Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

William Davidson


This dissertation traces the evolution of Protestant missions in Central America from the colonial period to the present, focusing on the agents, direction, and methods of Protestant diffusion as well as the changing criteria for site selection. Chapters are arranged chronologically and progress from the macro-scale, Central America, to the micro-scale, six towns in southwestern Honduras (La Esperanza, Intibuca, Yamaranguila, San Juan, Erandique and Gracias). The chapters dealing with Central America outline when and where different mission boards have worked, as well as the geographical, economic, political and theological considerations driving site selection. The focus then narrows to patterns of church density and denominational distribution in Honduras to illustrate the cumulative effect of successive waves of Protestant activity. Finally, an examination of southwestern Honduras explores the role of physical geography, property values, population density, ethnicity, and transportation networks in church location within towns and diffusion between towns. An underlying theme throughout the paper is competition between Protestants and Catholics, as manifested in both the physical and cultural landscapes. The primary changes in Protestant site selection and diffusion can be summarized in four points. In Central America, mission stations expanded from the European and African enclaves of the Caribbean Rimland during the colonial period, to the Indian and ladino populated interior in the last century. This territorial shift was accompanied by a change in the primary agents of diffusion. Since the sixteenth century, Protestantism has evolved from the incidentally-introduced religion of foreigners (merchants, pirates, and immigrants), to a large-scale mission endeavor, and finally to an indigenous, self-supporting institution. Globally, the transition from foreign to indigenous leadership reflects a shift in the center of mission-sending activity: from Europe, to the United States, and currently to the Third World. The formation of strong indigenous churches is tied to the rise of pentecostal Protestantism over mainline and fundamentalist denominations.