[CSH Workshop] Priest, Soldier, Spy: British colonial archive and the many lives of Gabriel de Vogt. (J. Varghese Koshy)

[CSH Workshop] Priest, Soldier, Spy: British colonial archive and the many lives of Gabriel de Vogt. (J. Varghese Koshy)

Event Details

[Explicitly on Invitation Only]


The Centre de Sciences Humaines is pleased to invite you to the CSH Workshop



(PhD Scholar at CEIAS-EHESS and Visiting Scholar at CSH)


Priest, Soldier, Spy: British colonial archive and the many lives of Gabriel de Vogt


Monday, 17 April 2023, from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm IST


Centre de Sciences Humaines
IFI-CSH conference room (ground floor)
2 Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Road, New Delhi – 110011

In a 1939 letter to C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, the Diwan of Travancore, Lt. Col. G.P. Murphy hastily detailed a British intelligence report about a Russian monk by the name of Gabriel de Vogt whose seeming mission amidst the “Hindus”; in Travancore accrued the interest of Madras. On the surface at least de Vogt was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, part of its ongoing effort to assimilate the Syrian Orthodox Church into the former’s fold. Though Madras’ colonial database documented these transregional interactions; it did not interfere with what was essentially an ecclesiastical movement prompted by the rivalry within the Jacobite community in Travancore. Murphy’s letter however was a sign that something changed.

In this paper the speaker uses Lt. Col. Murphy’s letter as an entry point to examine such philological encounters occasioned by the British colonial-state’s surveillance of the Suriyani community in early 20th century Travancore. He intends to analyse Murphy’s letter as part of the network of textual practices that generated an inventory of “suspicious” identities in colonial India. Such practices, which assumed legitimacy by recruiting a close-knit network of secret agents, police officials and transoceanic actors, inevitably came to organise its data into what Islam Dayeh refers to as “pre-national systems of knowledge”. As far as the Syrian/Suriyani community in Travancore was concerned, colonial surveillance occasioned the philological encounter of three forms of textual practices – Protestant missionary accounts, British surveillance reports and judicial statements — producing a distinct archive that both transcended and critiqued national imaginaries. Written in English and Malayalam, these textual practices generated a transoceanic corridor of “suspicious” identities that removed Syrian/Suriyani Christians from the immediate circumstances of its geographical location (Travancore) while relocating them within the context of global encounters wrought by the connected histories of the British empire, the Ottoman empire and the Soviet Union.


Jonathan Koshy Varghese is a Ph.D. student in the History and Civilizations department of the Centre d’études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (CEIAS) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. He is currently on a sabbatical from LSR, Delhi University where he has held the position of Assistant Professor since 2015. His work undertakes the historical reconstruction of the Suriyani Christian identity through a study of the Dutch (VOC) and the English EIC petitions/exchanges with the 19th century Cochin and Travancore Kingdom, and the subsequent legal manifestations of these petitions in the Indian Judicial system of the 20th century….continue to read

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CSH Workshops are in hybrid mode. We request you to pre-register before Monday, 17 April, 2:00 p.m. IST for both offline and online registration.

To attend at venue: Please note that the room capacity is limited. Seats will be reserved on a first come first basis. Kindly carry an ID proof to be granted access to the venue.


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