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

Basic Info



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 the 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-à-vis the local population and indigenous sisters, 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 work and 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, 6 core researchers, has been put together to ensure relevant expertise in languages, discipline and methodology so as to make the study feasible.


Project results:

1. Publications

JELNIKAR, Ana and MOTOH, Helena, 2021. A Passage to India: Two Missionary Travelogues, Contexts and Analyses. Koper: Annales ZRS. [62072835]

JELNIKAR, Ana, 2021. »Marija Sreš, the Missionary Who Became an Indian Writer: Toward New Trends in Researching Women Missionaries«, Dve domovini, št. 53, 63-78 [48761347]

—. 2019. »Slovene women missionaries in India: contexts, methods and considerations«, gostujoči uvodnik. Dve Domovini, št. 50, 7-13. [44810285]

—. 2019. »'Alone in the Face of God'«: A Self-Made Path of Missionary Marija Sreš«. In: JELNIKAR, Ana (ed.), SREŠ, Marija. Misijonarka pripoveduje. Ljubljana: Buča, 9-23, [53431299]

—. 2018. »'A Holy Experiment':Medical Mission Sisters or How Nuns within the Catholic Church Became Doctors«, GSED, 58, št. 3/4, 77-90, [43774253]

—. 2017. »Marija Sreš, misijonarka v Indiji: če stopimo skupaj, nam nič ne morejo«, poljudni članek. Dnevnik online. 11. 11. [42713133]

DITRICH, Tamara, 2021. »Rigvedske boginje, njihova vloga in pomen v vedskem panteonu«. V: Nadja-Furlan Štante in Maja Bjelica (eds.), Pravičnost, sram, nasilje in feminilno: filozofski in vecdisciplinarni vpogledi, Koper: Annales ZRS, 173-187.

—. 2019. »Female Renouncers in India: A Neglected Chapter in the History of Indian Religions«. Two Homelands, 50, 53–70. [69857890]

—. 2017. »Identity and Gender: A Buddhist Perspective«. In: Nadja Furlan-Štante, Anja Zalta, in Maja Lamberger Khatib (eds.), Women against War System, Philosophy in Dialogue, vol. 4. Vienna, Zurich: Lit. Verlag., 145–64. [1540119492]

MOTOH, Helena, 2020. »Azija med tigri in maliki: misijonske razstave v Sloveniji v prvi polovici 20. Stoletja«. Glasnik Slovenskega etnološkega društva, 60, no. 1, 34–41. [15044611]

—. 2019. »'Our Bengal mission': Negotiation of National and Transnational Agendas by Interwar Yugoslav Missionaries in Bengal. Two Homelands, 50, 33–52. [44908589]

—. 2017. »Accommodation and Universalism: An Early Modern Experiment in Religious Dialogue«. In: Helena Motoh in Lenart Škof (eds.), Religions and dialogue, Koper: Science and Research Centre, Publishing House Annales. vol. 22, no. 87/88, str. 39–54. [1540067012]

ROGELJA, Nataša, 2019. »A life in letters : an anthropological reflection on the correspondence of Slovene missionary Sr. Conradina Resnik«. Dve domovini št. 50, str. 89-108. [44895533]

—. 2019. Cukale, Jože: (1915-1999). Slovenska biografija, [45860909]

AVSENIK NABERGOJ, Irena.2019. »The Mission of the Church in Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions«. Two Homeland, 50, 15–32, [44810541]

—. 2018. »Od poetizacije poslanstva v Stari zavezi do polnosti misijona v Novi zavezi«. Bogoslovni vestnik, 78, no. 3, 679–694 [8019802].

—. 2019. »Nations, religions and mission in documents of the Second Vatican Council«. Bogoslovni vestnik, 79, no. 2, 457–471. [8222810].

2. Conferences

JELNIKAR, Ana. 2019. »Literary Sisters or Serving God with the Pen: The case of Marija Sreš and Godelieve Prové«. Catholicism, Literature, and the Arts II: Legacies and Revivals, 08. 07–10. 07, Durham University, VB. [48178947]

—. 2019. »Slovenske misijonarke v Indiji: konteksti, metode in premisleki«. Neevropske raziskave v Sloveniji: od zbiranja k raziskovanju. SEM, Ljubljana, 05. 11–07. 11. [48177667]

—. 2019. »'Seekers of inner future in [the] past«': Medical Mission Sisters’ Quest for Humanity«. Anthropology on the Configuration of Imagination: What Futures Belong to our Present?, ZRC, Ljubljana, 12. 09. [45124141]

—. 2018. »Rabindranath Tagore and Sister Nivedita: An Association of Dynamic Minds«. Uvodni prispevek na instoimenski konferenci. St. Xavier’s College, Burdowan, Indija, 07. 02. [42713645]

MOTOH, Helena. 2019. »Izmikajoče zgodbe –razmišljanje o biografijah slovenskih misijonark«. Neevropske raziskave v Sloveniji: od zbiranja k raziskovanju. SEM, Ljubljana, 05. 11–07. 11.

–. 2019 »Representations of Chinese religions in Slovenian museums, past and present«. 2019. From Centre to Periphery: Collecting Chinese Objects in Comparative Perspective. Ljubljana, 19. 09. –2. 09. SEM, Ljubljana. [2596051]

3. Guest lectures

3.1. JELNIKAR, Ana. 2020 Giras ma ek dungari or To Survive and to Prevail; On the Adivasi Literature of Marija Sreš, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, Indija. 22. 01. [48174595]

3.2. DITRICH, Tamara. 2018. »Representations of Gender in Buddhism«, seminar, Faculty of Theology, University of Ljubljana, 24. 05.

3.3 —. 2017. »The Yogasūtra«, seminar, Yoga College, Bowral, 03. 06.

3.4. PETROVIĆ-ŠTEGER, Maja. 2020. »Antropologija telesa, prihodnosti in uma med Tasmanijo in Srbijo«: lecture in honour of Zmago Šmitek. Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, 25. 02. [COBISS.SI-ID 46212397]

4. Interviews and events

JELNIKAR, Ana. 2019. Misijonarka pripoveduje / Missionary Speaks: book presenation and in conversation with Marija Sreš, Atrij ZRC, 19. 07., Ljubljana. [48176131]

—. 2019. Potop v Indijo: pogovor z misijonarko in pisateljico Marijo Sreš / A Descent into India: In Conversation with Marija Sreš. Sanje in Medana, Festival of books and wine, 30. 06. [48175363]

—. 2018. Catholic Nuns as Universal Women or a Story on the Art of Not Being Governed, Megaphone Woman, P2 Artfarm, Vrboska, 28. 08., Hvar. [48177411]

—. 2018. Iskanje Magdalene od Kalkute do Velike Nedelje. 09. 07. Interview with Agata Tomažič. ZRCalnik, ZRC SAZU [61499139]

5. Exhibition

5.1 JELNIKAR, Ana. 2018. Iskanje Magdalene: Betka Kajnč v Indiji / Seeking Magdalena: Betka Kajnč in India. Pokrajinski muzej Ptuj-Ormož, 18.05 –10.09. [48754179]


Project type
research project

East-Central Europe
cultural imperialism
oral history
female agency
Slovene women missionaries