Jesuit Missionary Societies as the “Itinerant” Academies of Catholic Orientalism in Sixteenth- to Eighteenth-Century India
The last three decades have seen a resurgence of scholarship on the Jesuit sciences, with the intention of indexing their contribution to either the rise of modern science or its expansion. This preoccupation is consistent with the current focus on the production of knowledge and its context. Attention has been devoted, for example, to the Mathematical Academy of the Collegio Romano. In this paper I turn away from the academies in Europe to Jesuit scholarly production of the sciences of and in South Asia. This neglected field of inquiry is approached through the study of `itinerant’ Jesuit networks of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, that could be reconceptualised as an itinerant academy in the style of the seventeenth-century learned societies and academies. The informal members of this so constituted itinerant academy were involved in the cultural production of knowledge about South Asia that had no small role in stimulating what Raymond Schwab termed la renaissance orientale – prefiguring the rise of ‘Orientalism.’ These discourses evolve later into ‘indianisme’ or Indology, while strains within them rhizomatically connect up with the field sciences. The paper explores this diverse and rich field of scholarly production within a fixed geography but non-localisable institutional space that for convenience is labelled the itinerant academy, and is a variant of the family of academies that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
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