Science, empire, and the old Society of Jesus, 1540–1773

Authored by: Maria Pia Donato , Sabina Pavone

The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire

Print publication date:  July  2021
Online publication date:  July  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367221256
eBook ISBN: 9780429273360
Adobe ISBN:


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Since their foundation in 1540, and well after their first suppression by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, Jesuits have been key actors in the intertwined goals of the competing Catholic empires: colonisation and evangelisation. Both goals implied a momentous effort in collecting, producing, and transmitting knowledge to which the Jesuits contributed across the globe. This chapter seeks to revisit the place of Jesuits in making science in the early-modern world by adopting a tentative situational approach; that is, by looking at Jesuits within intra- and trans-imperial configurations and interconnected structures of governance. Such an approach helps avoid the pitfalls of treating science, empire, and the Jesuits as obvious and unitary entities straightforwardly conjoined with one another. This essay begins by examining the role of Jesuits as imperial agents and science as an appendage to imperialism, mostly in the Americas, and then further studies the function and impact of Jesuit science in Asia. By highlighting underlying ambivalences in the historiography on Jesuit science in imperial contexts and scrutinising the heuristic value of “science and empire” in relation to the Jesuits’ project and its implementation, this chapter contributes to the current scholarly about both science making and empire making in the early-modern world.

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