MRI Forum 75

"Accommodating Civilizations: Reforming the Jesuit Missions in Asia, 1580-1620"

by Jesse Sargent

30 October 2013







Press Play to listen (Full length: 45 minutes)

Summary of the Presentation

As the Portuguese Sea-born Empire spread its tendrils out across the oceans of Asia during the course of the 16th century, Jesuit missionaries walking amongst the various cultures and civilizations in the East began to realize their presentation of Christianity was less than effective. Denounced in China and Japan as “South Sea Barbarians”, the Jesuits struggled to gain recognition for their newly introduced “idea” of Christian religion. With the arrival of Father Visitor Alessandro Valignano in the East, the Jesuit approach changed radically, stressing attention to the historical philosophy and cultural predilictions of the target society. Essentially, Valignano argued “Accommodation was totally necessary” and suggested that Christianity must be explained not on the basis of Western sources, but instead by drawing upon the existing wisdom literature of the target society. This presentation will explore the construction of “Accommodation” as an idea through an analysis of both its theory and practice. Finally, reflections on the use of this idea in the Modern context will be considered.

Profile of the Speaker

Jesse Sargent is the Kathryn and Shelby Davis Scholar for Peace from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. His research interests lie in the academic discipline of the “History of Religions”, Portuguese exploration and cultural encounters between civilizations in the Early Modern Period. A former teacher on the JET Programme in Nagano, Japan, he was a visiting researcher at Sophia University's Kirishitan Bunko Rare Books Library. He is the author of “Indigenizing the Christian Other: Culture and Accommodation in Japan's Early Christian Century” and the 2012 Matthew R. Simmons Scholar for the 25th Anniversary Camden Conference “The US in a 21st Century World: Do We Have What It Takes?