The Enlightened Conservatism of the Malabar Missions: Gaston-Laurent Cœurdoux (1691–1779) and the Making of an Anthropological Classic

Carolina Armenteros
2019 Journal of Jesuit Studies  
Few authors of scholarly classics shy away from being acknowledged, but such is the case of the author of Mœurs et coutumes des Indiens (Mores and customs of the Indians) (1777)—the first treatise of Indology and a classic of early anthropology—whose real, Jesuit identity remained obscured for over two centuries. The author's concealment did not, however, prevent his work's regular re-editing, or its conveyance of an original methodology that helped found ethnography as a discipline and
more » ... cipline and harmonized with enlightened conservatism. To date, this methodology has been read simply as a direct reply to enlightened authors, especially Voltaire, but this essay demonstrates that it derived also from the immersion of eighteenth-century Jesuits in Indian culture, and above all from the vast Indianist tradition that members of the Society of Jesus developed over two centuries of missionary work. Indeed, the story of Mœurs et coutumes discloses that, far from being limited to Europe, enlightened conservatism was a global discourse; and that beyond being invented by Europe's armchair philosophers, anthropology was a science born outside Europe from the pens of missionaries.
doi:10.1163/22141332-00603003 fatcat:qf7cgez3nvc77eeqstdzdiydr4