Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

Slovene Women Missionaries in India: A Forgotten Chapter in Intercultural Relations

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
6.06.00  Humanities  Culturology   

Code Science Field
H290  Humanities  Colonial history 

Code Science Field
6.04  Humanities  Arts (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music) 
Slovene women missionaries, India, female agency, oral history, colonialism, cultural imperialism, orientalism, East-Central Europe
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (7)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  19609  PhD Irena Avsenik Nabergoj  Literary sciences  Researcher  2017 - 2020  600 
2.  06389  PhD Tamara Ditrich  Linguistics  Researcher  2017 - 2020  123 
3.  22570  PhD Nataša Gregorič Bon  Humanities  Researcher  2017 - 2020  175 
4.  33016  PhD Ana Jelnikar  Humanities  Head  2017 - 2020  263 
5.  24430  PhD Helena Motoh  Philosophy  Researcher  2017 - 2020  181 
6.  33466  PhD Maja Petrović-Šteger  Humanities  Researcher  2017 - 2020  141 
7.  19251  PhD Nataša Rogelja Caf  Anthropology  Researcher  2017 - 2020  210 
Organisations (3)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0581  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts  Ljubljana  1627058  98,899 
2.  0618  Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts  Ljubljana  5105498000  63,143 
3.  1510  Science and Research Centre Koper  Koper  7187416000  14,187 
This project aims to investigate a totally neglected chapter in the cultural history of the connections between India and East-Central Europe by focusing on the role of Slovene women missionaries in India from pre- and post-World-War-II socialist Yugoslavia. The proposed two-pronged research approach combines historical investigations with a solid theoretical framing. The generated outputs will retrieve a discursive archive and excavate a nexus of knowledge-power relations which have hitherto remained unexamined, subjecting them for first time to a critical analysis from a multidisciplinary perspective. While analysing the women’s individual contributions to missionary education, social uplift, medical care and other activities presents one of the study’s main objectives, the other is calibrating the findings against the current debates on (post-)colonialism, conversion, female education, caste, indigeneity, as well as the role of religion as the motivating force in everyday life—issues that are at the heart of India’s postcolonial modernity. Furthermore, as the study probes the socio-historic and personal factors which motivated Slovene women missionaries to join religious orders and leave their countries, theoretically, it will engage the notion of (female) agency in a setting overdetermined by religious, ethnic, gender and cultural hierarchies, to suggest that some of them, despite their invisibility and subordination, were active agents of social change. Besides it being a timely exercise in historic excavation, combining rigorous archival research and oral histories (with the last generation of European sisters in India), and drawing on a wide body of secondary literature spanning gender, cultural and postcolonial studies, the project aims to go far beyond providing descriptive biographies of Slovene women missionaries. Indeed, it will use the concrete case study findings to critically enrich the extant scholarship on Christian missions in India still overwhelmingly focused on the activities of the colonizers (mainly British), and subservient to the missionary-colonial conflation thesis. It anticipates providing an alternative account to dominant approaches in cultural relations between India and Europe grounded in various competing theories of Orientalism. Notions of in-betweeness and ‘hidden transcripts’ will be deployed as analytical tools to think about the particular positionality of women missionaries from East-Central Europe, who within their adopted orders were allegedly not European enough, while vis-a-vis the local population and indigenous nuns, they were still occupants of the white supremacy camp. It also begs the question of how the in-between status might have fed their sense of agency in their service. Finally, by critically analysing the discourses of missionary writings disseminated widely in the Catholic parts of ex-Yugoslavia between the wars and their imaginaries of ‘India’, the study could offer fresh insights into the lesser-known aspects of intercultural relations between India and Europe, with significance for both Slovenian and international research arenas. Methodologically, the study anticipates archival research, oral histories, ethnographic collection of data and data-analysis methods, alongside a discursive analysis of primary and secondary source materials including literary and visual documents. A topic that has so far remained largely confined within the walls of religious orders will be approached as a complex intercultural phenomenon deserving critical secular attention from a variety of related disciplines at the crossroads of modern history, anthropology, gender studies, philosophy and religion. Thus, the project team, comprising of the PI, 5 core researchers (and 1 research adviser), has been put together to ensure relevant expertise in languages, discipline and methodology so as to make the study feasible.
Significance for science
The proposed study will make an important contribution to a more recognisably diverse history of Christian missions in India than the colonialism-conflation theory allows for. By engaging the topic of Slovene women missionaries within the larger context of missionary education and female social work and activism in India, the proposed project could be ground-breaking on several counts:   (a) it will uncover for the first time the personal and professional histories of East-Central European women missionaries that have been sidelined by the dominant Western European perspectives;   (b) it will broaden the perspective on intercultural communications between Slovenes and Indians in the twentieth century by bringing in sources that have not been studied so far in their own right or from an intercultural perspective, shedding light for the first time on the historical role of Slovenes in the Euro-Asian intercultural exchange. Namely some of the most reputable missionary schools to date in India (such as St. Xavier’s College, Loreto College) are the ones with which Slovene missionaries have been associated.     (c) it will contribute to the on-going debates on missionary activities within India by giving critical space to female actors largely ignored by scholarship as well as fine-tune theoretical concepts related to gender, female agency, subalternity, orientalisms, and so on;   d) by introducing the liminal view of the Slovene/Yugoslav women missionaries it will also add a layered and more complex perspective transcending the East-West polarity still so prevalent in the analyses of colonial discourses.   (d) alongside the expected theoretical impact through its innovative approaches—introducing complexity to the postcolonial perspective, grafting postcolonial with gender studies, attempting to think liminality from within the Orientalist paradigm, taking a religious subject and giving it a secular treatment—it could also have methodological breakthroughs derived from the combination of archival and oral histories approach.   (e) finally, case studies like this can set a new research agenda for scholars working on Latin America, Africa and other parts of Asia (China and Japan) from across a number of disciplines (history, sociology of religion, women studies, migration studies, development studies, philosophy, anthropology), at the same time inviting comparative studies. Namely, our study already anticipates collaboration with scholars working on women religious in traditions other than that of Christianity, as for example in the Buddhist and Jain traditions.
Significance for the country
The direct impact and significance of the proposed project for society and economy lies in bringing critical attention to a topic that arguably presents an important chapter in cultural history connecting Slovenia with the wider world, but which has hitherto been completely overlooked. By bringing attention to the unique role that Slovenes played within Christian missions in the course of India’s tumultuous 20th-century, it will not only contribute innovatively to the scholarly field, but will also generate historically better-informed account of relations between the two countries and could prove useful to current and future cultural and business interactions between Slovenia and India. In a globalised and conflict-ridden world, where India is becoming an increasingly important player on the world stage, and there is increasing talk about ‘clash of civilisations’, it is urgent to better understand the role of religion in people’s lives precisely from a critical, secular perspective. As a different paradigm in thinking about what would typically be seen as a religious topic, our study hopes to exact influence on key players in the wider culturo-political domain (from teachers, academics to nongovernmental actors, representatives of different religions, students and journalists). We will also aim to connect with both state and private universities in Slovenia and India, so that our study could enrich school curricula at all levels. Furthermore, we will seek to disseminate our research results through media outlets (TV, radio, newspaper, internet) and a planned multimedia exhibition, organised with the support of the Indian Embassy as well as local communities. By engaging cross-institutional and interdisciplinary collaboration, and looking towards future possibilities for a TV documentary, we intend to profile the topic of Slovene women missionaries in India beyond mere academic environment into the public sphere, where it also belongs.
Most important scientific results Interim report, final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Interim report, final report
Views history