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Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th - 18th Centuries)

Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th - 18th Centuries)
Item Code: NAL319
Author: Angela Barreto Xavier
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9780199452675
Pages: 423
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
About the Book

Beginning at the turn of the sixteenth century and ending at the close of the eighteenth, the history of Catholic Orientalism is about knowledge produced in and about South Asia, disseminated through the global networks of the early modern Portuguese empire. An integral part of the Portuguese imperial network, this Catholic ‘information order’ established in Asia refers to both knowledge practices and the archives.

From the first colonial censuses and gazetteers, to texts on ‘religion’ of the Indian ‘pagans’ that came from the Catholic missionaries-multiple sources and polyglot archives lie at the heart of this work. Physicians, merchants, missionaries, and royal officials were, for three centuries, active producers of information. These actors, moving through space and time, with divided loyalties, often disregarded ‘national’ divisions and wore many different hat.

From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, the British Empire changed the map of knowledge about South Asia. To this end, Catholic Orientalism was both assimilated and discarded for being tainted by unreasonable Catholicism and for being too close t the equally unreasonable ‘native’ Indian point of view.


About the Author

Angela Barreto Xavier is Research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon. She is the author of El-rei aonde pode e nao onde quer. Razoes da politica no Portugal seiscentista (1998) and A Invencao de Goa. Poder Imperial e Conversoes Culturais (2008).

Ines G. Zupanov is Senior Research Fellow (directrice de recherché), Centre d’Etude de I’Inde et de I’Asie du Sud, Centere National de la Recherche Scientifique/Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Ssociales, Paris. She is the author of Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experimetns and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth –Century Indian (Oxford University Press, 1999), Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th -17th Centuries) (2005), and several other works.



A history of an empire, of which only archives and monuments, ruined or standing, remain, has many endings folded into strings of competing or parallel chronologies. The long history of the Portuguese empire in India (1505-1961) is one such complex discursive field with multiple glorious beginnings and a series of disastrous endings. Our aim is to follow the path of knowledge production about and in India in the context of this decidedly Catholic empire and to (re) draw the map of Catholic knowledge-its production sites and the way it operated in South Asia and on a global scale in the early modern period. Catholicism from before and after the Council of Trent (1563) was a social, cultural, and epistemological lubricant of the Portuguese imperial venture. A set of knowledge practices geared t perpetuate political and cultural fantasies of the early modern Catholic protagonists and their communities is what we call ‘Catholic Orientatlism’ in this book. Briefly, Catholic Orientalism is an integral part of the Portuguese imperial ‘information order’ established in Asia, and it refers to both knowledge practices and the archives. More importantly, Catholic Orientalism nourished and merged into other and later Orientalisms and scholarly disciplines while itself disappearing under accusations such as a lack of scientificity and objectivity, and of being too close to the ‘native’ point of view.

In this book, we focus in particular on the Portuguese imperial experience by chronicling the rise, the branching out, the re-appropriation, and the decline of this Catholic knowledge produced in and about South Asia (mainly India) and disseminated through the global networks of the Portuguese empire. Bearing this in mind, we invite the reader to embark upon a journey to meet different knowledge communities, ass of which were in one way or another linked and even opposed to Portuguese colonial and imperial designs in the early modern period.

Just as the Portuguese material possessions in their Indian (and Asian) empire-occupied territories and settlements, maritime networks, and the control of labour-progressively dissolved from the seventeenth century onwards, their hard-won knowledge migrated into other political formations, in the process expanding their colonial and imperial realms, catholic Orientalism, therefore, is built into knowledge practices of thee European colonial powers settled in India from the last seventeenth century onwards, all the way to the British Raj. Similar to the early modern Protestant Orientalism, which had already attracted important scholarship, Catholic Orientalism is linked to its successor-High Orientalism-which became a respectable ‘humanist’ discipline in the early nineteenth century. This is obviously a big subject, which address through a set of case studies. A systematic approach would require a whole library of books.

The eighteenth-century Portuguese Royal Academy of History, albeit with intentions very different from ours, nurtured and expressed precociously and unrealistically a similar ambition of recovering different aspects of Portuguese history by systematizing documents in the archives and in the libraries, in order to publish volumes of historical books. What the academicians ardently desired was to give visibility to the glorious imperial past of the Portugues and inscribe it into the ‘universal’ European history. Established in 1720 and about to last until 1776, this enlightened Porutguese institution wanted to put together-as defined by Francisco Xavier de Meneses (1673-1743), the fourth Count of Ericeira-the ecclesiastical, military, and civil history of the Portuguese kingdom and empire, and to assess and understand its lasting impact on the present.

Brimming with optimism, Ericeira was certain that the echo of the Academy’s research and publications would reverberate beyond the borders of the kingdom because ‘all Europe… is watching and waiting for our compositions. The incredible amount of documents, objects, and tokens, in rich and bursting official and private collections, was evidence of almost two and a half centuries of Portuguese imperial grandeur. With a sense of urgency, Ericeira claimed that the moment was ripe for the academicians to start shifting through all of these treasures in order to tease out ‘true\ histories, no longer visible, because they were ‘hidden in the Archives’ or ‘usurped by the jealousy of other Nations.

When an earthquake of catastrophic magnitude struck Lisbon on the 1st of November 1755, the nations, more than anything else, were horrified. They were certainly not jealous! In one day, the natural disaster shattered the utopian dreams of the members of the Royal Academy of History. The knowledge and the memory of the Portuguese past were literally buried in rubble and burnt in fire, and were rendered even more hidden and invisible.




  List of Illustations Ix
  List of Abbreviations xi
  Acknowledgements Xiii
  Note on Transliteration and Spelling of Non-English Words Xv
  Maps Xvii
  Prologue Xxi
  Part I: Imperial Itineraries  
1 Making India Classic, Exotic, and Oriental 3
2 Empire and the Village 46
3 Natural History: Physicians, Merchants, and Missionaries 77
  Part II: Catholic Meridian  
4 Religion and Civility in ‘Brahmanism’: Jesuit Experiments 115
5 Franciscan Orientalism 158
6 Portuguese Linguistic Empire: Translation and Conversion 202
  Part III: Contested Knowledge  
7 Orentalists from Within: Indian Genealogists, Philologists, and Historians 245
8 Archives and the End of Catholic Orientalism 187
  Epilogue: Catholic Orientalism as Tragedy 331
  Select Bilbliography 341
  Index 377
  About the Authors 387
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