Sunday, July 27, 2014

Esperanto as an Auxiliary to Religion

The word for "church" is "preĝejo."
As I read through some of the articles on Esperanto from the beginning of the twentieth century, I keep being struck by how overtly religious (specifically Christian) the Esperanto movement was in that period. Many of the early American Esperantists seemed to view Esperanto as a tool for promoting Christianity (the general view of the Esperanto movement is that any use of Esperanto is a good use of Esperanto; the movement itself only promotes Esperanto).

One of the leaders of the Christian Endeavor movement had been active in the early Esperanto movement in the United States. The Good Templars, a Christian temperance group, adopted Esperanto at one point (and seem to have quietly dropped it thereafter). A 1912 article focussed almost wholly on Esperanto in Christian organizations.

The “religious program” of the ninth congress of the Esperanto Association of North America seems to have taken up the the whole of the congress’s final day. The meeting started on Thursday, July 27, 1916 in Annapolis, Maryland, and ran through Sunday with a day full of religious activities. The New York Evening World ran a short article to coincide with the opening of the meeting:
Delegates to Congress Will Hear Sermon and Prayer

ANNAPOLIS, Md., July 27.—The ninth annual Congress of the Esperanto Association of North America opened here to-day and will continue through Sunday. A religious programme has been arranged for Sunday at St. Anne’s Protestant Episcopal Church. Morning prayer in Esperanto will be led by Rev. James L. Smiley, assistant rector of St. Anne’s, and a sermon in the universal language will be preached by Rev. Paul F. Hoffman of Elizabeth, N. J. In the evening an illustrated sermon on “Esperanto as an Auxiliary to Religion” will be delivered.
Though brief, the article makes clear that the conference attendees are going to get a full day of Christian worship on Sunday. I know Zamenhof downplayed his Jewishness for fear that Esperanto would be rejected because its creator was a Jew (and, indeed, this did happen at times), but it seems that the Esperanto movement went overboard in being aggressively Christian. (Even today, while there is Sunday worship service in Esperanto at the Universala Kongreso, there seems to be no Jewish services.)

While the early American Esperanto movement seemed to be egalitarian toward women, with many women in the leadership (though some groups had separate “Ladies’ Auxiliaries”), the early movement seems to have been overwhelmingly white, well-off, and Christian (and largely Protestant at that).
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  1. If the early Esperanto movement in the United States seemed to be overwhelmingly white, well-off, and Protestant Christian... it is likely because that was what the population of the United States was at that time. Granting that the 'well off' is a combination of the relative prosperity of those in the US as well as congress attendees being those who could actually afford to go.

  2. I suppose I should have noted that it seemed to me that the Esperanto movement in the early 20th century seemed whiter and more Christian than the general population of the US at the time. Of course, partly I know I'm throwing an ahistorical view of race in America into it. After all, I should expect approximately zero Asian-American Esperantists in 1908.


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