Jana Valtrová

Masaryk University, Czechia

Jana Valtrová

TOPIC: Technologies of Cross-Cultural (Mis)Communication: Medieval Euro-Asian Encounters and “a religion”


Jana Valtrová is an assistant professor at the Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University. She holds an M.A. in History and Religious Studies, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, both from Masaryk University. In her research she focuses on the history of the Euro-Asian encounters, and the process of development of Western perspectives on Asian cultures and religions. The central objects of her investigation are historical travel accounts as sources reflecting the erratic process of meeting, (mis)understanding, dealing with, and interpreting the Other. Inspired by the approaches of entangled histories, in her research she deals with both the conceptual as well as practical aspects of the Euro-Asian encounters.

She is the author of a monograph Středověká setkání s jinými. Modloslužebníci, židé, saracéni a heretici v misionářských zprávách o Asii, Praha: Argo 2011 [Medieval Encounters with the Other. Idolaters, Jews, Saracens and Heretics in Missionary Reports About Asia]. She has published in number of journals including Numen: International Review for the History of Religions, Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni, Religio: Revue pro religionistiku, Eurasian Studies or Journal of Religion in Europe. As a visiting scholar she delivered lectures or courses at universities in Bern, Lausanne, Leipzig, Kaunas, Krakow and Vienna.


This talk considers the effects of cross-cultural (mis)communication upon an emerging idea of “a religion” within the context of medieval Euro-Asian exchange.  

Medieval contacts between European and Asian cultures intensified during the 13th and 14th centuries in reaction to the establishment and growth of the Mongol empire. Besides the military confrontations, a diplomatic and merchant exchange flourished, which was followed by religious missions of the newly established Franciscan and Dominican orders. The accounts and letters of these friars represent valuable sources because they not only provide images of a “religion of Others”, but also reflect the often-complicated process of its manufacturing. The task to promote mendicant visions of Christianity was challenged by the different natural, social, and cultural conditions to which the friars had to respond and in which their implicit concept of a “religion” did not always work. The combination of mendicant and indigenous sources enables us to unveil the mutual (mis)communication and misunderstandings between the friars and their audiences, on both the practical and the conceptual level. 

In this talk, I will explore the effects of various communication technologies – such as gift exchange, interactions over food, and visual and audial representation of the friars – as well as mental concepts which were used by the mendicants to grasp and construct the “religions of Others”.