Conference: Encountering Other People: Material Religion and Cultural Exchanges in Medieval Accounts of Asia, University of Fribourg, 3rd May 2023

During the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries, Christian missionaries and merchants travelled from Latin Europe to the Mongol Empire and India. They recorded what they had experienced in letters, treatises, and reports. These travelogues offer an insight on the mobility of both men and objects during the global Middle Ages. The conference deals with this historical conjuncture, focusing on three main aspects. First, it examines the travellers’ attitude towards religious otherness. Western Missionaries and merchants conceptualized the plurality of Eastern religions according to Latin categories (cultus, lex, fides or secta), and they framed them within their cultural patterns and stereotypes, such as those of idolatry and monstrosity. Second, the conference contextualizes the experiences of the travellers within the religious landscape of Medieval Asia. In fact, they witnessed and described religious habits that actually took place in the East: rituals associated with images and relics, bloody sacrifices and self-immolations, as well as shamanic practices. Third, the conference aims to shed light on the consequences that these contacts provoked on the life of both men and objects, focusing on the experiences of Christians that were martyrized in the East (Thane, 1321). Furthermore, a great variety of objects was recorded by the sources: misplaced, re-functionalized, migrated, and misunderstood, they often compensated the communication difficulties between the travellers and the indigenous people, overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers.

Click here for complete conference information.

Please find the conference schedule below:

09:00 Greetings and introduction (Michele Bacci)


09:15 Jana Valtrová (Masaryk University)
‘In istis partibus sunt multe septe ydolatrarum diversa credentium…’
Conceptualization of religious plurality in the medieval Latin travel accounts of Asia

09:45 Jennifer Purtle (University of Toronto)
Spaces of Enunciation: Franciscan Narratives of the Sino-Mongol City

10:15 Coffee break

10:30 李文丹 Li Wendan (Peking University)
Encounters of European travellers with Buddhists in the Far East in the 13th
and 14th century *[online]

11:00 马晓林 Ma Xiaolin (Nankai University)
Marco Polo and Yuan China: rituals and religions *[online]

11:30 Discussion

12:00 Lunch


13:30 Partha Mitter (University of Sussex) Early Representations of Hinduism in the West (13th to 17th centuries)

14.00 Pier Giorgio Borbone (Università di Pisa) Rabban Sauma in the Land of the Franks *[online]

14:30 Agnes Birtalan (Eötvös Loránd University) The Mongols’ Pre-Buddhist Religious Views.
The Etic Understanding (Some Examples from the 13th – 14th century sources)

15:00 Discussion

15:30 Coffee break


16:00 Michele Bacci (University of Fribourg) Image Worship in Medieval Eurasia. Comparative Perspectives

16:30 Alexandre Varela (University of Fribourg) “Ele lhe disse que yão buscar Christãos e especearia”. Encountering Christians in India: Cheryia Pally (Kottayam) wall paintings as a study case

17:00 Anne Dunlop (University of Melbourne) From martyrdom to mirabilia. The Franciscans, Odoric, and the deaths at Thane

17:30 Eleonora Tioli (University of Fribourg, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa) The Perception of Religious Otherness in Medieval Texts and Images

18:00 Conclusion and final discussion

18:30 End of the conference


Published by charlottecook

Charlotte Cook graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in European History from Washington & Lee University in 2019. In 2020 she received her Master’s degree in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, earning the classification of Merit. Her research explores questions of royal patronage, both by and in honor of rulers, in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. She has worked as a researcher and collections assistant at several museums and galleries, and plans to begin her PhD in the autumn of 2022.

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