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The outcasts of the world: images of the pariahs

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the term pariah, coined by Western travelers, imperial officials or missionaries to designate the abjection of the outcasts in India, circulated in Portuguese, English, French, German and Dutch literati circles. In the discourse of Enlightenment - and throughout the 19th century - it acquires a new meaning, related to the increasingly pejorative connotation of "caste". The metaphor of the "pariah" provides thus an idiom of the critique of arbitrary authority and the persisting social and political exclusion. Thanks to the literature, theater, and opera, it enters the European literary and plebeian public spaces, giving a name to the modern invisible hierarchies, and denouncing the dehumanizing construction of the other in a world claiming as its grounding principle the universality of human rights.

Pariah; Caste; Enlightenment; Injustice; Otherness

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