By Frykenberg, Robert Eric
International Bulletin of Missionary Research , Vol. 30, No. 4
Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th-17th Centuries) By Ines G. Zupanov. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005. Pp. 408. $75.
This sophisticated work is a "trope" about "tropes"-a form of literary criticism called discourse analysis. As such, it makes a provocative contribution to the history of early modern encounters between Jesuits and learned guardians of Sanskriti and Tamil traditions in South India, and also provides fascinating new perspectives on the interactions between Catholic and Hindu cultures. The author, a senior research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, tells us less about indigenous discoveries of Western Christianity than about missionary constructions, explorations, accommodations, and adaptations of their own hallowed institutions to the "heathen" or "pagan" institutions with which they came into contact. In doing so, she draws inspiration from recent work being done by such scholars as Velcheru Narayan Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subramaniam.
The author shows how Jesuits, both as individuals and as communities, manipulated their own culture in such a way as to make it fit modes of religious culture that already existed in India. Hence "tropics," or "tropical" modes, are brought into play. …