Between Conversion and Ethnography: Catholic Missionaries in South Asia (16th-18th c.)

Ines G. Županov (directrice de recherche au CNRS, codirectrice du Centre d'Études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud) est professeure invitée par le South Asia Center de l'Université de Pennsylvanie du 26 mars au 5 mai 2018. Elle donnera une série de 5 conférences.

 

 

Fishing for Souls: Conversion and Community along the Pearlfishing Coast  (16th century)

4 avril 2018

The mission among the Parava pearlfishers in South India - the first Jesuit mission established by the first Jesuit missionary and saint Francis Xavier - became a topos in pious, apologetic Catholic literature and in artistic production from the late 16th century onwards. In the 19th c. it spilled over into entertainment culture, all the way to a famous Orientalizing phantasy opera by George Bizet, Les pêcheurs de perles (1863).  This talk, based on Portuguese and Jesuit archives, will focus on the first century of encounters between the Jesuits and the coastal people in the Gulf of Mannar, during which the Parava (pearl)fishers forged their Catholic identity and negotiated their elite status on the regional political chessboard. Under a distant and loose rule by the Portuguese Estado da Índia that shielded them from excessive tax demands of the local rulers of southern Tamilnadu (the Chēra and Pāndyan  kings, nayakas, pāḷaiyakkārars, etc), and from the competition of Muslim fishing and trading guilds, the Catholic Paravas profited during the interim political equilibrium before the arrival of the Dutch and British to fashion themselves into a “bounded community,” held together by Catholic rituals and beliefs. As the most successful Jesuit mission, it also became a laboratory for theological, pastoral, linguistic and anthropological tools that would be used elsewhere in the other Jesuit missions girdling the world in the early modern period.  It was a case of successful conversion from the point of view of both the Catholic Church and the Parava converts who were thus equipped to face later colonial “modernity” as a unified political community (a caste) of their own making. This “positive” scenario is, of course, a chimera in the light of the longue durée economic and ecological development (or “derangement”) that these, and later missionary and colonial encounters entailed.

 

From  Mogor to Salsete; Rodolfo Acquaviva’s Error 

11 avril 2018 

This paper pieces together the elements of the short, meteor-like life of Rodolfo Acquaviva (b. 1550, Atri, Italy - d. 1583, Cuncolim), a Neapolitan nobleman and a Jesuit, who inhabited one after another two exemplary communicative settings placed on the opposite side of the Jesuit missionary spectrum. His first missionary experience at the age of thirty was the Mughal court where he was part-time Portuguese ambassador and part-time learned religious specialist of the law of “ʿĪsā”. His next assignment three years later was very short, just a few days, and it was in the rural and borderland Portuguese Estado da Índia’s territory of Goa, where resistance to Jesuits and to Portuguese tax collectors was brewing. By looking into his life and “martyr's” death and his afterlife in Jesuit historiography - on the basis of Jesuit correspondence and hagiographical works such as Daniello Bartoli’s Missione al Gran Mogor del Padre Ridolfo Aquaviva. Sua vita et Morte published in Rome in 1714 -  I will address the question of how missionaries had to (and sometimes failed to) adapt to specific “communicative settings” in the missionary fields.

As a first step, I will show  how Acquaviva’s aristocratic habitus produced, what he thought was a “positive” effect on emperor Akbar and on a small group of his nobles. The point of emotional convergence was, in Acquaviva’s opinion, his insistence on “love” and “friendship” in his relationship with them. From Acquaviva’s eight letters written from Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, we can see that he felt he fitted hand-in-glove in the courtly setting and conceived of his mission as primarily teaching and converting Akbar  through face to face dialogue. The failure of the mission, after only three years, and the inadequacy of Acquaviva’s missionary persona, comes through quite clearly in the treatise (Mongolicae Legationis Commentarius) written by his Catalan co-missionary Antoni de Monserrat, who shared the enthusiasm and deception of the first Jesuit mission to the Mughal court.

As a second step, I argue that Acquaviva may have mistakenly treated the situation in the village of  Cuncolim (Salsete region of Goa) as another of the courtly encounter settings that he knew so well.  This misunderstanding cost him his life, but earned him the “crown of martyrdom”. Acquaviva’s missionary life - if considered from outside of the narrative arc constructed around it - was filled with desperate gestures of a young, noble, and impatient Italian Jesuit and had a logical end in “martyrdom,” a kind of failure to find a better verbal and performative solution. And most importantly, he was unable or unwilling to invest in building emotional ties with the “villagers”. Even if he did try, since learning languages would enable the next generation of Jesuit missionaries to do so, Acquaviva was too closely associated with Portuguese soldiers and tax collectors. However, if Jesuits failed to communicate their message (of “love”), the gauncars (village chieftains) of Cuncolim also made a mistake that cost them their lives and the ownership of their land for another four hundred years.
 

Antiquissima Christianità: Indian Religion or Idolatry?

18 avril 2018

In this lecture, conversion is also at the center of the debate between various missionary and ecclesiastical actors – Jesuit missionaries, Portuguese prelates, Syrian bishops and Nasrani kattanars -  in the early modern period. First, I will follow Indian and European Christians’ self-discovery as they confronted each other in the 16th and the early 17th century and provided arguments in which the concept of religion emerged as an analytical category separate from civility and politics. In particular, on the basis of the Jesuit archive, I will look into how the  mappila nasranikkal inhabiting the West coast of India responded to Portuguese efforts at including them into the universal Catholic Church. The encounter with ancient Indian Christianity and its ecclesiastical and pastoral elite, who claimed a longer and more organic connection with the “primitive” Church of the early Apostle Thomas was a watershed moment in European missionary history in Asia. Forced to ethnologize and historicize these difficult,  special and ancient Christians, the Jesuits applied and further developed an approach called accommodation, which they then used in other social and political contexts in India and Asia. It started as a reflection on and anxiety about the questions of appropriate customs, antiquity, sacred language and sacred books. The particular position and structure of the Nasrani or St. Thomas Christian (Cristãos de S. Thomé, Port.) ecclesiastical elite within the larger political ecosystem of what is today the state of Kerala, framed and determined both Jesuit success and failure. In the long run, St. Thomas Christians were also affected by Portuguese and Jesuit debates and pressures, as a result of which they splintered into smaller religious communities (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant). Significantly, I will argue, it was the determination of the St. Thomas Christians to uphold their high social status in the regional political ecology that provided the Jesuit missionaries working in the continental missions, most famously in Madurai, with a principle that the “political” and the “religious” had to be separated in the process of conversion and that “caste” has nothing to do with “religion”. Inspired by the St. Thomas Christian case, a famous Jesuit, Roberto Nobili, argued that social status (i.e. high caste) was an ideal and essential predisposition for successful conversion to Catholicism, while numerous religions he identified in Madurai were to be fought with reasonable arguments directed at their learned men (Brahmans). A different opinion, by another Jesuit, according to which social customs, religious rites and caste were nothing but cogs in a “diabolical machine” of Brahmanism (bramanismo) came to disturb Nobili’s anthropological theory and open the way to the ecclesiastical quarrels of the late 17th and early 18thcentury and the set of phenomena that Max Weber called “disenchantment of the world”. 

 

Kulis and Ambassadors:  A Catholic Brahman Mission to Sri Lanka 17th-18th centuries

25 avril 2018 

From the mid-17th century, Catholic Goan elites, whose ancestors converted a century earlier and were called “newly converted Christians” before they reaffirmed their former and “natural” identity markers, such as Brahmans and Charodós, started their own social, cultural and “spiritual” promotion projects. In addition to historical narratives in perfect Portuguese in which they tried to prove their importance as “Indian” genealogists and philologists in service of the Portuguese Crown and  empire, they also developed a missionary program to prove their Catholic and spiritual maturity.

The Congregation of the Oratory of the Sacred Cross of Miracle established in Goa in the last decades of the 17thcentury started as a small private group of “Indian” secular priests who offered their services to the Church as missionaries in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) from where the Portuguese were expelled and replaced by the Dutch in the middle of the century. In imitation of the Jesuits, their leader and a recently canonized saint, José Vaz, introduced accommodation into two different Sri Lankan missionary fieldwork areas, one in the lowlands under the Dutch control and another at the court of the kingdom of Kandy. For the first he chose light skinned missionaries who dressed as kulis, washermen, “spies” and similar professions, while for the second where he went in person, he chose dark skinned missionaries dressed in black cassocks associated with European missionaries.

By recruiting its members exclusively from the Catholic Brahman families in Goa, this Congregation was from the inception both a caste institution and a “new” religious order in Goa. Unable to achieve “spiritual” promotion, that is, to join one of the already established religious orders, these highly educated Brahman priests found their own way to break away from the perceptual prison in which they were locked by the Portuguese colonial and ecclesiastical administration as “native priests.” Openly discriminated against on the local ecclesiastical scene on the basis of their “heathen” heritage and their “tropical” psychological makeup, they were usually relegated to subaltern posts without benefits and honors. As the number of secular Goan priests was on the rise by the end of the 17th century, complaints about glass ceilings and the linguistic incompetence of the European pastors were getting louder.

The mission to Sri Lanka thus became for the Oratorians (or Milagristas, Padres Bragmanes) an  ideal setting for the establishment of their own “primitive church,” away from the Portuguese colonial and ecclesiastical administration, something Jesuits tried to recreate in the Madurai Mission across the Gulf of Mannar and in other locations.

The Oratorian mission in Sri Lanka enabled writers like António João de Frias, a Brahman parish priest in Goa, to discursively articulate in the beginning of the 18th century the pro-Brahman arguments in the battle of identity politics regarding the status of ambitious Indian subjects. Shored up by the missionary experience of the Goan Oratorians, these Goan Catholic writers brought to light the inherent constancy of the Brahmans who were selflessly zealous missionaries in the present as they were in the past during the early Christianization of India at the time of St. Thomas the Apostle. The recreation of the sacred history of conversion and the mission in Sri Lanka were contemporary proofs of the old claim of the Goan Catholic Brahmans - that they were the natural priestly caste of the Indians. It was also a living proof that what Portuguese soldiers and missionaries were unable or unwilling to do in Asia for the benefit of the Portuguese Crown, the Catholic Brahmans could and would do just as well if not better.

 

Rival Mission, Rival Science? Jesuits and Pietists in the 17th-18th c. South India

2 mai 2018 

Two European missionary teams, one Catholic and the other Protestant, encountered each other in the Tamil country in the first decade of the eighteenth century. They acted and thought that their goals were irreconcilable, even if the Protestants in Tranquebar admitted that the Catholic Jesuit proselytism in the region had been efficient as “preparatio evangelicae” for the Protestant mission. Jesuits and Pietists were not only rivals, they also collaborated, uneasily and unequally, in collecting, processing and disseminating knowledge. Missionary linguistic and medico-botanical expertise was considered an indispensable proselytizing tool, in addition to showcasing their “scientific” achievements, admired and envied in Europe. Both Pietists and Jesuits of this period were fighting the early Enlightenment atheists, while feeding them the materials from the missions. Both missionary groups were also victims of the Enlightenment historiography. This lecture is an exploratory effort at connecting historiographies and histories of the missionary agents that have for long been considered in watertight compartments created by their hagiographers or detractors. My aim is to open a dialogue between these missionary experiences and work out visible and invisible links between the Pietists and Jesuits in South India during the early eighteenth century.

Asie

Informations pratiques

Chercheur(s):
Ines Zupanov
Date(s)
  • Lundi 26 mars 2018 - 10:00 - Samedi 05 mai 2018 - 10:00
Lieu(x)
  • South Asia Center - The University of Pennsylvania