From idolatry to religions: The missionary discourse on Buddhism and the invention of theistic Confucianism, 1550-1700 – Public lecture by Joan-Pau Rubiés (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
WHEN Tuesday 30 April, 16.00-17.30
WHERE Amsterdam, UB, Singel 425, Potgieterzaal
The emergence of a European discourse to distinguish, analyse and historicize various non-Biblical religious traditions within Asia involved a significant amplification of the concept of idolatry. The Jesuit experience of Japanese Buddhism in the second half of the sixteenth century posed a particular challenge, because of its overt atheism. In the Japanese context, idolatry (a superstitious, misdirected belief) and atheism (a lack thereof) came to be seen as complementary rather than opposites. Hence the patristic models of Christian apologetics, based on distinguishing elite monotheism from popular religion in ancient paganism, and which had been useful when confronting Hinduism, in Japan had to be replaced by a system where the elite cultivated an atheistic form esoteric monism. When focusing their dialectical firepower upon on the doctrines of double truth and non-theisitc monism, the Jesuits were in fact responding to the doctrinal distinctiveness of East Asian Buddhism, notably the emphasis on provisional teachings, on the one hand, and Buddha-nature, on the other. Hence the Jesuits can be seen to have responded to the actual doctrines of the Japanese monks, rather than simply export a prefabricated model of idolatrous paganism. Through the synthesis of the missionary leader Alessandro Valignano, the Jesuit interpretation of Buddhism became crucial not only to the mission in China, where it underpinned (through a negative contrast) the selective accommodation of ‘theistic’ Confucianism, but was also influential in European intellectual culture more generally in relation to the analysis of pantheism.
Joan-Pau Rubiés (PhD Cambridge) is the coordinator of the Research Group on Ethnographies, Cultural Encounters and Religious Missions (ECERM) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, which has received funding from the ERC (Marie Curie Program), AGAUR (SGR) and MINECO. His research is focused on the study of cross-cultural encounters in the early modern world, from a perspective combining the contextual analysis of ethnographic sources with the intellectual history of early modern Europe. He is currently developing various lines of research including: travel writing and ethnography, religious dialogue and cultural mediation, the intellectual impact of travel writing and the origins of the Enlightenment, diplomacy and cultural encounters and the comparative history of early modern empires and globalisation.