Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th-17th Centuries)

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Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th-17th Centuries) | Ines G Županov

Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th-17th Centuries)

Ines G Županov

History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds

University of Michigan Press



408 pages


By focusing on the Jesuit missionary discovery of Indian “pagan” Hinduism, Zupanov traces the stages of the Jesuit’s disconcerting journey into religious relativism or accommodation. At every point of this Euro-Asian encounter, the emerging Catholic communities attempted to twist and turn their own received religion to fit their various collective and/or individual interests. This turning or “troping” of the Jesuit message into pre-Christian modes of religious expression produced the “tropics” of the title.

Drawing upon a variety of sources in Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Tamil, Missionary Tropics documents the construction of the Indian vernacular Catholicism or “Tropical Catholicism” through a complex layering of missionary religious and social intentions and indigenous responses. By following Galenic humoral medical theory, the Catholic missionaries defined paganism as a natural outgrowth of the hot and humid climate. Reflecting the complex layering of the missionaries’ religious and social intentions and the subsequent indigenous responses, this book should be of interest to all those who study religious encounters and are interested in the issues of religious conversion in the early modern world, in India, and elsewhere.

Ines Županov is Senior Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris

List of Illustrations
Abbreviations and Note on Transliteration and Spelling
Map of southern India
Map of Goa

Introduction: Cartography of Jesuit Early Modernity in India

Part 1. Tropical Saints and Relics

Chapter 1. The Sacred Body: Francis Xavier, the Apostle, the Pilgrim, the Relic
Chapter 2. A Reliquary Town—São Tomé de Meliapor: The Political and the Sacred in Portuguese India

Part 2. Tropical Virtues and Vices

Chapter 3. Fervors and Tropics: A Jesuit Missionary Career in India (António Gomes, 1548–54)
Chapter 4. The Art of Dying in the Tropics: Jesuit Martyrs in India
Chapter 5. Tropical Sins and Sins of Hinduism

Part 3. Disciplining the Tropics

Chapter 6. A Medical Mission in Goa: Pedro Afonso and Giovanni Battista de Loffreda

Chapter 7. Twisting a Pagan Tongue: Portuguese and Tamil in Jesuit Translations

Epilogue: Tropical Textures


“. . . a provocative contribution to the history of early modern encounters between Jesuits and learned guardians of Sanskriti and Tamil traditions in South India, and also provides fascinating new perspectives on the interactions between Catholic and Hindu cultures. . . . This work should interest scholars who study cross-cultural encounters and religious conversion in early modern times, whether in India or in other parts of the world. It is also itself a ‘trope’ that represents what is currently highly fashionable within some circles of academia.”
International Bulletin of Missionary Research

“The unquestionable scholarship of the author and her close reading of voluminous primary-source materials make her analysis of considerable interest to other researchers in the area and ought to interest general readers as well…Zupanov does create an interesting historic tapestry, employing many and varied cultural threads and with as many layers of meaning as she can incorporate into it.”
Renaissance Quarterly

“On the whole the book is well researched, well written, and well structured, and I congratulate the author for it.”
Cyriac K. Pullapilly, Saint Mary’s College

“Ines G. Zupanov has written an engaging account of the relatively neglected story of Jesuit mission work in the Portuguese empire in India.”
American Historical Review

“…Zupanov’s Missionary Tropics is a particularly timely and welcome addition…successfully raises important issues about cultural dialogue and religious translation/transmission.”
Liam M. Brockey, Itinerario

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