Selwyn, Jennifer D. 1962-
Selwyn, Jennifer D. 1962-
Born September 26, 1962.
Home—NH. Office—Department of History, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824.
University of New Hampshire, Durham, associate professor of history.
A Paradise Inhabited by Devils: The Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern Naples, Ashgate (Burlinton, VT), 2004.
Writer and educator Jennifer D. Selwyn was born September 26, 1962. She serves on the faculty at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, where she is an associate professor in the department of history. She is also the author of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils: The Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern Naples, which was published in 2004.
Based on an article that Selwyn wrote several years earlier, A Paradise Inhabited by Devils takes an in-depth look at the role of the Jesuits in the south of Italy, focusing on two areas and the way in which they influenced the development of Naples. Selwyn addresses the Society of Jesus and its own development, particularly how the society came to utilize its methods and where it generated its governing ideas. She is especially interested in the concept of the collective identity and how this was perceived by the Jesuits. She also looks at how the region was organized prior to the arrival of the Jesuits, and then analyzes how the varied beliefs and priorities of each side might have come into play, assuming that the Jesuits brought religious, moral, and cultural concepts to the area that might have been foreign, and would have been braced against the region's existing issues, including poverty and social disorder, and the existing religious ideologies. Selwyn starts out by grounding the reader in the area, describing not only Italy but Europe in general during this time, and including information about life in rural areas where superstitions were still a major part of daily life. The Jesuits were able to capitalize on these superstitions, which were based in a need for explanations and for understanding, as well as, in some sense, for comfort and a feeling of security. By giving the people a more sophisticated belief system, the Jesuits believed they were bring civilization to the rural regions. Selwyn describes various Jesuit missions to the area and what they would have been there to accomplish. Tommaso Astarita, in a contribution for the Catholic Historical Review, noted that "primary sources are all from Jesuit and Vatican archives, and this at times leads to confusion in the discussion of Neapolitan details," but concluded it is "an intelligent and useful contribution to the study of the Jesuits." Church History reviewer Helen Hills found Selwyn's offering to be "a thoughtful, thought-provoking book that eschews the self-aggrandizing posturing of some current academic history, while bravely tackling a notoriously difficult area, to illuminate the formation and development of some of its most pernicious myths."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Catholic Historical Review, October 1, 2005, Tommaso Astarita, review of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils: The Jesuits' Civilizing Mission in Early Modern Naples, p. 816.
Choice, May 1, 2005, P. Grendler, review of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils, p. 1608.
Church History, December 1, 2006, Helen Hills, review of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils, p. 907.
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, January 1, 2006, Kathleen M. Comerford, review of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils, p. 161.
Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2005, review of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils, p. 27.
Sixteenth Century Journal, December 22, 2005, John M. Hunt, review of A Paradise Inhabited by Devils, p. 1109.
Ashgate Web site,http://www.ashgate.com/ (May 28, 2008), author profile.