Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth-century India

Ines G Županov

Disputed Mission offers a fresh perspective on the social and cultural laboratories that were Jesuit missions in pre-colonial South India. Without Portuguese military support confined to Goa and other trade enclaves along the east and west coast of India, the missionaries in the heart of Tamil country, found themselves trapped under the jurisdiction of the local kings — such as the Nakaka of Madurai — with very little space for political proselytizing manoeuvring, and at the same time free from the increasingly impoverished and ossified Portuguese ecclesiastical hierarchy in Goa.

Confronted with social and cultural idioms that appeared to them as both strange and familiar, Jesuit missionaries embarked on a titanic utopian, and somewhat naïve project of cultural translation, social engineering and ethnographic description. Before they could effectively convert and establish spiritual and political authority over souls and bodies, they had to ascertain that they possessed the right knowledge of Indian culture.

By focusing on a dispute between two missionaries in Madurai in the beginning of the seventeenth century, this book chronicles the first efforts at explaining the origin, structure and nature of local religious practices.

This book will be of great interest to historians of colonial India and scholars of religious studies and comparative religion.

Ines G Zupanov is a Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. She has taught early modern history at the University of California at Berkeley, at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 1999
ISBN: 9780195650532
Pages: 296 pp.



I. Of Men, Letters, and Cultural Latitudes
II. Counter-reading Jesuit Sources

1. Disputed Customs: ‘Political’ versus ‘Religious’: The Dialogic/Polemical Mode
2. Between Aristocratic Analogies and Demotic Descriptions: The Geo-ethnographic Mode
3. Conversion Scenarios: Discussions, Miracles and Encounters: The Theatrical Mode
4. Utopian Préfiguration and Saintly Signs: The Self-expressive Mode


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