Obviously SIL’s solicitude does not extend to religious tradition, the value systems which it considers Satanic but most native people consider the basis of their way of life. It is true, of course, that missions may deflect as well as multiply the pressures which disintegrate a culture. The most popular rejoinder to missionary work—‘leave the Indians alone’—delights the Summer Institute. For decades it has made the no-lose argument that civilization, now culture change, is ‘inevitable’. The happy savage meets the same fate: he died in a contact epidemic. Offering their own bromide, translators customarily indict anthropologists for wanting to preserve Indians as cultural specimens, like animals in a zoo, rather than helping them adjust to change as SIL says it does. But while translators may believe that isolationism is the basic anthropological grievance against their work, they are in far more difficult terrain.

To construct the dual identity, SIL/WBT learned from supposedly value-free scholars who mocked fundamentalist beliefs. Just as they did, it could present itself as value-free (an impartial institute with a vague commitment to Christianity) when it was actually value-laden. Disapproving anthropologists could be kept at bay with the argument that, since anthropology is value-free like other sciences, its practitioners have no right to use their authority to make value judgements against Christian missions. With its nation-building claims SIL made itself congenial to Latin American indigenists.

David Stoll