Upcoming events

From idolatry to religions: The missionary discourse on Buddhism and the invention of theistic Confucianism, 1550-1700 – Public lecture by Joan-Pau Rubiés (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

WHEN Tuesday 30 April, 16.00-17.30

WHERE Amsterdam, UB, Singel 425, Potgieterzaal


The emergence of a European discourse to distinguish, analyse and historicize various non-Biblical religious traditions within Asia involved a significant amplification of the concept of idolatry. The Jesuit experience of Japanese Buddhism in the second half of the sixteenth century posed a particular challenge, because of its overt atheism. In the Japanese context, idolatry (a superstitious, misdirected belief) and atheism (a lack thereof) came to be seen as complementary rather than opposites. Hence the patristic models of Christian apologetics, based on distinguishing elite monotheism from popular religion in ancient paganism, and which had been useful when confronting Hinduism, in Japan had to be replaced by a system where the elite cultivated an atheistic form esoteric monism. When focusing their dialectical firepower upon on the doctrines of double truth and non-theisitc monism, the Jesuits were in fact responding to the doctrinal distinctiveness of East Asian Buddhism, notably the emphasis on provisional teachings, on the one hand, and Buddha-nature, on the other. Hence the Jesuits can be seen to have responded to the actual doctrines of the Japanese monks, rather than simply export a prefabricated model of idolatrous paganism.  Through the synthesis of the missionary leader Alessandro Valignano, the Jesuit interpretation of Buddhism became crucial not only to the mission in China, where it underpinned (through a negative contrast) the selective accommodation of ‘theistic’ Confucianism, but was also influential in European intellectual culture more generally in relation to the analysis of pantheism.


Joan-Pau Rubiés (PhD Cambridge) is the coordinator of the Research Group on Ethnographies, Cultural Encounters and Religious Missions (ECERM) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, which has received funding from the ERC (Marie Curie Program), AGAUR (SGR) and MINECO. His research is focused on the study of cross-cultural encounters in the early modern world, from a perspective combining the contextual analysis of ethnographic sources with the intellectual history of early modern Europe. He is currently developing various lines of research including: travel writing and ethnography, religious dialogue and cultural mediation, the intellectual impact of travel writing and the origins of the Enlightenment, diplomacy and cultural encounters and the comparative history of early modern empires and globalisation.

The future of intellectual history – Public lecture by Richard Whatmore (Saint-Andrews)

WHEN Tuesday 11 June, 16.00-17.30

WHERE Amsterdam, Bushuis, VOC-zaal


Richard Whatmore is Professor of History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History. He is the author of What is Intellectual History? (Polity, 2015), Against War and Empire (Yale University Press, 2012) and Republicanism and the French Revolution (OUP, 2000). He is the co-editor of, among others, Markets, Morals and Politics. Jealousy of Trade and the History of Political Thought (Harvard University Press, 2018) and Companion to Intellectual History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016). His current research interests include: Early Modern and Modern Intellectual History; Theories of Empire, Democracy and War; Enlightenment and Revolution; Republican Diaspora; Small States and Failed States; Relations between Britain and Europe; Political Cartoons.

Macro vs. Micro: The Challenges of Global Intellectual History – Summer School organised with the Huizinga Institute for Cultural History

With key note lectures by dominic sachsenmaier (Georg-August university Göttingen) and andrew fitzmaurice (University of sidney)

WHEN 5 June, 3-5 July

WHERE Utrecht University

Open to: RMa-students and PhD researchers from the Huizinga Institute and other national research schools. Register before 15 April with the Huizinga Instute

MORE INFORMATION: http://www.huizingainstituut.nl/summer-school-2019/


Worldwide, intellectual history is moving into new, exciting directions. Tapping into new source materials, covering longer stretches of time, dealing with broader geographical spaces, making comparisons and drawing connections on a global scale, as well as combining established and new (digital) methods, both young and up-coming as well as established experts are in search for new answers – and perhaps more importantly – new questions. The aim of the Huizinga Summer school is to discuss the methods and insights of Global Intellectual History with RMa students and PhD researchers.

Since a decade or so, intellectual historians are self-consciously treading the paths of ‘big’ and ‘global’ intellectual history. Established intellectual history methods such as the ‘history of concepts’ (Koselleck) and the ‘history of political languages’ (Pocock) have from their inception pursued long-term chronological and broad geographical enquiries. Yet only recently more self-reflective endeavours have been made to explicate and articulate both the potentialities and challenges of doing intellectual history ‘on a large scale’. In response to criticisms that ‘big intellectual history’ runs the risk of neglecting the specific (cultural, linguistic, political, intellectual, social) contexts in which ideas are embedded, David Armitage has suggested ‘serial contextualism’ as a way to trace ideas through a number of epochs and places. Others have made a case for ‘global comparative history’ to enable comparisons of epoch and places that are not necessarily connected; and yet others stress the need for examining the circulation, transfer, intermeshing, and adaptation of ideas.

Although these are promising and suggestive approaches to intellectual history on a ‘macro level’, they raise the question what role there is left for intellectual history on the ‘micro level’. Is it possible to somehow bring into dialogue the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro’, and if so, how? Furthermore, by focusing on ‘big’ and ‘global’ – and stressing interconnectedness, exchange, and integration – who and what is included and excluded? Surely resistance, conflict, separation, and isolation are also part of big and global intellectual history. Such considerations, finally, raise questions about the use, value, lessons and challenges of big and global intellectual history. Why should we do it? What is its societal value?