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Defining Religious Minorities in a Global World (2/2)

Panel Chair: Marianna Ferrara | Tuesday, August 25, 1:30-3:30 p.m. | Venue

Religious minority is a concept historically conditioned and informed by the dominant religious system. As a category, it appears constantly at stake when historians attempt on outlining the ways through which colonial experiences have come to forge newly conquered territories, altering both the landscapes and mindscapes of societies under colonial control. This panel aims to address and problematise the concept of religious minority, hoping to cast new light on the multifaceted religious, political, ethnic and socio-cultural interplay occurring between global/wider frameworks and local dynamics in early modern history. By focusing on the dynamics involving conflicts, negotiations, exchanges and compromises between minority and hegemonic religious actors, as well as on the necessary process of self-definition and self-representation on the part of non-dominant groups, we aim to highlight and critically assess the complex realities of religious minorities in different areas of the world within a time-frame that stretches from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Critical interventions will deal with the colonial sources such as missionary works, travel chronicles, archival materials, and any other source useful for our research proposal. A critical and deep understanding of the connected world will definitively impact our knowledge of contemporaneity.

Paolo Aranha

“Sheep in the midst of wolves”: Representations of marginality and persecution in early modern Catholic missions to South India

Central to the Christian notion of mission is the idea that the Good News will be rejected and lead to persecutions. Jesus warned his disciples: “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). This paper explores how Catholic missionaries to South India represented themselves as potential or real victims of the hostility of “gentiles” and “Moors”, even when these majoritarian communities were far more tolerant than the Catholic themselves, especially notorious in the Portuguese Estado da Índia. On the basis of an analysis grounded in Church and missionary history I will verify how situations of religious tension and marginality came to be defined in terms of “persecution”, with special reference to the Jesuit missions of Madurai, Mysore and the Carnatic in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries.

Marianna Ferrara

The “useful” Brahmin: Understanding the cohabitation of minorities in South Asia throughout the descriptions of Brahmins in the Italian travel chronicles (XVI-XVII centuries)

Brahmins and ascetics are described in many travel chronicles on India as the authoritative inhabitants of a wide land where strange rituals were performed and terrific idols were venerated. The Brahmins were often at the center of these descriptions as “useful” mediating figures who had negotiated between the foreigners and the “Gentiles”, between the ambitions of the former and the interests of the latter. In the “discovered” lands there were also long-term residents such as muslims, jews, or like-christians. The Italian travel chronicles composed between the XVI and the XVII centuries provide a rich repertoire of details on how the Brahmin minority was perceived from the view of travelers and traders and compared with the other religious minorities who had a commercial and/or military position on the Malabar coast. I will compare these data with the Sanskrit sources containing a self-representation of the Brahmins as protected and authoritative minority.

Sergio Botta

Manufacturing Indigenous Culture as Religious Minority in the New Spain: the Work of fray Toribio de Benavente Motolinía

During the first stage of the colonial history of the New Spain (1524-1577), missionary orders (Franciscans, Augustinians, Dominicans) dominated the production of religious discourses about otherness. The Franciscan Toribio de Benavente Motolinía took part in the famous expedition of the Doce, which gave life to the mendicant mission in 1524. The friar was also the author of two major works - the Memoriales and the Historia de los Indios de la Nueva España - that in 1541 concur to the manufacturing of an image of the Mesoamerican indigenous cultures as a religious minority. The paper will analyze the rhetorical strategy used by the Franciscan to represent indigenous religion as a dissolved phenomenon and as an historical fact related only to the pre-Hispanic past. In particular, the paper will focus on the use of the Old Testament discourses relating to idolatry as a dispositif to symbolically separate Christianity from indigenous religions.


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