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About God, Demons, and Miracles: the Jesuit Discourse On the Supernatural in Late Ming China

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image of Early Science and Medicine

This paper proposes an alternative to the conventional paradigm of "cultural accommodation" as a key to the understanding of the Jesuit scheme of conversion in late Ming China. It challenges one of the corollaries of that paradigm, which holds that because of the paramount rationalist sensibilities of the Confucian élite, the Jesuit missionaries refrained from speaking about the mysteries and supernatural truths of Christianity. In this paper, it is instead argued that the Jesuits, rather than trying to cultivate a rational spirit in China, were primarily engaged in fashioning a new religious cult(ure) which centered upon the supreme efficacy of the Christian faith in exorcising demons and performing miracles and was of central importance to the religious conquest of territories formerly held by their indigenous rivals. It is further shown that it is this preoccupation at the same time motivated and delimited the Jesuits' campaign against Chinese religions and the introduction of Western science and learning and resulted in the application of double standards and in ambiguities and contradictions in their scientific writings.

Affiliations: 1: University of California at Berkeley


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