Communities without Borders: Missionaries, Ministers, and Merchants in the Early Modern World

AHA Session 16
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)
Owen C. Stanwood, Boston College
Travis F. Glasson, Temple University

Session Abstract

In recent decades our understanding of early modern European expansion has benefited from new, wide-ranging, region-based approaches to history that do not take for granted the sometimes porous borders of European colonies and empires. The proliferation of “Atlantic history” is a case in point, though many studies are still confined within the framework of individual empires, especially the English Atlantic. As valuable as such work has been, in this panel we propose to probe the limits of imperial and even regional history by looking at the movement of Europe’s “sacred communities” into the larger early modern world. Religion is especially well-suited to this task because it so often disregarded national boundaries: Most obviously, the Catholic church was an independent, international institution that existed sometimes uncomfortably within single nation states. European Jews, though they were clearly not united in the same way, were similarly spread throughout the continent, connected by trade and by some shared traditions and beliefs. Protestant churches tended to be more nationally oriented, but even in their case there existed widespread networks of communication and trade, often labeled “the Protestant international.” The papers in this panel examine the ways that these cosmopolitan groups dealt with European expansion, imperial structures, and colonial society, focusing especially on the degree to which each can be seen as a cohesive religious community, despite the reality of “national” empires.

Shona Johnston first reconstructs French and Irish missionary enterprises in the English Caribbean in the seventeenth century. She demonstrates how these two groups crossed doctrinal, national, colonial, and imperial borders to provide pastoral care to Catholics living under Protestant rule. She draws comparisons with French and English missions in North America and explores the possibilities (and limits) of the term “Catholic Atlantic.” In “Indians All,” Edward Andrews turns to Protestants, looking at the impact of Dutch and German missionary accounts from Southeast Asia on English missionary efforts in America, arguing that the two regions existed in a “dialogic relationship,” part of a global process. Missionaries experimented with comparative models and “broadcast” them through the act of publishing. Danny Noorlander then examines the place of the Dutch West India Company in this international Protestant community, showing how company directors were involved in efforts to assist needy Calvinists in other countries and supported foreign exiles in Holland. The company also employed many German, English, and French clergy escaping the various religious conflicts of the time. Finally, David Graizbord discusses problems inherent in the definition of the “Portuguese trading nation,” looking at ethnicity, religion, the construct of race, and economic behavior in the lives of Sephardic Jews and Jewish-identified New Christians. He examines the notion of a “Jewish Ibero-Atlantic” and argues for a more nuanced approach to Jewish and judeoconverso identity.

Owen Stanwood (Boston College) will chair the panel; Travis Glasson (Temple) will provide commentary.

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