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Early Modern Catholicism in the Eyes of Others: Indigenous Responses to Iberian Religious Expansion

Panel Chair: Adam Knobler | Thursday, August 27, 1:30-3 p.m.

The voyages of exploration and expansion that were launched from Spain and Portugal in the early modern era brought with them a militant Roman Catholicism, which sought to convert indigenous peoples to the Latin Church. What the Iberians discovered in the Americas, Africa and Asia were multiple, complex polities with their own religious traditions, strongly resisting conversion. This panel will examine Ibero-Indigenous religious contact through the lens of indigenous peoples’ responses to Spanish and Portuguese religious imperialism. Taking examples from Mexico, South America and Asia we hope to find some common links in seeing how religious resistance to the Iberians manifested itself in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Steven Berkwitz

Buddhist Responses to the Portuguese Padroado in Asia

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, missionaries under Portuguese patronage often recorded their impressions of Buddhist populations across Asia. Their reports of local religions were frequently negative and dismissive, despite their interests in what Buddhists practiced and believed. Indigenous responses to these encounters with the Portuguese-sponsored missionaries, however, are more difficult to uncover. This paper will survey some of the reactions among Buddhists to the first sustained contact with Christian missionaries in Asian lands. While these reactions could range from curiosity to hostility, they offer us glimpses of the various ways that Asian Buddhists responded to the presence and proselytization of Catholic missionaries. We will also consider a fuller response in the form of an early seventeenth-century Sinhala poem called Subhāṣitaya (Well-Spoken Words), which records how one native author sought to defend the integrity of Buddhism over against the new pressures felt in the context of Portuguese missions.

Lars Kirkhusmo Pharo

Innovative Moral Appropriations of Catholicism in Colonial Latin America

Indigenous peoples of colonial America responded differently to the encounter with European Christianity. In a comparative analysis of receptions of Catholicism in Latin America of the 16th and 17th centuries I advocate a general theory of indigenous religious (philosophical) linguistic agency. The methodology employed is a systematic explication of indigenous moral categories in manuscripts from the Andean region and Yucatán. Conceptualisations of the Quechua (Andean) Huarochirí manuscript (c. 1598 AD) will be compared with the Yucatec Maya The Books of the Chilam Balam (c. 1600-c. 1700 AD). These non-doctrinal manuscripts, although influenced by Catholicism, are selected because they are written in an indigenous language by indigenous peoples. The presentation aims to demonstrate that ethical concepts in Quechua and Yucatec reflect, but at the same differ, from Catholic European theology. The Quechua and Yucatec authors accordingly elaborated an innovative moral philosophical system, which could be translated into Indigenous religion and Catholicism respectively.

Alexandra Curvelo

Dialogues and Misunderstandings in the Japanese Catholic Mission in the Early Modern Age

One of the main features of the Catholic Mission in Japan since its very beginning in 1549 was the establishment of direct contact between the European missionaries, the Japanese military and religious elites and the people, leading to distinct misunderstandings on all sides. These crossed dialogues, misinterpretations and misconstructions are known through factual episodes that had important impact on the way both the European and the Japanese reacted to each other in terms of strategies of power, communication, representations and ceremonials. Focusing on these responses, I aim at analyzing the process and the motifs that led to the expulsion by the Japanese authorities of the Religious Orders from Japan in 1614 and of the Portuguese presence in 1639 after some decades that presaged one of the most fruitful experiences within the scope of action of the Portuguese Patronage of the Orient (“Padroado Português do Oriente”).


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)