Maritime Missions: Religion, Ethnography and Empires in the Long Eighteenth Century

24.05.-25.05.2019, Workshop, DHI Washington

Conveners: Jenna M. Gibbs (GHI Washington/Florida International University) and Sünne Juterczenka (GHI Washington/Göttingen University)

Beginning in the early modern period, missionaries became crucial to colonial expansion, the broadening of intellectual horizons, and the globalization of Christianity. Often travelling by sea, they were among the first to cover the vast distances that the maritime empires of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would subsequently span. Transoceanic in scope, “Maritime Missions” will explore the interconnections between the histories of religion, science, and maritime empires. The workshop focuses on the ways in which the Pacific, Atlantic, East Asian, and Mediterranean oceans were deeply interlinked by missionary activities from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries.  It follows the lead of recent scholarship that recognizes the intertwining of scientific and religious missions, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, and situates these in the maritime spaces that were both the arena and the medium of colonial expansion.

“Maritime Missions” seeks to build on a recent upsurge in maritime history, today one of the most vibrant and multifaceted fields in historical research. Critical revisions in this field have brought the cultural historical perspective to the fore, highlighted the relevance of the maritime even to hinterland communities, engaged with postcolonial analysis of maritime empires, and embraced interdisciplinary cross-pollination. While rich studies have conceptualized oceanic regions like the Méditerranée, the Black Atlantic, or the Pacific Sea of Islands as discrete but interlinked, this conference also seeks to explore the fluidity between these regions. Specifically, we will investigate how imperial maritime exploration, transoceanic networks and global missions fostered the study of ethnography and race, which will also engage recent history of science scholarship that emphasizes globalization and encounters with and awareness of non-Western indigenous knowledge and cultures. In focusing on the emergence of ethnography out of religious as well as scientific missions in the imperial maritime world, the workshop will also contribute to the ongoing reevaluation of the role of religion in the Enlightenment, pushing back on residual resistance to bringing them under the same analytic lens.

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