Kenneth Scott Latourette

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Kenneth Scott Latourette
Born August 6, 1884
Oregon City, Oregon
Died December 26, 1968
Oregon City, Oregon
Nationality American
Fields History of China, History of Christianity
Institutions Yale Divinity School
Alma mater Yale University
Notable awards Order of Jade

Kenneth Scott Latourette (August 6, 1884 – December 26, 1968) was an American historian of China, Japan, and world Christianity.[1] His formative experiences as Christian missionary and educator in early 20th century China shaped his life's work. Although he did not learn the Chinese language, he became known for his magisterial scholarly surveys of the history of world Christianity, the history of China, and of American relations with East Asia.[2]

Early life

Latourette was born in Oregon City, Oregon, the son of DeWitt Clinton Latourette and Ella (Scott) Latourette. His mother and father both attended Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where they both graduated in 1878. DeWitt Clinton Latourette was a lawyer in Oregon City.

In 1904, Latourette was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree from Linfield College in Oregon. He continued his education in New Haven, Connecticut at Yale, earning his BA in 1906, his MA in 1907 and his PhD in 1909.[3]


From 1909 through 1910, Latourette served as a traveling secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions.[3]

In 1910, he joined the faculty of Yale-China Association's Yali School at Changsha in Hunan Province; but this period of teaching was cut short in 1912 when he was forced to return to the United States for health reasons.[3]

After recovering his health, Latourette joined the faculty at Reed College in Portland, Oregon; and from 1914 through 1916, he was a professor of history at Reed.[3]

In 1916, he accepted a position at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. His time at Denison lasted from 1916 through 1921.[3] In 1918, while at Denison, Latourette was ordained as a Baptist minister.[1]

Latourette joined the faculty of the Yale University Divinity School in 1921. At Yale, he accepted appointment as the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity (1921–49), and he was later made the Sterling Professor of Missions and Oriental History (1949–53).[3] In 1938, he was named Chairman of the Department of Religion at Yale. He took on greater responsibilities in 1946 as Director of Graduate Studies at the Yale Divinity School.[1] From his retirement in 1953 until his death in 1968, he was Sterling Professor Emeritus at the Divinity School.

Latourette was killed at age 84 when an automobile accidentally hit him in front of his family home in Oregon City, Oregon.[3]

Other achievements

Latourette served as president of the American Historical Association, the American Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and the Japan International Christian University Foundation.[1]

He was a leader in the ecumenical movement,[1] and he held leadership positions in the American Baptist Missionary Union, the Far Eastern Association, the International Board of the Y.M.C.A., the United Board for Christian Colleges in China and the World Council of Churches.

Throughout his life he remained active in the Yale in China Association.

At the Yale Divinity School, the "Latourette Initiative" is a proactive program to preserve and provide access to the documentation of world Christianity. It provides funding for the microfilming of published and archival resources documenting the history of Christian missions and Christian life.


Latourette was awarded honorary doctorates from seventeen universities in five countries.[3]

In 1938 he received the Order of Jade from the Government of China.

He is also honored at the campus of William Carey International University[4] in Pasadena, California. The institution's main library is called the Latourette Library.[5]

Linfield College named one of their residence halls in his honor in 1946.[6]


Latourette was the author of over 80 books on Christianity, Oriental history and customs, and theological subjects.[1]

He also wrote and spoke out about issues of his time, as for example, when he warned his fellow Americans in 1943 about the unwanted consequences of revenge after Japan should eventually lose the war they started with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.[7] In addition, Latourette later wrote extensively on China.

The single work for which Latourette is most remembered is the seven-volume "A History of the Expansion of Christianity".[8] Latourette noted within Volume 4 that only 5% of Americans in 1790 had formal ties to churches or synagogues.

Latourette's papers are archived in the Divinity Library Special Collections of the Yale University Library.

Selected works


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Dr. Kenneth Latourette Is Dead; Long a Church Historian at Yale; Professor at Divinity School Also Was an Authority on the World of the Orient," The New York Times. January 1, 1969.
  2. Kutcher 1993.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH): Anderson, Gerald H. (1998). "Latourette, Kenneth Scott," in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, pp. 384–85.
  4. William Carey international university, Pasadena CA, US<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  5. La Tourette library, Pasadena, CA, US: William Carey international university<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  6. Linfield<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  7. "Warns on Revenge After Japan Loses; Dr. K.S. Latourette Sees Peril in Depriving Our Foe of Way to Earn Livelihood," The New York Times. December 15, 1943.
  8. Burger, Nash K. "In the Field of Religion," The New York Times. August 2, 1953.


  • Anderson, Gerald H (1998), "Kenneth Scott Latourette", Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (online ed.)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Harr, Wilbur C, ed. (1962), Frontiers of the Christian world mission since 1938; essays in honor of Kenneth Scott Latourette<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Kutcher, Norman (Winter 1993), "'The Benign Bachelor': Kenneth Scott Latourette between China and the United States", Journal of American-East Asian Relations, 2 (4): 399–424, doi:10.1163/187656193x00130<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Speck, William Allen (1965), The Role of the Christian Historian in the Twentieth Century as Seen in the Writings of Kenneth Scott Latourette, Christopher Dawson, and Herbert Butterfield<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • ——— (1975), "Kenneth Scott Latourette's Vocation as Christian Historian", in Marsden, George; Roberts, Frank (eds.), A Christian View of History?, pp. 119–37<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Wood, James Edward (1969), Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884–1968): Historian, Ecumenicist, and Friend<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.