C
ross- cultural engagements have the power to initiate radical social
change. Oft en fraught, rife with miscommunication, and marred
by violence, encounters and entanglements between formerly uncon-
nected peoples have frequently proven to be transformative moments
in world history, occasions that have profound and oft en unexpected
consequences, that are both material and cosmological. If we survey the
last millennium of the global past, we see that such encounters have en-
abled the transfer of plants, animals, and germs, the diff usion of com-
modities and technologies, and the creation of a host of new trading
relationships that created new forms of interdependence that linked
previously disparate groups. Th ese material exchanges have initiated
far- reaching ecological modifi cations, as they have driven both tragic
depopulation and sustained population growth, made fortunes and
impoverished communities, and enabled the rise and fall of states and
empires. Even though much historical work on cross- cultural encoun-
ters has documented their material consequences, both spectacular and
horrifi c, we must not overlook the far- reaching but oft en elusive nature
of the cosmological change that such meetings initiated. Meetings with
newcomers, especially where those transitioned from brief encounters
to lasting engagements, oft en undercut long- established pieties and cre-
ated new spiritual orders. Encountering strangers has frequently called
Introduction
bodies in contact, bodies in question
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