1st Edition

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

By Jennifer D. Selwyn Copyright 2004

    In recent years much scholarly attention has been focused on the encounter of cultures during the early modern period, and the global implications that such encounters held. As a result of this work, scholars have now begun to re-evaluate many aspects of early culture contact, not least with respect to Christian missionary activities. Prominent amongst the missionaries were members of the Society of Jesus. Emerging as a dynamic new religious order in the wake of the Reformation, the Jesuits were deeply committed to promoting religious and cultural reforms both within Europe and in non-Christian lands. Yet whilst scholars have revealed much about the Jesuits' innovative educational endeavours, and their numerous missions to the Americas, Asia and the Sub-Continent, less attention has been paid to the nature of the Jesuits' global civilizing mission as a key feature of their institutional character. Nor has sufficient work been done to fully explain the relationship between the Jesuits' efforts to evangelize and civilize those areas within the Catholic fold and those without. Taking as its focus the city of Naples, this study illuminates how the Jesuits' work in a Catholic European setting reflected their broader global civilizing mission. Despite its Catholic heritage, Naples was popularly perceived as a place of spiritual and social disorder, thus providing an irresistible challenge to religious reformers, such as the Jesuits, who sought to 'civilize' the city. Drawing in considerable numbers of the order, Naples proved to be a training ground for the Jesuits that shaped the order's missionary praxis and influenced the thinking of many who would later travel further afield. By gaining a fuller understanding of this process, it is possible to better understand what drove the Jesuits to craft and perpetuate a cultural map that continues to resonate down to our own times. This book is published in conjunction with the Jesuit Historical Institute series 'Bibliotheca Instituti Historici Societatis Iesu'.

    Contents: Introduction; A paradise inhabited by devils; 'Planting many virtues there': early Jesuit missions in Naples, 1550-1620; Reverberations from the New World; 'Use every means that you will judge opportune': instructions to Jesuit missionaries; Taming the beast: confronting discord in early modern Naples; Perfecting one's craft: Jesuit missionary theater in Naples; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.


    Jennifer D. Selwyn is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of New Hampshire, USA.

    'Selwyn's clear prose, deft weaving of sources into a narrative and well-supported conclusions make for a readable as well as valuable work, which ought to be of considerable use for scholars of early modern Latin American as well as Europe.' Ecclesiastical History '... an intelligent and useful contribution to the study of the Jesuits, of southern Italy, of popular religion, of the Counter-Reformation, and of European early modern culture.' The Catholic Historical Review '... fine work of scholarship...' Sixteenth Century Journal 'This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking book that eschews the self-aggrandizing posturing of some current academic history, while bravely tackling a notoriously difficult area, to illuminate the formation and development of some of its most pernicious myths.' Church History