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Fragile entanglements: relations between pre-modern Nepal and Europe in the 18th century

starting April 2018

The project is centered on the Italian Capuchins' mission to Nepal and Tibet (1704-1811), with a special focus on the relations between the missionaries and Nepalese society. The Capuchins sought to establish a foothold for the spread of Christianity in the three kingdoms of Kathmandu valley and in Lhasa. They engaged in an extensive linguistic endeavor, compiling dictionaries of Newari and Tibetan, translating local texts into Italian and Italian and Latin works into local languages, writing reports and travelogues, letters and books.

The textual sources will contribute to a historical anthropology related to the encounter between the European missionaries and the peoples of Nepal. From elements in the manuscripts, it will be possible to gather detailed descriptions of pre-Modern Nepal, before the unification (1768), since the Capuchin Fathers were active in the three capitals of the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. These missionary outposts were part of a network of Capuchin houses, which connected Rome to Kathmandu through Chandernagar and Bettiah (India), and to Lhasa in Tibet (China). The accounts, letters and reports written by the Capuchins back to Rome contain descriptions of places, historical events, religious conflicts (between Christians and Hindu), rituals, peoples, temple and monuments, prices, customs and especially details about the administration of the law, which were noted down scrupulously. The gaze of the western friars is certainly based on euro-centric hermeneutic categories, and especially concerned about religious practices. As such, it will provide interesting elements related to the process of othering. Letters of the Nepalese kings to the missionaries or to the Popes, on the other hand, reciprocate the gaze, offering precious insights into Nepalese pre-modern perceptions of the West, the Pope and the Church. Besides archival research, the project will include an ethnography of one of the oldest Christian communities of the sub-continent, directly connected to the first community established by the Italian Capuchins.

Image: Itinerary from Chandernagore to Kathmandu (detail), drawn by Father Tranquillo in 1753

Dr. Davide Torri

Davide Torri studied Indology at the University of Venice and received his PhD in History of Religions from the University of Naples. After his dissertation on the Lepcha Adivasi of Sikkim, he dedicated himself to the anthropology of religion and to the study of shamanism among indigenous communities of the Himalayan range. He wrote several papers on shamanism and forms of syncretism between South Asian indigenous cultures, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Having done fieldwork in Nepal during the Civil War and the following peace process, he developed an interest in conflicts dynamics, religion and violence, politics and patterns of change affecting small-scale societies.

From 2013 to 2016, he was part of the Cluster Project MC3 "Negotiating Religion". He co-edited with Diana Riboli the volume Shamanism and violence: power, repression and suffering in indigenous religious conflicts (2013), and published a monograph titled Il Lama e Il Bombo. Sciamanismo e Buddhismo tra gli Hyolmo del Nepal (2014). He is currently working on his second monograph.

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Davide Torri, postdoctoral researcher in the Transcultural Forays Program, was invited to give two lectures in Taiwan last week. The first, titled "Indigenous Nepal. Religions, Landscapes and Identities" was given at the Department of Ethnology of National Chengchi University in Taipei on April 17, while the second one, titled "Between the Buddha and the Drum. Buddhism and Shamanism among the Hyolmo People of Nepal", was given at the Ethnology Institute of the Academia Sinica on April 21.

Davide Torri attended the 13th ISARS (International Society for Academic Research on Shamanism) conference, held at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi from December 1-4.  Dr. Torri was a member of the organizing committee together with colleagues from the aforementioned museum, the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and the Center for Southeast Asian Prehistory. During the General Assembly of the ISARS, he was also confirmed as a member of the Executive Board with the role of Secretary.

Davide Torri started his time as a Käte Hamburger Kolleg Research Fellow at the Centre for Religious Studies (CERES) at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. His research project focuses on "The Buddha and the Drum. Shamanism and Buddhism in the Himalaya", which will run from October 2017 to March 2018.

Davide Torri was part of the organizing committee of the first conference of the Italian Association for Tibetan, Himalayan and Mongolian Studies (AISTHiM) held in Procida, Italy, from September 12 to 15, 2017. The event coincided with the foundation of AISTHiM, which was hosted by the Department “Asia, Africa and Mediterranean” of the University of Napoli "L'Orientale".