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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC World History Workshop

UC Berkeley

The Early-Modern Jesuit Missions as a Global Movement


The traditional historiography of the early-modern Jesuits, ironically, has relied on the order's perceived centralization in order to treat the actual missions in a decentralized fashion. Under the assumption that the impressive normative documents of the Society immediately corresponded to a system of regional missions directed effectively from Rome, historians have too often been content to write local studies of what they assumed to be a global phenomenon. By contesting the Society’s seamless centralization, this project argues for the importance of tracing non-normative, horizontal connections between regional missions with the ultimate goal of an accurate global history of the Jesuit institutions. The vast distances separating the missions led to logistical problems of transportation and communication incompatible with the ideal view of the Society of Jesus as a tightly centralized and smoothly running military machine. This paper first summarizes my findings by describing the variety of connections unmediated by Rome that sprung up between the missions in Germany, Mexico, and China. It then discusses the role world-systems analysis has played in inspiring this research. Traditional accounts of the Jesuit missions devote discrete chapters to each region, without showing how they all fit together. Reading economic history encouraged the pursuit of connections between these regional missions. This paper concludes with a consideration of two alternate historiographical frameworks for non-economic global phenomena: institutional world history and globalization theory.

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