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Transnational Encounters and Religion: Following the threads of connected histories (19th-20th centuries). Travels and individual appropriations of religion (1/2)

Panel Chair: Philippe Bornet | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Inspired by the historiographical model of “connected histories” (Sanjay Subrahmanyam), the panel focuses on the detailed “trajectories” of individual actors and pays equal attention to the different contexts and perspectives entailed. Studies taking clues from this approach include biographical reassessments of travelers, “explorers”, missionaries, pilgrims, scholars, students, tourists, etc. In the context of the study of religions, this perspective can contribute to explore not only the circulation of religious concepts and practices, but also the issues such as the dynamism of “religious identities” and interactions between institutional and individual actors. The variety of contexts and actors display interactions that can be developed in many directions, providing a rich set of examples to reassess binary or unidirectional narratives of change. Bringing together selected cases involving European as well as non-European actors, the panel compares “transnational encounters” that involve religious issues (19th-20th centuries).

Philippe Bornet

Connected Histories of Religion: (Non-)Traveling Literati and Literatures Between India and Europe (19-20th Centuries) 

Introducing the notion of “connected history” and situating it among other related approaches (“entangled history”, “cultural transfers”, etc.), the paper examines the potentialities it presents to the study of religions. To concretely assess the model, two examples are briefly introduced and contrasted: F. M. Müller’s involvement with Bengali scholars (second half of the 19th Century) and the encounter of a Swiss missionary with Vīraśaiva literati and literatures (beginning of the 20th Century, Karnataka). Taking cues from different types of documents, attention is paid to the effects of encounters on all parties to the interactions, in particular with regard to Indian religious and political (national and regional movements) processes, the development of scholarly representations of India (mainstream or "marginal"), and their impact on the history of religions as an academic discipline.

Carrie B. Dohe

A Tale of Two Primitives: The Role and Limitations of Transnational Encounters in the Development of Carl Jung’s Myth for "Modern Man"

Carl Jung claimed he discovered his cure for “modern man’s” spiritual malaise through encountering tribal leaders in 1925 in the American Southwest and East Africa. In subsequent writings, he used these encounters with “primitive religion” as scientific “evidence” for his theory of the collective unconscious and archetypes. Yet Jung generally read these encounters in accordance with his already developed theory. He also obfuscated the modern settings in which he encountered these “primitives”: East Africa was dominated by British colonialism, while in the American Southwest, anthropologists and artists sought to bridge European and indigenous cultures. Furthermore, Jung’s contacts with East Africans were mediated by a Somali translator, but Jung spoke directly with his Taos interlocutor. These differences correlate with his double-sided view of primitivity as both dangerous and rejuvenating, and appear in Jung’s portrayal of East Africans as mute, unconscious ritualists and his Taos interlocutor as a spiritual guide.

Fanny Guex

The Spiritual Daughters of Herman Hesse: Going East and Changing the Swiss Religious Scene (1940-1970)

During Second World War, Lizelle Reymond (1899-1994), an orientalist, and Ella Maillart (1903-1997), an adventurer and journalist, spent a number of years in India searching for the meaning of life. Once back in Switzerland, they provided scholarly and literary materials raising new perspectives in the study of religion. Before the ‘Hesse trip’ became a trend, both had close encounters with Indian gurus (Ramana Maharishi, Sri Atmananda, Sri Anirvan) and transformative religious experiences. On their return, Maillart and Reymond chose different public profile about Indian spirituality in Switzerland. In this talk, I examine how they experienced Indian religions and what were the effects of these experiences on their life back in Switzerland. First at a biographical level, I investigate how their transnational encounters modified their approach to religion. Secondly, at a larger level and using the approach of microstoria (Ginzburg), I consider how their trajectories enlighten more general mechanisms about the history of religious encounters. Were they at the avant-garde of a tremendous religious change in Europe? What innovations and novel conceptions about religion did they bring back in their luggage?

Dwayne Ryan Menezes

The Curious Case of the Drs. D’Abreu: Catholicism, Migration and a Kanara Catholic Family in the Heart of the Empire, 1890-1950

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, several Catholics from South Kanara in British India, whether as British subjects or Indo-Portuguese Catholics, journeyed across the wider British, Portuguese and Catholic worlds. Wherever they travelled or settled, they often strategically deployed their Catholicism, distinctive Anglo-Luso-Brahmin culture and ambiguities about their racial heritage to overcome structural barriers to the mobility and assimilation of South Asians. Catholicism, with its numerous institutions, lay and clerical transnational networks, and doctrinal emphasis on universalism emerged as a particularly valuable tool that some could deploy for the purpose of assimilation. Catholicism would not only facilitate intermarriages with Catholics of other ethnicities, but also enable racial ‘passing’ and other forms of strategic ethnic reidentification. By focusing on the D’Abreu family from Mangalore, members of which journeyed to the British Isles since 1890, this study shall uncover the forgotten history of an Indian Catholic family that embedded itself within the heart of British society. It shall explore how, by strategically emphasising the Catholic and Portuguese markers of their multifaceted identities, the D’Abreu boys acquired a subsidised education at Stonyhurst; became celebrated surgeons; and married into the highest rungs of the European Catholic gentry and aristocracy. It shall explore both the transnational practices and networks of Catholicism and investigate the extent to which Catholicism could facilitate migration and aid assimilation.


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