Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Paradise Inhabited by Devils. the Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern Naples

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Paradise Inhabited by Devils. the Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern Naples

Article excerpt

A Paradise Inhabited by Devils. The Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern Naples. By Jennifer D. Selwyn. (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Co., and Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Jesu. 2004. Pp. xiv, 278. $89.95.)

Several years ago, Jennifer Selwyn published an article that introduced the themes of her research on the Jesuit missions in the early modern Kingdom of Naples. Now the results of her work appear greatly expanded in book form. Through an examination of the Jesuits' mission work in southern Italy, Professor Selwyn discusses two important interconnected topics: the Society of Jesus itself, the development of its methods and ideas, and especially the growth of a Jesuit sense of collective identity, on the one hand; on the other, how learned or official ideas of religious, moral, and cultural reform played out in the encounter with urban and rural poverty, social disorder, and popular religious beliefs in one of western Europe's marginal areas. Selwyn wisely places this encounter also within the context of early modern Europeans' experiences in the colonial world.

After a thematic and historiographic introduction, the book is divided into six chapters. In the first, Selwyn examines the image of southern Italy in European culture, as a land of fabled beauty but also of ignorance, violence, and superstition; the Jesuits endorsed this image to heighten both the need for their work in the region and its appeal to their own members. The chapter also provides an overview of Neapolitan history. In the second chapter Selwyn discusses the early Jesuits' role in the South of Italy. Three of Loyola's first six successors as Superior General of the order came from southern Italy, and southern Jesuits contributed much to developing both the Society's activities and its theories. In particular, urban and rural missions to downtrodden groups gained a crucial place within the order's active ministry. The Jesuits always perceived their work among the southern population as a civilizing effort.

In chapter 3 Selwyn develops the parallels between mission work in Catholic Europe and in Asia or America. In particular, through an analysis of the letters young Jesuits wrote to their superiors requesting mission work outside of Europe, Selwyn is able to examine the emergence of a heroic model of the missionary that became central to the Jesuit identity. …

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