Global Religious Translation in the Early Modern Period

Lucinda Martin's picture
Call for Papers
June 6, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Religious Studies and Theology


Global Religious Translation in the Early Modern Period

6-8 June 2019 / Gotha Research Centre of the University of Erfurt

Confirmed Speakers: Peter Burke, R. Po-chia Hsia

Translation is always a shift not between two languages, but between two cultures.– Umberto Eco

All of the major cultural exchanges in history required translation – the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment are obvious examples. Yet Translation Studies have been little interested in history and most historians still treat translation as an invisible given, as if a translated text were “the same” as the original. Recently, scholars such as Peter Burke and R. Po-chia Hsia have urged increased study of the role of translation in cultural encounters in the Early Modern period. They point in particular to the need for studies on religious translation, since translators do not just translate linguistic items but religion itself. 

In 2017 a conference at the Research Centre Gotha sought to answer this call by Burke and Hsia by focusing on the translations, transformations and adaptations of religious texts across cultural and national boundaries in the Early Modern period. The conference was highly productive, but focused mainly on exchange between different European actors. Now, a new conference is being planned to expand the boundaries of the first conference. We are especially interested in papers dealing with interactions involving non-European or non-Christian actors: What negotiations and compromises did translators make? What did they translate and what did they omit? How did they transform meaning through interventions, abridgements, or amplifications? Did these transformations amount to misunderstandings or could they be perceived as enrichments? How did translators make material familiar or attractive for recipients? How did they “translate” material into visual art or into other contexts, such as natural philosophy? Did translations result in new practices or rituals? Why were certain texts or ideas interesting to a certain culture or sub-culture at a given time? How did international religious exchange contribute to early forms of globalization?

Religious translations served individuals and communities in a variety of ways, from missionizing to polemical purposes to the defense of persecuted minorities and beyond. In some cases, texts underwent multiple translations, often through a “bridge” language and culture. Multiple layers of decontextualisation and recontextualisation created displacements. Translations designed to spread meaning thus also changed it, and indeed, translators’ goals often diverged from those of the original authors, as when Christian scholars repurposed Jewish and Islamic texts to “prove” aspects of Christianity. Religious communities, translators, publishers and patrons thus implemented conscious translation strategies to accomplish their goals, achieving both foreseen and unforeseen shifts in the cultural landscapes of the Early Modern world.

The conference language will be English and an English-language publication is planned to document the proceedings. Lodging and travel will be covered for participants. 

Proposals (no more than 600 words) should be sent to the organizer before May 10, 2019:

Contact Info: 

Dr. Lucinda Martin
DFG-Project "Philadelphier"
Research Centre Gotha der Universität Erfurt
Schlossberg 2
D-99867 Gotha