Catholic missionaries who worked in Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries defy our understanding of agents of the Roman Church in important ways. Rather than being uncompromising promoters of post-Tridentine doctrine and devotion, they often showed a striking openness to local ways of life. Many of them forged lasting bonds of friendship with non-Catholics even if there was little hope for the latter's conversion. As a consequence, although those who actually did go native by even forsaking their missionary vocation were few, missionaries' integration into social, political, economic, and scientific networks usually made them highly localized protagonists.
This conference attempts to compare missionaries' roles as local agents in different social environments across the Asian continent. We aim at testing the hypothesis that, no matter whether in the Middle East or South Asia, missionaries' options for action in localities under non-Christian authorities were strongly defined by the respective communicative setting: The local alliances forged by missionaries living in bustling urban hubs differed from those created by missionaries placed in less densely populated rural areas; missionaries living in a court setting in close proximity to a non-Christian prince often assumed different roles than their confreres staying in non-governing cities or in a rural setting. Also, the (non-princely) household formed a distinct arena of missionary activities which can be examined as a communicative setting on its own. We contend that, while communicative settings could greatly vary even within comparably small geographical distances, similarities between household, rural, urban, and court settings might be found across the Asian continent so that missionaries found structurally similar situations in as different parts of the world as Safavid Persia and Qing China.
The panels of the conference will be organized according to different communicative settings—household, rural, urban, court—rather than geographical regions. They will explore the distinctive options for action these settings provided to the missionaries. Furthermore, they aim at clarifying whether structurally similar settings in different regions of the Asian continent prompted missionaries to assume similar social roles.
Papers are invited to investigate the ways in which missionaries gained foothold in the named settings by focusing on their social, political, economical, and epistemological entanglements: With which social groups did the missionaries enter into contact, and how did they use these contacts for their own purposes? Did local gender arrangements influence the missionaries' options for action? How did they secure access to local financial resources? Which channels of communication did they use in order to gain information on the workings of local settings? How did the missionaries represent their local entanglements in their communication with the Roman Curia?
Furthermore, papers analyzing local entanglements of missionaries from the perspective of local societies are welcome: What were the determining features of local perceptions of the missionaries? How did local protagonists assess the missionaries' involvement in the trans-local network of the Universal Church, and how did this assessment influence their modes of interaction with the missionaries?
We are looking for proposals for the following panels:
Panel I: Urban Settings (1 paper), Panel II: Rural Settings (1 paper), Panel III: Court Settings (2 papers), Panel IV: Household Settings (2 papers)
The conference will be held in Rome, the Catholic capital whose curial institutions saw for the cohesion of the post-Tridentine evangelizing enterprise, and whose ecclesiastical archives hold rich documentation of missionaries' activities in local settings across the Eurasian continent. Jointly organized by the Deutsches Historisches Institut Rom, the École Française de Rome and the Istituto Svizzero di Roma, in cooperation with the Section of Early Modern History of the University of Bern, the conference aims at encouraging a dialogue between historians working in different European countries and beyond.
Proposals consisting of the title of the paper and of a short abstract (about 500 words) should be handed in by 15 November 2016. They should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Workshop papers will have to be submitted by 30 April 2017. This will give enough time to the discussants to prepare their comments and to the organizers to circulate the papers to all the participants for advance reading. In Rome, the participants will have 20 minutes to summarize and explain their papers, in order to leave ample time for discussion.