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

“Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson

Written by: on January 12, 2017

 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth;  (John 17:15-17a)

“This world is not my home I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”


Dr. Anderson proposed the following definition of a nation: “it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”[1]

– It is imagined because ‘Or l’essence d’une nation est que tous les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublié bien des choses.”[2]

In other words, it is imagined because most members of even the smallest nations will never meet their fellow-members, yet in the minds of each there is an image of their community.

-It is limited because even the largest communities have boundaries. They do not believe that their own community will encompass the whole planet.

-It is sovereign because each nation dreams of being free and ruling themselves.

-It is a community because regardless of any inequalities that may exist it sees itself as a horizontal comradeship.

Though this community is “imagined” it does not mean that it isn’t real. Countless thousands of comrades have willingly sacrificed their lives for their nation.

After defining what he means by “imagined communities” or “nations”, Dr. Anderson notes that they developed in the last two centuries. While many historiographical researchers would argue that nationalization began in Europe, Dr. Anderson believes it began in the Americas, in the United States and former Spanish colonies. Dr. Anderson reasons that “print-capitalism”, “creole pioneers”, and a new conceptual model of the national state (comradeship) led to nationalization.

Anderson explains that nations emerged after two powerful belief systems were weakened: elite languages (Latin, Hebrew, Greek) and rulers who led with “divine” powers.

The “print-capitalism” or the mechanical reproduction of printed matter enabled people to come together like never before in history and understand each other. They could now make themselves part of a community.

What are the benefits of nationalism? Dr. Anderson believed that nationalism helps the community to feel solidarity for strangers. “it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love. The cultural products of nationalism – poetry, prose fiction, music, plastic arts – show this love very clearly in thousands of different forms and styles. On the other hand, how truly rare it is to find analogous nationalist products expressing fear and loathing.”[3]


Dr. Anderson’s book has gone through several printings. I have the 2016 edition. He kept the original text from 1983 pretty much in tact and added to it. His historical analysis would have remained the same up to that point. He added the unique parts that “census, maps, and museums” play in the imaginings of cultures. He also further elaborated on the concepts of parallelism and simultaneity in time in the forming of new nations (see below).

I have to wonder what his thoughts were on the European Union. He certainly lived through the forming of it in the 1990’s. (He died in 2015.) Then what would he have said about Brexit? Would he possibly think that the British were trying to re-establish their own idea of nationhood apart from the EU?

I would have other questions for Dr. Anderson.

  1. He said that nations are limited and it is not possible for say, “Christians to dream of a wholly Christian planet.”[4] But don’t Marxists dream of spreading their ideology to the whole world? Maybe he is mixing “Christendom” up with “Christianity”.

Constantine and Charlemagne began “Christendom”. It is a subject for another time whether or not Christians should establish political nations. For now though I believe that Jesus died on the cross for everyone in the world no matter what nation they live in. Christianity spreads across all cultures and nations. And, by the way, the Muslims have stated publicly that they would create a Muslim world if they could.

  1. I don’t think that Latin, Greek, or Hebrew are completely dead. Yes, nations have modern languages, but I went to Latin mass until I was 15 years old. The reason given was that Catholics could go to mass anywhere in the world and be able to understand. Christian scholars still study Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Would Dr. Anderson like to have one single language for the whole world? Would it be French maybe? Actually Dr. Anderson could read Dutch, German, Spanish, Russian, and French and was fully conversant in Indonesian, Javanese, Tagalog, and Thai. He claimed that he often thought in Indonesian.[5]
  2. Dr. Anderson seemed so familiar with so many places in the world. (Chapter 6 especially seemed very global to me.) I looked him up. He was born in China to Anglo-Irish parents. His family had to flee to California in 1945 when the Japanese invaded. Then they went to Ireland. In the disruption over the Suez Canal he sided against the “British Imperialists”. At Cambridge he began his journey into Marxism and became an anti-colonialist scholar. However, if he had any homeland at all it would be Indonesia. (This explains the examples of Southeast Asia in the book.) Dr. Anderson died in his beloved Indonesia. Because I understand his journey, I appreciate his view better.Conclusions

Terms like “capitalism”, “elite”, and “comradeship” are typical for Marxist historiographers. Perhaps as a Marxist this life is all that Dr. Anderson thought there was. As a Christian I believe that we live in a sort of “parallel and simultaneous” world of our own. I have my United States citizenship and my home in heaven. (Phil. 3:20)

As I reflect on the concepts of nationalism I will remember that most of the people we will interact with have some sort of national pride. I hope to point them to a more permanent home.





[1] Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, Verso, 2016) p.6

[2] “‘ But the essence of a nation is that all people have many things in common, and all have forgotten many things.”

[3] Ibid, pgs. 141, 142.

[4] Ibid., p. 7

[5] What do you think about that, Stu?

About the Author

Mary Walker

5 responses to ““Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Mary, enjoyed your well thought out post. I agree with your comment:

    “Maybe he is mixing “Christendom” up with ‘Christianity’.”

    When speaking of Europe in particular, I often try to help people to see that there is a difference between “Christianity” and “Christendom.” I too believe that Anderon and more than a few scholars do not see a line between the two or see the two as synonymous. But they are vastly different! A relationship with Christ makes all the difference in the world. Thanks for the great post.

  2. I like your point that though the community is imagined does not mean it isn’t real. I take it that real depends on one’s imagination.

  3. Great post Mary! I really enjoyed your summary and your reflections. Nice intellectual empathy and respect to remember everyone has their national pride and to be respectful of this. Beautiful concept about introducing people to their permanent home. Thank you for reminding me of our true mission.

  4. Mary, it is so true that we have this paradox that exists for believers being “resident aliens” in our world. How should we live as faithful pilgrims in the midst of our hurting world? Even though yes Heaven is indeed our home, we are still called to be a light in the world. It is challenging every day to live in the tension. It definitely takes the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to continue to grow and mature in our Faith. Even more so, it takes an abundance of love to be willing to deal with the messiness of life and work together to bring reconciliation and healing to our world.

  5. Geoff Lee says:

    “As I reflect on the concepts of nationalism I will remember that most of the people we will interact with have some sort of national pride. I hope to point them to a more permanent home.”
    Ultimately, our citizenship is in heaven. We are strangers and aliens here! We do indeed live in this parallel existence as you say Mary.

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