|Antti Ruotsala, Senior researcher
Franciscans in the Mongol Empire (1245-1370) – Encountering Other Religions
Since the middle of the thirteenth century the Franciscans have belonged, together with the Dominicans, to the religious-intellectual elite of the Catholic Church. In the Middle Ages the two mendicant orders carried first of all missionary work but also executed diplomatic functions outside the borders of the Western Christendom. The Franciscans had the main responsibility for missionary work in the Mongol Empire – at first in the region of today’s Mongolia (c. 1245-1260) and subsequently in the Mongolic Yuan Dynasty of China (c. 1270-1370). When returning from China they often reached India. The Franciscans wrote travel accounts and sent letters mainly to the popes but also to secular rulers. In these eye-witness narratives they described their encounters with other religions – such as the traditional Mongol nature religion, Islam, Buddhism, the Christian sect of Nestorianism, and Hinduism. How did the Franciscans think and behave in the face of this otherness? Was it possible for them to cross over the religious-cultural boundaries? Did the Franciscan world view manifest in their work?