DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Imagine This!

Written by: on January 16, 2015

Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism investigates a concept of nationalism that most people, while living out the reality, rarely consciously think about. I have traveled to many different countries and have found that there is an almost universal pride in one’s nationality. Even people who disagree with their government’s policies still take great pride in who they are as a national people.

The perspective that nationalism is “imagined” is an intriguing concept. Anderson explains his premise as such, “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”[1]

Coming from a militaristic nation, I frequently encounter people who are willing to die for their country, even though they may personally disagree with many governmental actions and personally know only a minuscule amount of the total population. My nephew was a Green Beret and died in Iraq. He was willing to give his life for his country even though he fought in a far-away land. While serving in the Balkans, he once said that they were supporting the wrong side, yet he still submitted himself to the will of his nation. The connection between dying on foreign soil and serving one’s country implies a deep sense of duty. One would expect this sense of duty toward one’s family and close friends but to include unknown strangers in this protective loyalty seems a bit strange; somehow these “strangers” must have meaning in a person’s life; Something draws us together as if we were a family.

We all have a basic need to belong. Anderson traces key elements that allow us to “belong” to a much larger group. Through embracing commonalities, we are able to find our identity in the larger “family” of strangers who share our dreams, desires, and beliefs. Anderson elaborates on three of these commonalities that played a significant role in the development of nationalism; language, religion, and dynasty. Of these three, I would argue that perhaps religion is the strongest. It is so strong that it can dictate what languages are used and has been used as justification for the establishment and perpetuation of dynastic rule. Nationalism addresses questions like; where I belong, what is important, what is my place in the world, where am I going, and what is worth dying for. Religion addresses these same issues. In fact, when I think of imagining community, I am drawn to the image of God helping Abraham image a great nation even when it seemed impossible. As I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see Jesus helping the disciples imaging a kingdom that was vastly different from anything they had previously experienced. It seems that we are not only born with a need to belong, but that we are born with a mind that can even image a better way of living in the community in which we belong. Commonalities of language, unified rule (whatever the form of government), and mutually held religious beliefs only serve to expand what is already part of human nature.

A negative side of this need to belong is the propensity to identify those who do not belong. Nationalism very often results in racism toward those with identifiable differences. While some difference may be more apparent than others, the fact is, even the smallest, most obscure difference can be used as a means of exclusion. “The fact of the matter is that nationalism thinks in terms of historical destinies, while racism dreams of eternal contaminations, transmitted from the origins of time through an endless sequence of loathsome copulations: outside history.”[2]
While nationalism can create a great sense of identity and mutual wellbeing, it can also be the source of great travesties commitment against other human beings.

As a student of history, I loved the way Anderson wove key historical events throughout the narrative, but if I could offer one critique it would be this; Don’t expect your readers to understand whatever language you decide to quote, give us the translation. Bueno, tal vez esto sólo es una parte de mi arrogancia nacionalista americano saliendo.(Well, perhaps that is just some of my American nationalistic arrogance coming out.)

[1] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections On the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised ed. (London/New York: Verso, 2006), 6.

[2] Ibid., 153.

About the Author


Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

8 responses to “Imagine This!”

  1. mm Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, you said: “Of these three [language, religion and dynasty], I would argue that perhaps religion is the strongest. It is so strong that it can dictate what languages are used and has been used as justification for the establishment and perpetuation of dynastic rule. ” Very well said.

    I too was a bit perturbed by his assumption that all his readers are multi-lingual. At least put a translation in a footnote man!


  2. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Brian, I wholeheartedly agree that Religion is the strongest of the commonalities. The sense of belonging that comes through religion seems to run deeper then any language or dynasty that I’ve seen.

    I went to the Ukraine when I was a college student and I can remember sitting through a long church service not understanding a word they said. But towards the end of the service they started singing As the Deer Panteth in Ukrainian. Our college group started singing along with them in english. The eyes and tears in the room spoke to the depth we felt for one another.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, I really agree with the thought of most people not consciously thinking about nationalism or the overarching concepts of how culture and society is created, formed and developed. Mary brought this up a bit when she mentioned she wasn’t sure how nationalism was going to connect. I also, when reading the title, initially thought the book would be or have a smaller concept behind it, but ended up loving how nationalism, or more than nationalism, just this thinking behind societal development is so intriguing. So many of the ideas that shape the development of our society seem off the radar of most people being affected by it. I would have to say I am one in that line of people, but definitely growing in perspective to see how so much of our social order has been “imagined” and “created”.

  4. mm Dave Young says:

    Brian, I found your post thought provoking. I was startled by the phrase “coming from a militaristic nation”. Yes I guess I do come from a militaristic nation. Growing up a few of my siblings served in the military, my dad served in WW2 – flying over europe calling in air strikes. Something he never, ever talked about. That we would fight for our nation, that we would obey orders to kill for an ‘imagined’ thing; is startling. Like so many things an imagined community can do great good and great harm. Oh, that we would be ever discerning what we’re doing to others and what others are doing to us in the name of ‘the imagined community’.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      You stated, “While nationalism can create a great sense of identity and mutual wellbeing, it can also be the source of great travesties committed against other human beings.” Nationalism can be negative when it fuels elitist ideologies (i.e. Nazi Germany). Indeed, the lens through which we view the world greatly impacts our loyalties. Therefore, we must be very careful that we remain grounded with our identity in Christ first.

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Off the chain Brian, blew me away. Wow. I have to say something but you said a lot. I think this cohort is off the chain your insight is tight. As i have said before what nationalism looks like to one person may not look the same to another person. I think we assimilate to are community just because we are where we are at any given time. I love America but there are so many disparities and inequalities that many Americans have to face. That never stops us from being apart of a community but it always leave holes in the reason for community when things are not fair!

  6. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    I concur with other responses that you provide much to consider. The point that stuck out to me was how as humans we quickly jump to who does not belong, over against who does. I think of Hiebert (missionary/anthropologist) who reminds me a lot of you who offered that we consider looking to the center with Christ in the middle of concentric circles, rather than our judgment on who is outside the concentric circles. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our identity truly was with eyes toward Christ alone? I know I’d be freer to receive those who are different than me.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Hmmm… Now I’m really considering this question: Does our nationalism provide, primarily, a point of invitation for people to be included OR primarily a point of exclusion? And how does this inform our identity as followers of Jesus? Do we stand in a posture of invitation or exclusion? Do we revel in our separateness?


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