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Re-presenting and re-defining the Other through the Ages: images, objects and texts in interreligious encounter – Early Modern Age (2/2)

Panel Chairs: Daniela Bonanno, Paola von Wyss-Giacosa | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Since antiquity, the confrontation with the Other has been an extraordinarily productive and effective laboratory for the construction of self-identity. Self is banally defined both in relation and in opposition to an often marginalized, or discredited, or even worse, demonized otherness. Within the framework of a more general debate about the relationship between identity and alterity, the participants in this panel will focus their attention specifically on the function that images, objects and texts play in the encounter with the Other. The main questions, posed both synchronically and diachronically, are: which representations of the Other do these media transmit as they are taken from one cultural context to another, or possibly from one religious system to another? What emotions are viewing or reading them meant to elicit and what reactions do they actually provoke? How do these media modify an image of the Other or a system of ideas?

Dominik Fugger

Foreign and yet familiar: The study of Northern paganism in the early modern age

If it is true that one cannot think of identity without alterity, of one’s own without the foreign, then the history of pre-Christian paganism represents an extraordinary challenge for scholars in the 17th through 18th centuries. Indeed, as Christians – most frequently as learned theologians – when writing about paganism, they were writing about religious stages, the overcoming of which they considered to be a crucial element of their own identity. Paganism in this perspective appears as the Other, as the necessary opposition, without which one’s own being cannot be discerned. At the same time, this Other cannot be totally dismissed as evil, because it represents the beliefs and deeds of one’s own ancestors. As such it is part of one’s own past and proof of one’s own historical existence. This tension crucially influenced the Scandinavian and central European early modern discourse on historical paganism, as I intend to explore in my paper by means of tracts and imagery on the history of the pre-Christian religion of the North.

Giovanni Tarantino

The uses of the Other in the early modern English Catholic community

The pitiless memoirs of Gregorio Panzani, the papal emissary to England during the reign of King Charles I, demonstrate how the deep rivalries among Catholic missionaries in England, especially between regulars and seculars, only showed signs of dying down when there was talk of a Protestant hostility directed implacably against them.

Yet for the most part English Catholics and Protestants lived on good terms within their local communities. They had the same lifestyle and interests. In periods of crisis, many Protestants actively assisted their Catholic neighbours and friends.

It is most likely, then, that the emphasis placed by the regulars on an inflexible and indistinct Protestant enemy, regarded by Panzani in his Memorie as a specious position, served to preserve the fragmentation of the English Catholic community. The rhetorical construction of a distant religious Other was intended to bring about, for reasons relating to a political power struggle within the Catholic Church, a delegitimation of the nearby Other.

Paola von Wyss-Giacosa

Struggling with strange idols

One of the key 17th century discourses on idolatry dealt with its origin and development through time as a misguided form of religion. The scholars drew upon a broad range of material for their investigations: antiquitates sacrae were considered as a point of departure, but empirical information on the cultures of Asia and Mesoamerica, a significant part of which came from travellers’ and missionary writings, played an increasingly important role.

This paper explores thoughts and theories that revolve around cult images. These are described in ethnographic accounts rich in observations of “idolatry in practice”. Some of the objects were brought to Europe and regarded as valuable for comparative studies and interpretations.

I will present aspects of a historical discourse on contemporary “idolatry” based on material culture and more generally on the visual representations thereof. In doing so, I will also demonstrate the epistemological significance and specificity of illustrations and argue for their relevance as source material.


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