The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Ethno-Religious Pluralism and Conversion Narratives in Habsburg Trieste (1782–1868)

The focus of this paper is deliberately shifted in a long-term perspective onto the archives in the free port of Trieste (1719), their specific language and the characters who are deputed to speak about specific issues.
The period taken into consideration is the one between 1782 (Edict of Tolerance) and 1868 (Interconfessional Laws) in the Austrian Monarchy - and then Empire. Trieste encompassed a multitude of religious communities, achieving a complexity that shaped this town into a constitutive denominational and ethnic plurality.
Conversion narratives are a particularly propitious terrain from which to listen to the statements by the Majors of the Jewish community as well as the spokesmen of Catholicism - still the majority in the heterogeneous context of the port. All possible religious and secular authorities gave their opinion on conversion: the bishops or the parish priests, the civic and governmental authorities, the Greek Orthodox, Serbian schismatic communities’s authorities, the augustan evangelical and other reformed communities’ heads and, above all, the Police.
 In regards to ethnic otherness within the same religious community, the Jewish community’s archives offer some conflictual examples of Jewish subjects of the Ottoman Empire who lived in the free port in the first half of the 19th century.
The Episcopal Archives safeguard specific religious anxieties, at times indulging in them, or condoning them, calming them down or repressing them depending on the context. The lay perspective of the State Archives constitutes almost a privileged observatory. The language of these Archives is particularly complex, made up of a polyphonic interweaving of different testimonies also coming from religious instances. But their main spokespersons, those who made the decisions contained in the various folders and files, adopted a purely political point of view on which we can define an “inconvenient” situation.