Basic information
Original title:
Slovene Women Missionaries in India: A Forgotten Chapter in Intercultural Relations
Researchers involved:
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1 May 2017–30 April 2021


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:

  • Jelnikar, Ana and Motoh, Helena, 2021. Potovanje v Indijo: misijonarska potopisa, konteksti in analize. Koper: Annales ZRS.
  • Jelnikar, Ana, 2021. »Marija Sreš, misijonarka, ki je postala indijska pisateljica : k novim smerem proučevanja misijonskih sester«. Dve domovini, št. 53, 63-78.
  • Jelnikar, Ana, 2018. »'Sveti eksperiment«: misijonske zdravstvene sestre ali kako v Katoliški cerkvi redovnice postanejo zdravnice«. GSED, 58, št. 3/4, 77-90.
  • Jelnikar, Ana. ‘Betika Kajnč; Magdalena, slovenska redovnica, ki je z Materjo Terezo odšla v Indijo’, Objektiv, Dnevnik online, 20. 08. 2016.
  • Jelnikar, Ana. ‘Indija in zgodbe Žensk’, pogovor z Marijo Sreš ob izidu njene knjige z naslovom ‘Pod krošnjo stare jablane: zgodbe žensk z Vzhoda in Zahoda’, Trubarjeva Hiša Literature, 14. marec, 2016
  • Lecture and seminar by dr. Benjamin Zachariah (University of Trier), Oral History as Theory and Method, October 17, 10 a.m. - 13 p.m., Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies


Lead partner

Project manager

Project manager at ZRC

Funded by

Slovenian Research Agency


Slovene women missionaries • India • female agency • oral history • colonialism • cultural imperialism • orientalism • East-Central Europe