King, David Patrick
SEEKING A GLOBAL VISION: THE EVOLUTION OF WORLD VISION AND
SEEKING A GLOBAL VISION: THE EVOLUTION OF WORLD VISION AND AMERICAN EVANGELICALISM
Dissertation (425 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Holifield, Brooks
Committee Members: Bounds, Elizabeth M ; Strom, Jonathan ; Wacker, Grant (Duke University );
Research Fields: Religion, History of; Religion, General; History, United States
Keywords: World Vision; evangelicalism; religious philanthropy ; development ; missions
Program: Laney Graduate School, Religion (Historical Studies in Theology and Religion)
Seeking a Global Vision: The Evolution of World Vision and American Evangelicalism
The past and present suggest two distinct pictures of World Vision. The organization began in 1950 as an American organization to support evangelical missionaries. Today it is the world's largest Christian humanitarian organization undertaking relief, community development, justice, and advocacy work. While it has remained decidedly Christian, it has earned the reputation as an elite international non-governmental organization (INGO) managed efficiently by professional experts fluent in the language of both marketing and development. I argue that World Vision's transformation was not simply another example of an organization encountering modernity, subduing its religious identity, and succumbing to secular methods in order to succeed. Instead, it is precisely the tensions and re-articulation of its religious identity that have helped to define the organization through its engagement with evangelical missiology and ecumenical theology; mainstream media, technology, and professional management, as well as its relationships with secular INGOs and cooperation with the global church.
Using historical and ethnographic methods, I trace World Vision's history as a lens through which to explore both shifts within post-World War II American evangelicalism and the complexities of religious identity within faith-based humanitarianism. While numerous scholars have examined American evangelicalism by emphasizing its American features, which have indeed permeated the nation's politics, religion, and popular culture, they have understated the effect of global forces on American evangelicals. Attending to the evolution and interplay of World Vision's practices, theology, rhetoric, and organizational structure, I hope to show how the organization rearticulated and retained its Christian identity even as it expanded beyond a narrow American evangelical subculture, how the ethos of evangelical missions more generally has shifted from traditional modes of evangelism to humanitarianism, and how exposure to the wider world has influenced the identity of countless American evangelicals. These tensions and patterns of change make possible a distinctive angle of vision on the history and evolution of religious humanitarianism.