Narrating women’s Catholic conversions in seventeenth-century Vietnam
in Conversions
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This chapter examines the conversion of seventeenth-century Vietnamese women to Catholicism and the narration of their conversions in the accounts of European missionaries. In Annam (as early-modern Europeans called the two polities Tonkin and Cochinchina), missionaries from the Jesuit order and from the French Missions Étrangères de Paris converted tens of thousands of women and men during the seventeenth century and composed narratives of their most notable converts. In the accounts women stand out for two reasons: a number were from high ranking court families, including members of the royal families, and a number of the lower-ranking women converts suffered from demonic possession. The most spectacular conversion cases concerned women spirit-mediums, who played an important role in Annamese religious observances as oracles. The missionaries described them as possessed by demons. Once converted, these former spirit-mediums became miracle workers, and thus fit into another category recognizable to European readers. But the Catholic Reformation had ambivalent feelings at best about such women playing an important role in the evangelization campaign. Thus missionaries seeking credibility and narrating conversions by working with what Annamese culture offered them stretched the limits of what was acceptable to their audience at home.

Conversions

Gender and religious change in early modern Europe

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