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NWO grant awarded to Karène Sanchez

One of our LUCIS members, Karène Sanchez, has been granted the Internationalisation in the Humanities grant for her project 'Engaging Europe in the Arab World: European missionaries and humanitarianism in the Middle East (1850-1970)'. Sanchez is cooperating with researchers from IEG Mainz and IISMM Paris and will be working on this project from 2015 until 2018.


From the mid-19th century until the 1970’s, the Middle East witnessed the presence of various European missionaries who played a fundamental role in the birth and the development of humanitarianism. Since these Christian missionaries were well integrated in the local Middle Eastern societies via their investment in health, they were the favourite intermediaries for foreign diplomats. This project seeks to explore the points of contact between European ‘humanitarian diplomacy’ (praxis and law) and the missionaries.

European missionaries in the Middle East.

Christian missions and humanitarianism played a foundational role in modern European history and identity that has hitherto not been adequately acknowledged. At the same time, the notion of ‘humanitarianism’ is currently quite popular in political rhetoric and the media, even as a proper reflection on its origins is lacking. This project aims at contributing to a historically grounded understanding of the roots of humanitarianism and its contemporary uses.

The first part of the project will address the evolution of the profile of the missionaries and of their apostolate (rhetoric and ‘praxis’) towards humanitarianism, from the mid- 19th century crises to the 1970’s.

The second part will focus on their active role in humanitarianism during specific Middle Eastern crises.

In the third and final part, relations between missionaries and humanitarianism will be analysed in a wider comparative context via their networks.

In this three-part project, researchers at Leiden University will benefit from the expertise of the German and the French groups focusing on missionaries/ European presence and philanthropic actions in the Middle East.


‘Mission’ and ‘humanitarianism’ are intimately linked: they both share a vision of engagement with the world, a commitment to moral idealism, and a project of ethical, spiritual betterment. This collaborative project focuses on the interactions between Europe and the Middle East. It enlightens their historical roots by analysing European humanitarianism as witnessed in the transformation of the religious missions of the 19th into both secular and religious humanitarianism of the 20th century. ‘Humanitarianism’ will be understood as ‘covering emergency relief, longer-term efforts to prevent suffering from famine, ill-health, or poverty’ (Paulmann, 2013, 215).

From the early phases of modern missions, Christian missions had supported many humanitarian activities, mostly framed as subservient to the preaching of Christianity. Religiously inspired actions contributed to the foundations of humanitarian law (Geneva Convention, 1864). The missionaries’ humanitarian activities even preceded the intergovernmental humanitarian movement in certain areas.
One of the central activities of this kind of humanitarianism concerned the question of minorities and refugees of the Middle East, producing an expertise relevant until today. The project thus seeks to explore the points of contact between European ‘humanitarian diplomacy’ (Kevonian, 2004) and imperial and globalising vocabularies of humanitarianism with the practices of humanitarian organisations and missionaries.

Christian missions paid more attention to the organisation and bureaucratisation (‘rationalisation’) of their orders, and media became more important to their work. Furthermore, the encounters in the different Arab countries were much more complex than a ‘secular’ Europe meeting a ’religious’ Arab or even Muslim world.

The current project seeks to discover and retrace such ‘entangled histories’ for the first time in an integral perspective.

The three subprojects will bring together various experts from France, Germany and the Netherlands at conferences in these countries, to be published in 2 books and an international proposal. 

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