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Confession-Building, Long-Distance Networks, and the Organization of Jesuit Science

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The ability of the Society of Jesus to engage in a broad and enduring tradition of scientific activity is here addressed in terms of its programmatic commitment to the consolidation and extension of the Catholic confession (i.e., to a multi-pronged program of confession-building) and its mastery of the administrative apparatus necessary to operate long-distance networks. The Society's early move into two major apostolates, one in education and the other in the overseas missions, brought Jesuits into regular contact with the educated elites of Europe and at the same time placed the Society's missionaries in remote parts of the natural world. The modes of organization of travel and communication required by the Society's long-distance networks (i.e., the training and deployment of reliable agents willing to work under direction in remote locations and capable of providing trustworthy reports and observations to their superiors through regular exchange of correspondence) not only facilitated scientific communication and collaboration within the order, it also provided Jesuits with the resources they needed to engage successfully in 'ministries among the learned'. Evidence of a sustained attempt by Jesuit authors to assume the role of Kulturträger is found in the several genres of scientific publications that dominate the Society's scientific corpus. Thus the Society's early recognition of the "apostolic value" of scientific publications in recruiting friends and allies among Europe's intellectual elites, I argue, allowed a robust interest in natural knowledge to emerge as a legitimate part of the Jesuit vocation.

Affiliations: 1: Brandeis University


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