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Masters and Students

Masters and Students: Jesuit Mission Ethnography in Seventeenth-Century New France

Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Masters and Students
    Book Description:

    The word "mission" can suggest a distant and dangerous attempt to obtain information for the benefit of the home left behind. However, the term also applies to the movement of information in the opposite direction, as the primary motivation of those on religious missions is not to learn about another culture, but rather to teach their own particular worldview. In Masters and Students, Micah True considers the famous Jesuit Relations (1632-73) from New France as the product of two simultaneous missions, in which the Jesuit priests both extracted information from the poorly understood inhabitants of New France and attempted to deliver Europe's religious knowledge to potential Amerindian converts. This dual position of student and master provides the framework for the author’s reflection on the nature of the Jesuits’ "facts" about Amerindian languages, customs, and beliefs that are recorded in the Relations. Following the missionaries through the process of gaining access to New France, interacting with Amerindian groups, and communicating with Europe about the results of their efforts, Masters and Students explores how the Relations were shaped by the distinct nature of the Jesuit approach to their mission - in both senses of the word.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8199-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Jesuit Mission Ethnography
    (pp. 3-26)

    It is with a reference to the long history of Jesuit exploration and contact with previously unknown cultures around the world that Mary Doria Russell begins her science fiction novelThe Sparrow, set in the mid-twenty-first century, about a Society of Jesus mission to a newly discovered planet. Russell’s story follows Puerto Rican priest Emilio Sandoz and a small band of colleagues and friends as they depart Earth for the fictional planet of Rakhat in Alpha Centauri, the solar system closest to our own sun. After Sandoz’s friend Jimmy Quinn, an astronomer, discovers music emanating from the distant solar system...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Amerindian Languages and the Beginning of the Jesuit Mission to New France
    (pp. 27-54)

    From the earliest days of European contact with the New World, explorers, traders, and missionaries sought ways to communicate with the Amerindian groups they encountered. Whether the goal was extraction of precious materials, exploration, or evangelization, “[t]he key to the continent was information – reliable, unambiguous, and digestible – and the quickest and best source of it was the Indians,” writes historian James Axtell.¹ Knowledge of Amerindian languages was, in this context, jealously guarded in the early days of New France as various actors on the colonial stage sought to protect their advantage over rivals. Franciscan Recollet missionaries seeking language lessons, for...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Very Rich and Very Poor: Jesuit Missionary Linguistics in New France
    (pp. 55-82)

    Once established in New France, Jesuit missionaries undertook a concerted and rigorous effort to gain mastery of the languages that they found there. Amerindian languages were not only useful in Jesuit efforts to establish their legitimacy in the colony and rhetorically close the door on rivals, but were also critical to their efforts to teach Christianity to their would-be converts in the New World, and to convince French readers that Amerindians, despite their sometimes alarmingly different customs and behaviour, were children of God and could one day be made to believe it. In the winter of 1633–34, mission superior...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Religious Conversion and Amerindian Cruelty in the Jesuit Relations
    (pp. 83-112)

    Few aspects of the JesuitRelationsare as sensational – or as often studied in modern ethnohistorical scholarship – as the missionaries’ descriptions of the brutal torture, often followed by cannibalism, that various groups meted out to their enemies. From Le Jeune’s 1632Briève Relationon, scenes of vicious attack, physical torment of captives that could last for days, and consumption of human flesh were staples of the Jesuits’ annual reports. In the context of uncertainty in early modern Europe about the relationship between the inhabitants of Europe and the New World discussed in the previous chapter, Amerindian violence was a charged...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Messou the Great Restorer: Questioning Montagnais Religious Knowledge
    (pp. 113-139)

    In Europe’s attempts to make sense of the inhabitants of the New World in the wake of first contact, the Beginning was considered an excellent place to start. As Giuliano Gliozzi remarked in his exhaustive study of early modern European theories of Amerindian origins, “No self-respecting travel book fails to dedicate one of its first chapters to discussion of the problem of the ‘origins of the Americans.’”¹ Even European writers who did not make the trans-Atlantic voyage themselves almost always attempted to resolve the question in some way when commenting on the New World. At stake was a fundamental theological...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Travelling Texts: Toward a Decentred Reading of Jesuit Mission Ethnography
    (pp. 140-170)

    The JesuitRelationsfrom New France have long been understood to have been the products of a daring voyage. As the common conception of the texts would have it, French missionaries departed the Old World to brave the perils of the open ocean and settle among Iroquoian and Algonquian potential converts in what is today eastern Canada, risking their lives at every step of the process. The Jesuit superior in New France compiled theRelationson the basis of the letters and journals of missionaries who were scattered throughout the Canadian wilderness, removing irrelevant or tedious details, reorganizing the raw...

  12. CONCLUSION The End(s) of Jesuit Mission Ethnography
    (pp. 171-176)

    The story that this book has told about Jesuit mission ethnography began with the arrival of the missionaries in New France, and followed them through the fraught processes of learning to communicate with Amerindians, learning about their cultural beliefs and practices while attempting to teach them about Christianity, and then writing accounts of those experiences for readers in France. Although the priests remained in the New World and continued their mission until the end of the eighteenth century, even persevering after the suppression of the Society by papal order in 1773, the story of Jesuit mission ethnography ends, in one...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 177-222)
    (pp. 223-236)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 237-242)