Organized Panel Session
Catholic missionaries first landed on the Indian coast on Portuguese ships in the early sixteenth century, and from the very beginning their religious enterprise was entangled with European trade routes and colonialism. Yet the mission soon expanded beyond the boundaries of European coastal enclaves into the dry Tamil inland, and in the process, missionaries adopted and adapted local social and cultural elements to the new religion. In this paper, I analyze these multiple spatial dimensions — the global, the universal, and the local — as they were articulated in the context of the Madurai mission, the Jesuit mission to Tamil-speaking South India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I focus especially on Tamil literature composed by Jesuits in this context as the site of negotiation between these different spatial scales, and suggest that Catholicism, while often perceived as alien and negative, also offered converts a new geography, chronology and sense of history that were powerful tools of social negotiation in the world of early modern South India. I analyze space as it was negotiated in what are arguably the three most influential works emerging from this context: Henrique Henrique’s Flos Sanctorum (1586), a collection of lives of the saints in Tamil, Roberto Nobili’s Tūṣaṇa Tikkāram (1641) and Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi’s Tēmpāvaṇi (1726). Comparing these three texts will show how over the course of more than one century missionaries developed sophisticated linguistic and rhetorical strategies to constantly re-negotiate their multiples scales of their engagement in the Tamil country.