Global Reformations: Religion and the Making of the Modern World
Presentation Abstracts

Presentation Abstracts

Ali Akhtar, Bates College

The Tsardom of Russia and the Reformation of Imperial Religion:
Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Peter the Great in the Seventeenth

In the seventeenth century, how did the imperial administration of the rapidly expanding Tsardom of Russia negotiate its relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church while simultaneously governing its growing Muslim and Jewish subject populations? What was the political place of inter-imperial Muslim, Christian, and Jewish merchants and diplomats who connected Russia with the neighboring domains of the Swedes, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Crimean Tatars? This talk examines administrative reforms in the seventeenth century that set the Tsardom of Muscovy on the path to becoming a multiconfessional Russian Empire with a multireligious political and economic elite, investigating in particular how a reformation of imperial religion was entangled with regional changes in civic identity and imperial subjecthood along
trade routes that connected Russia with both the Islamic world and Western Europe.

Alexander Bevilacqua, Harvard University

A New View of Islam

It is known that, in the eighteenth century, the Western understanding of Islam underwent a dramatic transformation: European depictions of the religion became both much more detailed and empirically informed, and more neutral, sometimes even warmly sympathetic. Yet the causes of this change have never been established convincingly. This paper argues that the reinterpretation of Islam began in the seventeenth century and unfolded irrespective of its agents' affiliations, religious orthodoxy or feelings toward Islam. Instead of identifying a "Copernican moment" in the European study of Islam, the paper points to a continent-wide, inter-confessional process that unfolded over the better part of a century. Key drivers were virtuous competition between confessional rivals, a shared understanding that Islam was relevant to the history of Christianity, and an increasingly acute sense that the European tradition had done a poor job of accounting for the historical phenomenon of Islam. While in many respects the new interpretations this process yielded were children of their time, they cast a long shadow on the following centuries, and can be considered the foundations of the modern Western understanding of Islam.

Wendy Laura Belcher, Princeton University

Modernities Inspired by Early Modern Encounters with the Christian Other: Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Missionary Jesuits in the Seventeenth Century

Highland Ethiopians have been practicing an ancient form of African Christianity since the fourth century, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church. Starting in the sixteenth century, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries came to Ethiopia to convert the Ethiopians from their form of Christianity to Roman Catholicism and temporarily converted the Ethiopian King Susənyos. After ten years, he rescinded the conversion and all the Jesuits were banished or lynched. On the Ethiopian side, this encounter inspired doctrinal debates and served as an effective prophylactic against colonialism. On the European side, this encounter inspired among the Jesuits a more sensitive, culturally appropriate missionary approach elsewhere. It also inspired, among Protestants, representations about the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church that participated in the debates of the Reformation, with Protestants using the texts of the Jesuits to attack Roman Catholicism and to treat the “primitive” Ethiopian church as proof that Roman Catholicism was fallen. In both cases, the encounter resulted in long-term effects, into the twentieth century, that can be seen as constitutive of various modernities. In particular, however, this is further proof for the growing body of evidence that European modernity was, at the very least, shaped by African thought, and at the very most, actually sparked by it.

Shmuel Feiner, Bar Ilan University, Israel

The Haskalah and the Jewish Project of Secularization in Eighteenth-century Europe

In this paper, I would like to argue that the Haskalah was a project of Jewish secularization that played a significant role in the emergence of Jewish modernization in eighteenth-century Europe, and that this project had much long-lasting influence. The Jewish eighteenth century was one of religious revival and religious enthusiasm no less than a century of secularization. The vitality of Sabbatianism and Hasidism; the activity of prominent rabbis, from the Hakham Zevi to the Vilna Gaon; the revival of the religious library through, for example, the reprinting of Maimonides` Moreh nevukhim and Halevi`s Kuzari; the growing interest in the Bible; the literature of Techinoth in Yiddish which, among other things, attests to the religious motivation of women—all of these provide evidence from different aspects of the power of religion. My main argument, however, is that despite its limited scope, the Haskalah had an extraordinary transformative power. One can view the Haskalah project as a revolution that made a decisive contribution to secularization, and one whose implications for shaping modern Jewish life endure to this day. Of all the paths to modernization in the eighteenth century, the Haskalah was in my view the most significant gate through which Jews entered into the modern era. It was the movement that first upset the sensitive nerves of modernity and triggered the Kulturkampf between Jewish modernists and their opponents.

Elaine Fisher, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Religious Publics of Early Modern South India

Read through the precedent of Western civil society, the very idea of a religious public may strike the contemporary reader as a sheer contradiction in terms. In the canons of classical sociology, modernity is habitually associated with a teleological trajectory of secularization, such that the terms public and secular have become prescriptively equated with each other in Western discourse. Even in more recent years, theorists have attempted to define the singularity of modernity, epitomized by the European Enlightenment, as founded upon the limitation of religion in public space. And yet, in the context of early modern India, as well as India today, not only is religion never forcibly removed from the public square, but is actively publicized, becoming perhaps for the first time in Indian history one of the foundational languages of public discourse.

Do we read this divergence, in the vein of Orientalist scholars of the colonial period, as the intransigent failure of India to modernize? Or can we locate a distinctively south Asian relationship between religion and publicity at the dawn of modernity? In this talk, I would like to outline a vocabulary for speaking about the relationship between religion and the public sphere—or, more accurately, public spheres—in early modern south India. I focus in particular on the transmission of new religious identities in public space: these religious publics, by and large, were constructed through the public signification of difference—through performative spaces of temples and monasteries, and inscribed on the body of practitioners through the public embodiment of shared religious identity.

Pablo F. Gómez, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Transcendent Empiricisms: Health, Religion and the Birth of Modernity in the Early Modern Caribbean

Seventeenth century Caribeños lived at a time when the contents of the world and how people thought it could be known were being re-imagined. This paper explores some examples of how Caribbean ritual practitioners of African descent used religious practices of a multiplicity of Atlantic origins for creating authoritative knowledge and truth about the natural world, particularly that of the body. The paper studies the development throughout this period of novel strategies that black Caribbean ritual specialists used to exercise power over the natural world—strategies that included a compound of spiritual, analytical, experiential, descriptive and classificatory practices. These novel revolutionary creative strategies were highly successful and made black ritual practitioners the intellectual leaders of a region saturated with ideas from all over the globe.

Black Caribbean ritual practitioner’s power-creating strategies were based on novel experiential phenomena that they manufactured on the basis of localized circumstances in different Caribbean locales. This paper examines how the physical, social, and spiritual, as well as the natural and moral orders manifested themselves in physically evident experiences through sensorial landscapes that black Caribbean practitioners themselves helped construct. The new Caribbean experiential allowed Black Caribbean ritual practitioners to claim access to ultimate truths about the nature of the world and allege morally superior knowledge in communities composed of ragtag groups of Atlantic people coming from a diverse number of cultural backgrounds.

Janet Gyatso, Harvard University

Buddhism, Science, and Modernity: Medicine in Tibet

Among other terms, this paper will be begging the question of the definition of all of the nouns in its title. It will examine a movement towards more empirical accountability, pragmatism, and historical accuracy, and away from religious authority, in sixteenth- through eighteenth-century Tibetan academic medicine. This movement was uninformed in any specifiable way by developments in science in other parts of the world during the same period. While housed largely in monastic compounds, Tibetan medical academies drew upon a heritage of medical writing and practice in South, East, and Western Asia, which was only tangentially related to Buddhism. The paper will explore the significance of the coincidental parallels with the scientific revolution, even while Tibetan medicine on many other fronts remained beholden to notions in Buddhist ethics and epistemology. It will propose ways in which fundamentally religious ideas and practices have had an impact on domains far afield from myth, soteriology, or devotional practice, and explore how the historical actors under discussion themselves addressed similar issues. It will look at disparate ways of understanding the human body, from the vantage of internal, yogically-trained experience to that of objective observation. It will also raise questions about how we identify and characterize the causes of large epistemic shifts, and explore the frequent disconnect between substantive argument and rhetorical self-positioning.

Jack Hawley, Columbia University

 The Four Churches of the Reformation

A hundred years ago, in a much-read article published in James Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, the great linguist George Grierson described the seismic changes experienced in north India in the sixteenth and adjacent centuries as the work of “The Four Churches of the Reformation.”  Nor was he the only one to think that there were remarkable religious correspondences between Europe and India in that period.  It is an important task to say what might be made of such perceived correspondences today—and a daunting one.  Here, however, I attempt something more modest.  I hope to show how the “four churches” model to which Grierson appealed was itself, in its native Indian form, a product of the very period about which he was speaking.  Does that make it an appropriate testament to something like “global Reformation” after all?

Michelle Molina, Northwestern University

Dialogues Among the Dead: Entangled histories of Conquest and Reformation

The initial conquest of the Americas entailed extensive efforts at cultural and religious reform that had little to do with the Protestant reformation that was simultaneously underway, but the evolving shape of Catholic reformations became increasingly important on both sides of the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In other words, it is impossible to write a history of post-conquest reforms that can be disentangled from the history of the European reformations. Not reducible to European modes, yet neither to be disentangled from them: this is the tension that animates religious history in an Atlantic frame and this tension inhabited efforts, especially Jesuit efforts, to write the history of the New World following their expulsion from the Americas in 1767. The Latin American exiles wrote from Bologna in the two decades following the expulsion, juggling their religious and intellectual commitments as patriotic Americans proud of their role in the history of evangelizing the Americas, yet they also, in a more conflicted mode, negotiated their relationship to the history of Spanish empire as former, disgruntled subjects to the Spanish crown.

Enter the Lutheran Swede. In a little-known conversion story, a merchant named Thjülen converted to Catholicism in 1768 when he was on a ship with two hundred expelled Mexican Jesuits. Becoming attached to them—entangled in their history—the Lutheran converted to Catholicism, followed the Jesuits into exile in Bologna, and became a Jesuit himself. This Swedish convert-cum-Jesuit lived out his years in Italy where, among his many publications, he wrote a 48-volume world history for high school aged boys. Lorenzo Thjülen's Dialogues Among the Dead staged encounters between deceased figures from world history, pitting Martin Luther against the Jesuit, Robert Bellarmine who had, in an outrageous and coy counter-factual, succeeds in converting Calvin to “the truth faith” of Catholicism.

Utilizing Thjülen's conversion narrative, his later writings, and the observations recorded in the accounts of Jesuits expelled from Mexico, I tell the story a journey that entangled Mexicans, Germans, Spanish, Italians, and a Swede, and, in so doing, this paper demonstrates how issues pertaining to the Reformation shaped the experiences of the returning Jesuits, even at this late eighteenth-century date.

Billy Noseworthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Last Devaraja: Ppo Romé and Making ‘Modern’ Cham Religion in Vietnam

This essay is an analysis of the creation of ‘modern religion’ – according to the historical accounts of Cham scholars in Vietnam and the biography of Ppo Romé [r. 1627-1651]. Though not ethnically ‘Cham,’ Ppo Romé became renowned for his knowledge of Islam, astute abilities for peace-making and was transformed posthumously into the last devaraja (god-king) of the classical civilization of Champa. He has been credited with institutionalizing the modern script and luni-solar calendar. Bruckmayr (2013) hailed Ppo Romé as the ‘Charlemagne of Cham Studies’ and described Cham religion as a form of ‘Institutionalized Syncretism’ between Muslims and Hindus. Ppo Romé is thus a Southeast Asian inverse of Guru Nanak, who famously renounced both Hindu and Muslim claims to the divine, proclaiming a more absolute truth and founding Sikhism. By contrast Ppo Romé accepted both Hindu and Muslim notions of divinity.

So was he a ‘modern,’ or perhaps better, an ‘early modern,’ predecessor to secularism? A Southeast Asian parallel to Baruch Spinoza? The question of ‘modern’ for Cham language sources is compounded by the fact that across more than one century of dictionary projects for the language – a translation of ‘modern’ or ‘modernity’ was never concretely introduced into the language, although several rough colloquial equivalents do exist. By contrast, two communities with which the Cham were in close contact—the Vietnamese to the north and Malay Muslims to the south—were both ripe with historical evidence for debates on the meanings of modernity, modernism, and ‘being modern,’ although high point of these discourse dates to the twentieth century, paralleling the popularity of the usage of the term ‘modern’ in English. I will build upon these discussions by drawing a distinction between the classification of a ‘modern religion’ and ‘discussions of religion in modernity’ for the case of Cham religion in Vietnam.

Babak Rahimi, University of California San Diego

Beyond the Bourgeois Public Sphere: the Isfahani Public and the Rise of the Early Modern Global Public Spheres

The 1962 publication of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit) has provided a historical and theoretical paradigm in the study of modernity. Significant to this paradigm is the rise of an inclusive discourse based on secular rationality, which Habermas argues is unique to the eighteenth-century bourgeois public sphere and preceded by a literary public, which revolved around the interiority of the rational subject in connection with public domains of interaction such as salons, coffeehouses, and clubs. Focusing on the dynamic relationship between communication and power, this paper works through and yet beyond Habermas. I argue that concurrent with the rise of early European hegemonic modernity, and prior to the rise of the so-called bourgeois public sphere, an interconnected network of global public spheres was in the making on the transhemispheric level. Such publics were constituted by aesthetic, discursive, affective and material fields of interaction, as competing notions and practices of authority and publicity emerged amid the “first wave” of European colonization. Religion, in the form of reformist movements and institutionalized conversations across vast geographies, I further argue, played a key role in negotiating identity, space, and power in shaping the early modern publics.

In this paper, I first provide a historical and theoretical outline of the early modern global public spheres, and expand on key terms such as “global,” which is meant not as an even and equalizing world transformation but a transcultural set of changes, at times contentious, with significant historical implications. In the second part of the paper, I focus on the case of Safavi Iran in the early seventeenth century, in what I called the “Isfahani Public.” I show the complex development of trans-Eurasian public spheres in the context of Safavid society and state building. I finally propose an alternative historical and theoretical model of the public sphere in an attempt to go beyond the European model of “secularization” and outline the trajectory of non-Western modernities.

Darryl Wilkinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ungraven Images: the Natural Idol in the Early Colonial Andes

The European Reformation led to a new wave of iconoclastic sentiment, resulting in the banishment of figurative images from many churches and the emergence of a heightened anxiety about the ontological status of material objects. This story is primarily told as one focused on things made by human craft – on stained glass windows, statues of saints and the like. Recent scholarship has extended this narrative beyond the European metropole also, to show how colonial missionaries encounters with indigenous “idols” recursively shaped the Western understanding of the innate capacities thought proper to both humans and things. Yet in the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, the problem of idolatry arose in precisely the opposite location to Europe, and the other colonial domains. In other words, it was not in the world made by humans that idol was to be found, but in the natural world that had been made by God and which was unaltered by human hands. In part, this was a reflection of the fact that the societies the Spanish had conquered (such as the Inkas) were thoroughly aniconic in their material culture; something which vexed the colonial clergy greatly in their search for idols that were lacking in any physically distinguishing characteristics. Thus, the graven images of the colonial Andes seem not to have been graven at all. This paper, therefore, traces the appearance of a distinctly Andean discourse on idolatry, whose outcomes were often quite different from that in the Old World. In particular, rather than a withdrawal of sacred space into the private, interior space of the individual, it was radically extended across entire landscapes.

Andre Wink, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Religious Reformation of Mughal India

The historical template within which modernity was framed not merely underwrote Europe's rise to global dominance, it also provided arguments about non-European societies not moving forward. Nowhere is this more true than India, the epitome of Non-Europe. As seen through European eyes, India had been held back by despotic states and the disabling belief systems of Islam and Hinduism. This induced a kind of 'this-worldly' torpor and inertia that was seen to be the very opposite of the spirit of capitalism. Now that the spirit of capitalism, and globalism to boot, has come to India, much of its early modern history is cast in a new and more positive light. But this more positive view of India's past is not necessarily more adequate than the old view. In this paper it is argued that the relationship between religion and early modern economic, social and political development in India was probably not different in essential respects from what we encounter in Reformation Europe, but it should not be concluded that this meant pluralism, religious tolerance, and intellectual freedom of the kind that we take for granted in the modern world today. After all, these were not virtues of Reformation Europe either.

Jiang Wu, Univeristy of Arizona

The Fracturing of a Textual Double: Religious Transformations and the Authenticity Crisis in Early Modern East Asia

This paper investigates religious transformations in early modern East Asia by examining how East Asia’s religious and intellectual traditions, notably Confucianism and Buddhism, coped with what I have characterized in my previous studies as the seventeenth-century “authenticity crisis.” In order to reinterpreting the profound changes that led to the emergence of East Asian modernities, I will focus on a common approach of religious revival within these early-modern East Asian traditions, which is to project the future onto the past by resurrecting a “textual double,” an imagined reality based on constantly reinterpreting an enormous mass of Sinographic literature in order to deal with contemporary issues in the real world. Although this “textual double” had been reestablished as the ideal of authenticity in early modern East Asia, the inherent contradictions within it precipitated its fracturing and eventual collapse amid the massive “invasion” of Western knowledge in the late nineteenth century. Cases from religious and intellectual traditions in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Ryukyu Kingdom will be discussed in this paper.

Ali Yaycioglu, Stanford University

Engineers, Janissaries, and Preachers: How Did the Military Reform Change the Ottoman Order? 

The earlier scholarship on the Ottoman military reform program New Order (1789-1807) argued that the Janissaries and other groups who acted in alliance with them opposed the reforms, because they were against innovations. In my book, Partner of the Empire, I have a similar take, and argue that both the New Order and anti-New Order movements were in fact coalitions clustered around a reformist bureaucracy and Janissaries, no with clear and tight reform agendas. These coalitions were constantly renegotiated in accordance with the political developments, and often, actors, such as ulema, provincial notables, merchants, guild-members and urban public in general, changed sites.

In this paper, I will try to go beyond these (including my own) frameworks. I will propose that in fact the New Order, starting as an engineering program, evolved into a program to build a new social order, with profound implication on individual lives. The Opposition to the New Order, thus, in fact, was an opposition to this new life project, both social and individual components, much beyond the limitations of the military, political, administrative and fiscal reorganization. I also argue that there were two bases of this new life project: One was the eighteenth-century military engineering, or what we can call, Military Enlightenment. The other was an Islamic discourse, which emphasized disciplining social order as well as individual life, in according to the dictums of Shari‘a rituals, including orderly and regularly praying and different synchronic rituals, in contrast to traditionalism and social conventions in the name of religion. This marriage between the Military Enlightenment and Islam echoed in a parallelism between military regiments and the Friday congregation, both of which acted synchronically and orderly, like the working of a watch.