ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN JESUITS AND PROTESTANTS IN ASIA
The Macau Ricci Institute, 9-11 November 2016
The approaching 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (1517) provides an ideal
opportunity to reflect in a deeper and new way on the history of the relationship between the
Protestants and the Jesuits who were founded twenty-three years later (1540). For better or
worse, much ink has been used to write about their animosity, especially in the European
context. While this important historical chapter will be explored in other venues, the
international conference in Macau aims to re-examine the encounters between the Jesuits and
the Protestants and their respective traditions in the context of Asia.
Supported by the Catholic monarchies of Portugal, Spain, and France, the Jesuit
Order played a significant role in bringing Christianity and European culture, sciences, and
the arts to Asia from the sixteenth through to the late eighteenth century, when a Franciscan
pope suppressed the Jesuits. After the Restoration of the Order by another pope (1814), the
Jesuits returned to several Asian countries at various historical moments and they found more
Protestant missionaries than they left a few decades earlier. Indeed, the latter intensified their
missionary efforts through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the rise of the imperial
powers of Great Britain, France, and the US in the region.
This historical development lends itself to an obvious comparison between the
Jesuit and Protestant methods of presenting Christianity to Asian societies, in which—with
the exception of the Philippines that followed the path of Latin America—Christians never
became a majority. The Jesuits themselves, however, used different strategies in different
cultural circumstances. Francis Xavier who was among the first Europeans to approach Japan
employed different methods than did Matteo Ricci who was allowed to enter the Forbidden
City. Roberto de Nobili’s missionary style in the caste-divided society of Madurai was
different from that of Alexandre de Rhodes who penetrated the Kingdom of Annam. In spite
of this variety of approaches within the Society of Jesus itself, accommodation became a
trademark of Jesuit missions. Knowing that charges of syncretism were a mainstay of
Protestant anti-Jesuit polemic, a question that comes to mind, then, is what was the extent to
which the generations of Protestant missionaries in Asia adopted Jesuit approaches to cultural
accommodation. What were their approaches to studying and codifying local languages, to
transmitting Western science? What was the relationship between missionaries and
political/commercial elites on both sides of the confessional divide?
When the Jesuits themselves began rebuilding their missions after the Restoration, did they
continue their pre-Suppression traditions?
The cooperation and conflict between the Dutch merchants and the Jesuit
missionaries in Japan appears to be better studied but can the same be said about the
encounters between the Jesuits and the Protestant Dutch missionaries in Taiwan and Malacca,
or between the Jesuits and the German Pietist missions in China and India? How did the
Jesuits relate to their Protestant colleagues in the competition to gain Asian souls, say, in late
These are just a few examples of complex questions about the encounters
between the Jesuits and the Protestants, and their traditions, that this international conference
hopes to explore in an interdisciplinary academic conversation in Macau—a city that lay at
the crossroads of European explorations of Asia.
Please email a short (200-250 words) abstract of a proposed paper to both Dr. Ronnie Po-chia
Hsia (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Robert A. Maryks (email@example.com) before 31 May 2014. The
abstract must be written in standard academic English. If accepted, the author will be expected to
deliver his/her paper in standard academic English. Selected papers will be published either
in a dedicated volume or in the Journal of Jesuit Studies (Brill).