Early modern Christian missionaries often learnt about other cultures in remarkable depth, and made an extremely important contribution to the writing of ethnography and to the global circulation of knowledge. While their cultural insight was usually built upon linguistic expertise, missionary writings were of a complex nature, often combining scientific observations and historical speculations with wider rhetorical aims. In fact, issues such as accommodation to local customs became complex ideological battlegrounds. Whilst an earlier historiography may have been tempted to emphasize either the pioneering character of the Christian missionaries as proto-anthropologists, or – in a more critical fashion – their Eurocentric ideological agendas, there is growing awareness of the crucial importance of the native mediators who acted as knowledge brokers, and who also had their own personal agendas and cultural biases. However, the cultural interactions did not end here: in parallel to these complex acts of local translation, missionaries also ‘translated’ cultural diversity in another direction, to the European Republic of Letters, where they increasingly had to defend religious orthodoxy in the context of a rapidly changing intellectual landscape.