An incisive history of the role of Christianity in linking, constraining, and changing the lives of the peoples of South Africa in the early nineteenth century.
In Blood Ground, Elizabeth Elbourne looks at the complex relationship between the Khoekhoe, the British empire, and the London Missionary Society in the Cape Colony in southern Africa at a time of intense conflict during which disparate groups competed to mobilize Christianity for their own political ends.
Focusing on the period between the arrival of the first LMS missionaries and the conclusion of the 1850-53 frontier war, Elbourne traces the transition from religion to race as the basis for policing the boundaries of the "white" community. Emphasizing Christianity's status as a religion of world empire, she explores how Christianity provided opportunities for locals but also contributed to their subjugation through ideological justification of imperial expansion.
Going beyond the simplistic view of the Victorian British as agents of cultural imperialism, Elbourne explores the social history of the early missionary movement as well as the political impact of British evangelicals, arguing that religious change in southern Africa can only be understood in the material context of ethnic conflict and bitter struggles over land and labour. In so doing, she reintegrates the history of religion into the mainstream historical narrative of South Africa, offering a view of Christianity not as a monolithic system but as a language used by diverse peoples for varying ends and thus subject to highly politicized conflicts over meaning.