Pious Perspectives

European missionaries were present in India from the sixteenth century. Alongside often aggressive conversion efforts, missionaries pioneered the study of indigenous languages, advanced print technology, and engaged in educational reform. The earliest text on display is by Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719), a German Lutheran missionary who established the Tranquebar Mission in South India. Ziegenbalg was one of the first Europeans to master Tamil. His 1715 translation of the New Testament is the first of its kind in any Indian language.

Missionaries brought with them two principal tools of conversion, the schoolhouse and the printing press. Printing was key to disseminating the Gospel and Christian tract literature, as well as school books in Indian languages. Among the eminent pioneers of vernacular printing was William Carey (1761-1834), who established a mission in the Danish colony of Serampore near Calcutta in 1800. The legendary Serampore Press printed bibles in almost 50 languages, most of them translated by Carey and his associates. Carey's New Testament in Bengali (1801) is shown here. Printed bibles were only a fraction of an estimated 2,120,000 copies of both religious and secular works that were issued from Serampore between 1800 and 1832.

Christian missions in India proliferated in the wake of the Company Charter Act of 1813, which opened British territories to missionary activity. While missionaries played an important role in the expansion of literacy and primary education, their work remained deeply controversial. This was especially true for efforts at educating Indian women, which consolidated from mid-century onward with the zenana missions, when female missionaries entered into the privacy of Indian homes. The beatific image of zenana work in Children of India (1883) projects a benevolent relationship that often did not correspond to reality.

An Account of the Religion, and Government, Learning and Oeconomy, &c. of the Malabarians...
Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719)
London: Joseph Downing, 1717
Rare Book Collection

Nasranikal okkakkum ariyentunna samksepavedarttham. Compendiosa legis explanatio omnibus Christianis scitu necessaria. Malabarico idiomate.
Rome: [s.n.], 1772

Rare Book Collection

Dharmma pustaka, taha isvarera samasta bakya ... (New Testament in Bengali)
William Carey (1761-1834)
Serampore: Serampore Mission Press, 1801

Rare Book Collection

Nanamirta tatakam...(Tamil Catechism)
Putavai: Canmavirakkini Matakoyil Accukkutam, 1858
Rare Book Collection

Makhzan i Masihi. The Christian Treasury Makhzan i Masihi. The Christian Treasury

Allahabad: Allahabad Mission Press., 1869
Regenstein Library, General Collections

The Children of India. Written for the Children of England by One of Their Friends The Children of India. Written for the Children of England by One of Their Friends
London: The Religious Tract Society, [1883]

Historical Children’s Book Collection