Research Stream


Jennifer Spinks (Full term)
The University of Melbourne


Violent Emotions and Religious Polemic: Southern Indian Religious Cultures in the Sixteenth-Century Northern European Imagination

Sixteenth-century northern European print culture reveals a fascination with Indian religious figures and rituals. Through several case studies, this project explores how Europeans represented, misunderstood and related the ‘Devil in Calicut’ and the ‘Juggernaut’ to their own experiences of domestic European processions involving ecstatic, moving bodies, religious fervour and fear of the Devil.  


CHE International Investigator Jennifer Spinks is researching northern European depictions of Indian religious figures and rituals. These include the figure of the ‘Devil in Calicut’; a European misinterpretation of a Hindu god that became a key figure of northern European religious polemic. Jenny published an article on this material with the assistance of CHE Associate Investigator support and – with the assistance of a CHE Early Career International Research Fellowship held at The University of Melbourne in 2015 – has since built upon this material to develop a related second project. She is now working on northern European depictions of the Indian juggernaut, a form of religious procession notorious for supposedly crushing of the bodies of Hindu worshippers under wagons bearing statues of gods. European representations like these sought to trigger sensory and emotional responses to the ‘otherness’ of the depicted bodies and rituals. They reveal an anxious fascination with the performance of religious ecstasy in Indian contexts that were encountered in new ways after the 1490s. But they also recognisably tap into domestic traditions of political and religious public processions in early modern and especially sixteenth-century Europe. These sources reveal key aspects of how Europeans understood the emotionally-loaded performative roles of bodies, images and objects in sacred spaces and processions, and also why India became an important comparative point of reference in this process.


Jennifer Spinks. ‘The southern Indian “Devil in Calicut” in early modern northern Europe: Images, texts and objects in motion’.  Special issue: ‘Science, New Worlds and the Classical Tradition, 1450–1800’, edited by Surekha Davies. Journal of Early Modern History 18.1–2 (2014): 15–48.


Spinks, J. ‘Riding the Juggernaut: Embodied Emotions, “Indian” Ritual Processions and Early Modern Northern European Visual Culture’. ‘Emotions: Movement, Cultural Contact and Exchange’ conference, Freie Universität Berlin, 30 June to 2 July 2016.

Spinks, J. ‘The Southern Indian “Devil in Calicut” in Early Modern Northern Europe: Texts, Images and Objects in Motion’. Early Modern European History Seminar, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, 24 January 2013.

Spinks, J. ‘The Southern Indian “Devil in Calicut” in Early Modern Northern Europe: Texts, Images and Objects in Motion’. Early Modern European History Seminar, University of Oxford, 19 November 2012.


Image: The Devil in Calicut, in Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires prodigieuses (1559). Wellcome Library, London, Wellcome MS 136, f. 7r.