The Jesuit Enterprises (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2008 semester seminar.

Jesuits were involved to a greater or lesser degree in almost every facet of early modern culture, both in Europe and abroad, and they left behind an extensive paper trail in print and manuscript, much of it unexamined. They were playwrights, astronomers and mathematicians, architects and painters, emblematists, creators of a world-wide network of “secondary” schools and universities, confessors to kings and spiritual directors to devout lay folk, lexicographers, designers of fortifications, polemicists, casuists (in the technical sense), pharmacists, urban planners, inspiration for women’s congregations, and experimenters in cultural adaptation, among many other enterprises. Jesuits were also the objects of scorn and hatred as virulent among Catholics as Protestants. In the past decade, scholarship on the Society of Jesus before its world-wide suppression by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 has exploded, inaugurating a trend that is now being described as “the new historiography” on the Jesuits. The seminar situated Jesuit projects both in the traditional scholarly context that sees them as agents of the Counter Reformation as well as in newer approaches that see them as cultural agents on a massive scale in a variety of enterprises. It was adapted as far as possible to the interests and concerns of the participants, and ample opportunity was provided for participants to share the results of their research. The sessions themselves were largely devoted to discussion of primary sources (in English translation) and works of recent scholarship from a variety of disciplines. For their research projects, it was assumed the participants have command of the relevant language(s).

Director: John W. O’Malley is University Professor at Georgetown University. In addition to his book The First Jesuits (1993), he has published extensively on different aspects of the religious culture of early modern Europe and has edited three collections of studies on the Society of Jesus. His most recent books are Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era (2000) and Four Cultures of the West (2004).