings exist in people
and are assigned by them to particular forms. Hiebert says that this is
sometimes the case, but says that the symbolic link between form and meaning
is complex and varied - many must be understood within their cultural and
historical contexts. He writes: "the link between form and meaning in some
symbols is so close that the two cannot be differentiated." This is seen
as especially true for historical symbols. For example, Mecca has a strong
religious meaning for Muslims. I must agree with Kraft here. The meaning
can still be separated from the form. A non-Muslim will assign to Mecca
a completely different meaning. Maybe for a certain people, there
can be no separation of form and meaning, because the meaning is so deeply
ingrained, but the meaning is not ingrained in the form itself,
but in the people's mind in relation to that form. A person from a different
cultural background can and probably will assign a different meaning to
Hiebert also does not make a clear distinction (at
least to my satisfaction) between symbols and forms. He writes that "symbols
link meanings, feelings, and values to forms" but then he seems to go on
and equate symbols with forms. I am left completely unsure of the difference.
Are all symbols a form of some kind?
I found the suggested exercise at the end of chapter two in Hiebert's text
quite interesting and helpful for determining my own cultural biases.
The brief survey on the changing face of the world and thus mission today
at the end of Hiebert's text was also helpful.
1 Kraft, however, has separate complete
publications on this topic and is more of an expert in this area than Hiebert.
I highly recommend his excellent Communication Theory for Christian Witness.
Hiebert, Paul G.
1985 Anthropological Insights for Missionaries.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker.
Kraft, Charles H.
1996 Anthropology for Christian Witness.
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis.
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