Nearest East: American Millennialism and Mission to the Middle East

In This Review

Nearest East: American Millenialism and Mission to the Middle East
By Hans-Lukas Kieser
Temple University Press, 2010
224 pp. $59.50
Purchase

Kieser, a German Swiss scholar, brings his backgrounds in Ottoman studies and Protestant theology together to offer a rewarding perspective on the complex relationship between the United States and what he calls the "nearest East." Kieser understands as few others do just how important Protestant missionaries in the Ottoman Empire in the first two decades of the twentieth century were to American progressive intellectuals and religious leaders. His description of the gulf of mutual misunderstanding that separated Ottoman and American Protestant reformers is haunting. And his analysis of how those reformers lost hope after the mass murder of Armenians during World War I is revelatory. (U.S. missionaries had seen the Armenians as the modernizers of the Middle East, and their near extinction dealt a blow to the missionaries' fusion of Enlightenment optimism and Protestant Christianity.) Unfortunately, Kieser does not have the same familiarity with Arab sources that he does with Ottoman ones; his nearest East really includes only Asia Minor. And like many writers with strong theological and moral commitments, he sometimes piles a very high mountain of moral judgment on very shaky foundations of political analysis. Nevertheless, at its best, Nearest East casts fresh light on an episode that left lasting marks on the United States' culture and its relations with a vital part of the world.