Towards a New Language : Christology in Early Modern Marathi, Konkani, and Hindustani

Abstract: This study examines the development of Christological discourses in Konkani, Marathi, and Hindustani in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th century. It explores a great deal of both Hindu and Christian sources, of which many are unedited and largely overlooked manuscripts. Applying a hermeneutic method complemented with insights from conceptual history and other fields, the study presents literature written by European authors in the abovementioned languages as results of a process of understanding and translation. The missionaries tried to understand Indian languages and religion and translate and express Christian thought in the words and discourses of those languages. The source material discussed in the first part of the study includes transliterations, translations, and descriptions of Hindu literature made and studied by early modern missionary workers in and outside of the colonial territories. These texts help us to understand some of the earliest informed European conceptions of Hindu thought and practice and follow the strategical choices missionaries made in translating Christian thought into languages dominated by other religions and philosophies. The second part of the study analyses a selection of early modern works produced by Christian authors: dictionaries, catechisms, and other prose texts in variants of Konkani, Marathi, and Hindustani; and poetic literature in Marathi. The authors of these works include Jesuits of various European nationalities, a French Capuchin priest, and an officer of the Dutch East India Company. More specifically, the focus is on terminology and language use pertaining to Christology, a theological discourse comprising a conceptual field meticulously carved out through centuries of Greco-Roman philosophy and Christian theology. It is therefore particularly well suited for highlighting semantic changes – translation loss or translation gain – occurring when a system of ideas is translated into a new language for the first time. 

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