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MC3.2 Jesuits in Asia and Europe

Jesuits in Asia and Europe – Transcultural Christianity and the Narratives of Orthodoxy

Koordination: Antje Flüchter


Early modern Christianity is mostly conceptualised as a specific European religion, whereas its transcultural character, its non-European origin and its non-European forms are mostly blinded out. The project Trancultural Christianity and the Narratives of Orthodoxy challenges this traditional Western master narrative of Christianity as a purely European religion by unearthing the transcultural dimensions of European Christianity and developing an alternative model to understand a transcultural Christendom.

Conceptual Framing

The project Transcultural Christianity and the Narratives of Orthodoxy is built on a transcultural perspective. We are interested in the mingling and constructing of cultural and religious groups as well as boundaries. 

On a conceptual level, we pursue two central interests

1. The Negotiating of Transcultural Dimension of Christianity

Starting from the assumption, that everything is transcultural, the project explores, how transcultural dimensions and elements are negotiated or evolve. In the context of religion and even more evangelisation, it was necessary for the missionaries as well as for regular pastors to know and understand the beliefs of the target audience. This kind of negotiating has a praxeologic as well as a discursive layer. Therefore we will employ concepts of (cultural) translation as well as appropriation from below. The translation of spiritual and holy texts is central for all pastoral work. Therefore we use it to analyse the work and writing of the missionaries. However, evangelisation cannot be understood just as a top down process. Therefore we are also interested in the strategies of a ‘wilful obstinacy’ the ‘common folk’ used to appropriate religious beliefs and norms installed from above.

2. Talking about Transculturality under the Conditions of the Narratives of Orthodoxy

For decades or even centuries the Western discourse was dominated by master narratives of national identity as well as religious orthodoxy. Therefore it has to be asked, if and how authors could write about transculturality and whether transculturality could be accepted at all as part of a cultural identity. To analyse the borders of the sayable we combine concepts about master narratives with classic discourse analyse.

Current Case Studies

Jesuit Missionaries in India

As starting point, Christianity in India is analysed in a longue durée perspective (16th-19th century). A first focus lies on Jesuit Missionaries in early modern Southern India and their strategy of accommodation: 

Giulia Nardini: Roberto di Nobili and the Madurai Mission in the 16th-17th Century 

Giulia Nardini’s PhD project operationalizes the projects fundamental interest by analysing the strategy of accommodation as it was initialized by Roberto di Nobili (1577-1656), or more specific his Ñāna Upatēcam, a catechism in Tamil for Brahmans, that was recovered only recently in the Vatican archives. She  analyses the double translation of Nobili’s understanding of Christianity in India. (see also)

Antje Flüchter: The Carnatic Mission of the French Jesuits in the German Discourse 

Nobili was not the only Jesuit pursuing the strategy of accommodation in India. In the late 17th/early 18th century a group of French Jesuits revitalized this strategy in the Carnatic Mission. Whereas nowadays this endeavor is almost forgotten, it was very well known to the contemporaries because of several Jesuit publications. This subproject traces the perception of Christianity, religions as well as religious and cultural boundaries in the European discourse. 

Entangling the History of Christianity

Antje Flüchter: Narratives of Orthodoxy and the Containment of Jesuit Missionary Methods

The dimensions of transcultural Christianity cannot be limited to the work of Jesuits in India or Asia. The practice of accommodation is often described both as something specific for Asia (Valignano in Japan, Ricci in China, Nobili in India) and as a temporarily limited experiment, that was stopped in India with the papal bull Omnium Solicitudinum (1744). Contrary to this the project relies on a comprehensive understanding of accommodation, encompassing other world regions as well as the endeavour or counter reformation and recatholisation in Europe. Therefore we want to put the Jesuit in India in an entangled context and also provincialise the European paradigm of confessionalisation. 


Putative Purities. Transcultural Dimensions of Master Narratives in Religion (international conference organised by the Minicluster Negotiating Religion, 16.12.-18.12.2013 Heidelberg)

Comparing Catechisms – Entangling Christianity (international conference, 14-16 of May 2014, Oslo)


FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: Pater Pierre Martin - ein "Brahmane aus dem Norden". Jesuitische Grenzgänger in Südindien um die Wende zum 18. Jahrhundert, in: Zeitenblicke, URL:, 11/1 (2012).

FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: Transreligiöse Integration als Faktor von Staatsbildung? Der indische Großmogul Akbar und sein Gottesglaube in der europäischen Wahrnehmung, in: Der wiederkehrende Leviathan: Staatlichkeit und Staatswerdung in Spätantike und Früher Neuzeit, Bd. 4, hrsg. von PETER EICH/SEBASTIAN SCHMIDT-HOFFNER/CHRISTIAN WIELAND, Heidelberg 2011, S. 283-313.

FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: „Ich bin gut bergs catholisch, aber nicht wie die kölnische“. Auswirkungen der Konfessionalisierung auf die Gemeinden in Jülich-Berg (und Kleve-Mark) in: Der Jülich-Klevische Erbstreit 1609, seine Voraussetzungen und Folgen, hrsg. von MANFRED GROTEN/CLEMENS VON LOOZ-CORSWAREM/WILFRIED REININGHAUS, Düsseldorf 2011, S. 305-335.

FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: "Religions, Sects and Heresy“. Religion on the Indian Subcontinent in Early Modern German Texts, in: Comparativ 20/4 (2010), S. 58-74.

FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: Mission als Grenzüberschreitung. Katholische Missionare in Indien, in: Grenzen und Grenzerfahrung, hrsg. von CHRISTINE ROLL, Köln 2010, S. 501-523.

FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: Eine katholische Ordnung der Sexualität? Konkurrierende Deutungsmuster um den Priesterzölibat im 17. Jahrhundert, in: Das Geschlecht des Glaubens. Religiöse Kulturen Europas zwischen Mittelalter und Moderne, hrsg. von MONIKA MOMMERTZ/CLAUDIA OPITZ, Frankfurt/Main 2008, S. 201-228.

FLÜCHTER, ANTJE: Konfessionalisierung in kulturalistischer Perspektive? Überlegungen am Beispiel der Herzogtümer Jülich-Berg im 16. Jahrhundert, in: Was heißt Kulturgeschichte des Politischen?, hrsg. von BARBARA STOLLBERG-RILINGER (Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung. Beiheft 35), Berlin 2005, S. 225-252.

Co-Operation Partners

Prof. Dr. Renate Dürr, University of Tübingen/Germany

Prof. Dr. Jörg Gengnagel, University of Heidelberg

Jun. Prof. Dr. Sita Steckel, University of Münster

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Strasser, University of California/Irvine

Prof. Dr. Županov, CNRS/EHESS/Paris



Antje Flüchter


Giulia Nardini