17th- and 18th-Century Jesuit Scholarship in Global Context
Few organizations in the early modern period can make a better claim to the title “global” as the Society of Jesus. In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, Jesuits travelled throughout the world, setting up missions in China, Africa, North and South America, and even Tibet. From these missions, they wrote back to their superiors in Europe and shared not only their evangelical successes but also the knowledge learned from locals and travelers through. Jesuits also served as some of the most significant scholars and teachers in early-modern Europe. They populated Catholic Europe’s universities and pioneered advancements in the sciences, arts, and the humanities. Rarely, however, do historians connect these two spheres of Jesuit activity. Either missionaries or academics, the historical scholarship on the Society of Jesus tends to isolate Jesuit work abroad from their work in the intellectual centers of Europe.
This panel proposes a new, integrated understanding of the work of Jesuit scholars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Through studies on the global connections between Jesuits in the early modern world, it examines how experiences with non-European populations influenced their intellectual positions at home and, conversely, how their experiences at home influenced their reception and reputation abroad. The goal is to provide a more holistic perspective on the Society of Jesus and its global identity in the early modern period.
In the first of three papers, Jeffrey D. Burson investigates the dual-identity of the Jesuits—clerics that were both “scholars” and “apostles”—and the role that this dual-identity played in contributing to their marginalization in the courts, educational institutions, and public sphere in mid-eighteenth-century France. Florence C. Hsia sheds light on Jesuit scholars’ identities as experts on both the East and the West and the dilemma that this liminal position caused, particularly in respect to Jesuit sinology. Finally, Daniel J. Watkins seeks to bridge the intellectual worlds of Jesuit missionaries and scholars by analyzing the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux and its function in transmitting non-Western learning to the enlightened audiences of eighteenth-century Europe. Robert Batchelor, Associate Professor of History at Georgia Southern University and a specialist in the connections between early modern England and China, will serve as chair, and David Allen Harvey, Professor of History at the New College of Florida and author of numerous works on the international context of the Age of Enlightenment, will provide the comment.