When the Portuguese arrived in Calicut and "discovered" India in 1498, they were purportedly in search of "Christians and spices". On the Malabar Coast, on the southwest coast of India, they found both: the pepper and the Christians, the pepper merchants. While the history of the spice trade between Asia and Europe has received much attention by historians, the history of the Portuguese encounter with these ancient (antigos) Indian Christians (supposedly converted by St. Thomas the Apostle himself) has often been obscured or downright falsified by its complicated afterlife.
On the basis of the documents produced mostly by religious specialists such as missionaries, as well as other actors in the Portuguese colonial enterprise, I will look into a century of European interactions, negotiations, and conflicts with the priests, bishops, and community leaders of these Christians, commonly known as St. Thomas Christians. <br>
My intention is to show how the encounter between the Portuguese and the St. Thomas Christians engendered for both sides a significant and somewhat traumatic rupture in their respective religious and cultural beliefs and routines. I will focus specifically on Portuguese intentions in order to highlight an important and often neglected outcome of this encounter: the possibility of accepting religious plurality, at least within Christianity. Obviously, the parallel events taking place in Europe, such as the rise of Protestantism (1517), religious wars, and the Council of Trent (1563), intersected in many indirect and direct ways with this local Indo-Portuguese affair. The answers to the questions of how to deal with religious diversity in Christianity and globally oscillated between demands for violent annihilation of religious opponents and cultural (religious) relativism based partly on the concept of "accommodation".
In a similar way, I will argue that the controversial and notorious method of conversion called "accommodation" - employed in the Jesuit overseas missions among the "heathens", was first thought out and tested in their mission among the St. Thomas Christians in the late sixteenth century. It was by looking at the ancient Christians, a strange kind of Christians who closely resembled their Hindu and Muslim neighbors in India (customs, rituals, skin color, etc.), that the Portuguese and especially the Jesuit missionaries developed the idea that Christianity can accommodate non-European "social customs" without being intrinsically corrupted as a religion. Obviously, not everyone agreed with this kind of cultural alchemy. It comes as no surprise that the mission among the St. Thomas Christians (as well as all accommodationist missions in Asia) ultimately ended in failure. What remained, however, was a sharply defined dichotomy between the religious/sacred and the social/profane. When the Portuguese first encountered the St. Thomas Christians, the distinction between the social and the religious was yet to be invented.
Zupanov, Ines (
Zupanov, Ines (
Deine Seele wirst du verlieren : das Drogen- und Heilmittelbuch des Arztes Garcia da Orta in Portugiesisch-Indien ; Alexander Kluge im Gespräch mit Ines Zupanov 10 vor 11
Zupanov, Ines (
New Delhi [u.a.],
Disputed mission : Jesuit experiments and Brahmanical knowledge in seventeenth-century India Oxford India paperbacks