Hancock, “Short-Term Mission Voluntarism and the Postsecular Imaginary”

Hancock, Mary.  2015.  “Short-Term Mission Voluntarism and the Postsecular Imaginary.”  In Religion and Volunteering, edited by Lesley Hustinx, Johan von Essen, Jacques Haers, Sara Mels, 217-237, Springer International Publishing.

Abstract: This chapter examines the spiritual motivations and impacts of voluntarism in the USA through an investigation of international short-term mission (STM), a paradigm involving 1–2-week trips that amalgamate leisure tourism, evangelism, and voluntary development work and are carried out among Christian and non-Christian communities. Mainline and nondenominational bodies sponsor STM, but it is most popular among evangelical Christians. I argue that STM’s effects, while partially explicable in terms of the social capital that it may (or may not) engender at home and in mission fields, include challenges to secular norms and institutions. STM, especially as carried out among non-Christian communities, provides (1) experiential contexts for imagining a world in which divinity is reckoned as immanently and sensorially present, and (2) communicative tools for enacting that world. It thus may rework the categorical boundaries between secular and religious practices and spaces at home, as well as on mission sites. As such, STM can be understood as an artifact of an emergent postsecular imaginary—a characterization that signals the limits of the secularization thesis and the recognition of significance of plural religiosities, spiritual orientations, and faith commitments in social action and institutions. This chapter is based on ethnographic research in southern California conducted from 2009 to 2012.