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Positioning in Cross-Cultural Encounters and the Transfer of Religion and Knowledge

Panel Chair: Catherina Wenzel | Monday, August 24, 1:30 – 3 p.m. | LG1 124

The panel deals with travelogues and translations of a pilgrim, a Maronit scholar and a missionary in the 17th and 18th century. They acted between the cultures of Persia, India, Tibet, Syria and Europe and had to translate the foreign and new in their own respective contexts. Peter Burke speaks regarding such cross-cultural exchanges of a "double process of decontextualization and recontextualization, first a reaching out to appropriate something alien and then domesticating it."

We have chosen the term of 'positioning' to describe these processes. Donna Haraway's work has been important in theorizing this notion of 'position' as “[...] the key practice grounding knowledge”. The sources transported and mediated knowledge about religion and society over long distances. For this reason the concept of positioning must be supplemented with a cluster of concepts such as intercultural transfer, translation and change.

Ulrike Kollodzeiski

Religion and Gender as Key Factors of Positioning in Pietro Della Valle’s Travelogue

Pietro della Valle (1586-1652), was a Roman patrician who traveled through Mesopotamia, Persia and India in the years 1617-1625. He wrote a detailed travelogue of his observations which was published and translated into several different European languages. He can be described as a devout catholic who was struggling for an almost modern ethnographic approach.

Religion and Gender are crucial factors in all early modern travelogues. But unlike other travellers who based their descriptions on hearsay, della Valle discussed religious matters with local authorities in Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, and through the medium of his wife, an Armenian, born in Mardin, Turkey, he had also access to those realms of women that were closed to every other man.

In his travelogue, I will argue, Della Valle created a syntagmatic as well as a paradigmatic relation between the different cultures that is much more complex than the “Othering” suggested by Mary Pratt.

Karsten Schmidt

Positioning and understanding in interreligious dialogue. The case study of an 18th century Jesuit Missionary in Tibet

Unlike any European before the Italian Jesuit Missionary Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733) managed to master the Tibetan language and engage in an interreligious Dialog during his stay in central Tibet from 1715 to 1721. In his Italian and Tibetan writings he was faced with the task of transferring information in two directions: presenting Buddhism to a European audience and Christianity to his Tibetan interlocutors.

In regard to Buddhism he considered a sufficient understanding to be the precondition for arguing against concepts like “emptiness” – that posed obstacles for the Tibetans to adopt Christianity, and succeeded to a remarkable degree. Being a missionary he strongly criticized those concepts and presented counterarguments from a Christian background.

The concurrence of taking a critical position and simultaneously applying a non-reductionistic approach in understanding “the other” can serve as inspiration for a concept of transferring knowledge avoiding problems concerning normative relativism, incommensurability and epistemological foundationalism within interreligious discourse.

Reza Pourjarvady

Positioning and Intercultural Translation. The case of the Maronit Abraham Ecchellensis (Ibrāhīm al-Ḥaqilanī, d. 1605–64) and His Latin Translation of Mīr Ḥusayn al-Maybudī’s The World- Revealing Cup

The protagonist was born in Syria and repeatedly traveling between the islamic and christian culture in the Mediterranean. As an expert in Arabic documents in the “Republic of Letters”, he attempted to reconcile contemporary scholars’ expectations of specialized knowledge both with his Catholic and controversialist commitments and with his status, in his role as a Maronite, as a spokesman not only for Arabic but also for Muslim culture (Heyberger).

I will examine one of his translations: "Speculum mundum repraesentans" (Jām-i gītī-numā/ The World-Revealing Cup), originally written in Persian and composed by Mīr Ḥusayn Maybudī in 1491/92. He presented it as the universal “Arab wisdom” coming from the land in which Christianity had originated. In order to do this, he expunged Islamic terminology from it by a recourse to the Christian Arabic literature. Furthermore it shows the impact of confessional commitment and philology on the rise of oriental studies in Europe.


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