Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th-18th Centuries)

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:4 mins read
Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th-18th Centuries) | Ângela Barreto Xavier and Ines G Županov

Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th-18th Centuries)

Ângela Barreto Xavier
Ines G Županov

Oxford University Press

March 2015


416 pages

This book explores the process of knowledge production in and about South Asia during the late medieval and early modern periods. Disseminated through the global networks of the early modern Portuguese empire (16th-18th centuries), this process was inextricably connected to the expansion of Catholicism and was geared to perpetuate political ambitions and cultural imaginary of the early modern Catholic protagonists and their communities in South Asia and beyond.

As an integral part of the Portuguese imperial ‘information order’ established in Asia, Catholic Orientalism was responsible for creating an epistemic tool box, in which several significant concepts were first tested and developed: such as “caste”, “Brahmanism”, “paganism”, “the torrid zone”, “oriental despotism”, and many others. However, from the mid-18th century, the British empire changed the map of knowledge about South Asia and in the process Catholic Orientalism was both assimilated and discarded as tainted by unreasonable Catholicism and too close to equally unreasonable “native” Indian point of view.

Through a series of case studies, this book chronicles the rise and the decline of the Catholic knowledge of South Asia which had not been, at any point, only and simply “Portuguese”. Multiple sources, polyglot archives and actors moving ever more swiftly through space and time, with divided loyalties, often disregarding “national” divisions and wearing many different hats are at the heart of the narrative which starts at the turn of the 16th century and ends by the end of the 18th.

Angela Barreto Xavier, Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon.

Ines G Županov, Senior Research Fellow (directrice de recherche), Centre d’Etude de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Note on Transliteration and Spelling of Non-English Words
List of Abbreviations
List of Illustrations


Part I: Imperial Itineraries
1:Making India Classic, Exotic, and Oriental
2:: Empire and the Village
3: Natural History: Physicians, Merchants and Missionaries

Part II: Catholic Meridian
4:Religion and Civility in ‘Brahmanism’: Jesuit Experiments (c. 16th-17th)
5:Franciscan Orientalism
6:Portuguese Linguistic Empire: Translation and Conversion

Part III: Contested Knowledge
7:Orientalists from Within: Indian Genealogists, Philologists, and Historians
8:Archives and the End of Catholic Orientalism

Epilogue: Catholic Orientalism as Tragedy

About the Authors

“There is no doubt that Catholic Orientalism is a well-researched volume that deserves specialist attention from historians of South Asia, Portuguese Empire, church history (including Jesuit history), and missiologists, among others”
Brent Howitt Otto SJ, University of California, Berkeley, AHSI

“Containing a treasure trove of information, much of it from obscure and hard to access sources, this book is likely to prove an invaluable work of reference for many years to come.”
Anthony DisneyJournal of Jesuit Studies

Leave a Reply