Modern Pioneers: Kenneth Scott Latourette
Kenneth Scott Latourette was the first, and until recent years, almost the only major historian to write the history of Christianity in a way that dealt seriously with its presence in all six continents. He is now mainly remembered as a historian of missions. In his view, though, it was mission that determined the nature and meaning of Christian History.
Latourette was born in Oregon City, Oregon, in 1884. He majored in science at his local college, then went on to Yale, where he studied history. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on American relations with China—an unusual topic for the period.
The Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions was then in full flow, and Latourette became an enthusiastic volunteer. He served as a traveling secretary for the movement for a year, visiting colleges and universities to promote the cause of missions, before, in 1910, being appointed as a missionary himself.
Latourette joined Yale's mission in China, which intended to combine Christian teaching with excellence in higher education. But Latourette's service was brief and frustrating, as illness forced him to return home in 1912.
On his recovery, he taught history, first at Reed College, and later at Denison University. He was also ordained as a Baptist minister. Then, in 1921, Yale claimed him again as professor of missions in the Divinity School. He kept that post, as well as a dual appointment in the history department, until his retirement in 1957. He died in his native city, following a road accident, in 1968.
Latourette redirected Christian scholarship by presenting missions as the history of Christianity itself, not as an appendix to "church" history. He also made breakthroughs in the field of Asian history, a topic few American ...