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Natural law and confessional cultures of slavery in Tranquebar, 1706-1800

Project description

Confessional practices of slavery and European natural law

Colonial experiences with slavery transformed European natural law as actors of the Christian confessions dealt with slaves across European colonies, and thinkers in Europe handled the unresolved moral and legal status of ‘the slave’. The research in both fields are not yet aligned. The EU-funded ConfEuroSlaves project will study the relationship between the diversity of confessional practices and the natural law theories in a context that goes beyond political borders. The project will reveal how cultural practices like confessional cultures influenced the European debate on natural law and deepen our understanding on the cultural entrenchment of societal values focusing on the Caribbean region (circa 1650-1780).


Natural law and confessional cultures of slavery in Tranquebar, 1706-1800.

To what extent were colonial experiences with slavery, specifically the experiences of a Christian mission community, articulated with reference to the European natural law tradition? In addressing this question, the project examines the discourses as well as the practices regarding colonial slavery and the slave trade in the Danish-English-Halle mission in Tranquebar in south-east India, from its beginning in 1706 until 1800.

Throughout the period, German missionaries as well as Tamil and European individuals who came into contact with the mission community, or were members, dealt with issues of slavery and the slave trade in Danish Tranquebar. The challenge of the project lies in studying these instances and examining the references to the theory of natural law that come up in the source material, including norms protagonists claimed to be self-evident in their view. Consideration of these two aspects, i.e. the practices of slavery and their theorisation, depends on a rigorous analysis of the agency of the German missionaries, the Tamil population and the members of the Danish colonial trading company in Tranquebar. The former aspect generally pertains to the field of cultural history, the latter to legal and intellectual history. By combining both approaches, the key insight to be gained by the project lies in revealing how colonial cultural practice – specifically, confessional cultures - took up the European intellectual debate on natural law. The impact lies in a deeper understanding of the cultural entrenchment of societal values by highlighting reflections on practices of slavery in the Tranquebar colony and its Danish-English-Halle mission.



Net EU contribution
€ 166 320,00
Place de l universite 1
1348 Louvain la neuve

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Région wallonne Prov. Brabant Wallon Arr. Nivelles
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Participants (1)