Kenneth Scott Latourette
Born(1884-08-06)August 6, 1884
DiedDecember 26, 1968(1968-12-26) (aged 84)
Oregon City, Oregon, U.S.
Alma mater
AwardsOrder of Jade
Scientific career

Kenneth Scott Latourette (August 6, 1884 – December 26, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and historian, specialized in Chinese studies, Japanese studies, and the history of Christianity.[1][2][3] His formative experiences as a Christian missionary and educator in early 20th-century Imperial China shaped his life's work.[1][2] Although he did not learn the Chinese language, he became known for his study of the history of China, the history of Japan, his magisterial scholarly surveys on world Christianity, and of American relations with East Asia.[1][2][4]

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 graduated in 1878. DeWitt Clinton Latourette worked as a lawyer in Oregon City.

The Latourette family migrated to Oregon during the 1860s; the family's origins can be traced back to early modern France, where their ancestors fled religious persecution as Huguenots and migrated to Staten Island, New York in the 1600s.

In 1904, Latourette was awarded a B.S. degree from Linfield College in Portland, Oregon. He continued his education at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, earning a B.A. in 1906, a M.A. in 1907, and a Ph.D. in 1909.[5]


From 1909 through 1910, Latourette served as a traveling secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions.[5] In 1910, he joined the faculty of Yale-in China's Yali School at Changsha, in the Hunan Province of Imperial China. He began to study the Chinese language, but in the summer of 1911 he contracted a severe case of amoebic dysentery and was forced to return to the United States.[6]

As he began his recovery, Latourette joined the faculty at Reed College in Portland, Oregon; and from 1914 through 1916, he was a professor of history at Reed.[5] In 1916, he accepted a position at Denison University, an institution with Baptist affiliations, in Granville, Ohio. [6] His time at Denison lasted from 1916 through 1921.[5] In 1918, while at Denison, Latourette was ordained as a Baptist minister.[3]

Latourette joined the faculty of the Yale Divinity School in 1921. Latourette lived in a college dormitory suite during his time at Yale. He welcomed student groups to meet in the living room and was known as "Uncle Ken." [6] He accepted appointment as the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity (1921–1949), and he was later made the Sterling Professor of Missions and Oriental History (1949–1953).[5] 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.[3] 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.[5]

Other achievements

Latourette served as president of the American Historical Association, the Association for Asian Studies, the American Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and the Japan International Christian University Foundation.[3]

He was a leader in the ecumenical movement,[3] and he held leadership positions in the American Baptist Missionary Union, 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.[5]

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[7] in Pasadena, California. The institution's main library was called the Latourette Library.[8] (The WCIU campus was sold to Education First and therefore no longer heralds Latourette's name).

Linfield College named a residence hall in his honor in 1946.[9]


Latourette was the author of over 80 books on Christianity, Oriental history and customs, and theological subjects.[3]

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.[10] 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".[11] 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

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  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Kenneth Scott Latourette – President of the Association, 1948". Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association. 2023. Archived from the original on 15 April 2023. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Walls, Andrew F. (15 September 2016). "Modern Pioneers: Kenneth Scott Latourette". Christianity Today. Carol Stream, Illinois: Christianity Today International. ISSN 0009-5753. Archived from the original on 4 April 2023. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "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.
  4. ^ Kutcher 1993.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH): Anderson, Gerald H. (1998). "Latourette, Kenneth Scott," Archived 2009-02-16 at the Wayback Machine in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, pp. 384–85.
  6. ^ a b c Hogg (1978).
  7. ^ William Carey international university, Pasadena CA, US.
  8. ^ La Tourette library, Pasadena, CA, US: William Carey international university, archived from the original on 2007-05-02, retrieved 2008-12-20.
  9. ^ Linfield[permanent dead link].
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Burger, Nash K. "In the Field of Religion," The New York Times. August 2, 1953.