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Black confraternities or lay Catholic brotherhoods were colonial Afro-Latin Americans’ main site of social action and expression, striking a balance between rebellion and flight and assimilation. Modeled on the Roman collegia, burial of deceased members was a central preoccupation. Black brothers and sisters cared for infirm cofrades (confraternity members) in their own hospitals and other hospitals of colonial Latin America. They commissioned, fashioned, and maintained ornate altars and shrines for their saints, thereby engaging in artistic patronage and art collecting. They staged lavish festivities for their patron’s feast and other holidays, so dazzling that they were incorporated into local public festivities. But their festive practices were also seen by colonial authorities as unorthodox and even subversive. Yet, despite all opposition, colonial Afro-Latin Americans managed to avail themselves of religious brotherhoods to fashion meaningful existence in the diaspora through community formation, mutual aid, and religious and festive expression. Brotherhoods thus allowed Afro-Latin Americans to fashion group cohesion and a sense of belonging they would translate into political action in future generations. As colonial Afro-Latin Americans’ principal site of social action, confraternities offer us important avenues for studying black subjectivities and ways to account for black vocality in Latin America.

Article

Stretching from modern-day southern Venezuela to northern Bolivia, Spanish-controlled Amazonia represented the ultimate frontier to colonial officials. Home to hundreds of native cultures, Crown authorities consistently struggled to extend hegemony to most of the region. Barriers to entry were both physical and motivational. In the shadow of the Andes, the thick vegetation, constant rains, and lack of navigable rivers from Spanish-controlled regions meant that only the most motivated could reach its most valuable natural resources. As a result, only the most intrepid, and perhaps delusional, adventurers tried. For the most part, it was religious devotion that brought Spanish subjects to the region. Therefore, Spanish colonization in Amazonia was represented largely by the mission church than any other organ of the empire. These religious enterprises fluoresced in some places, but in most others they floundered. While the difficulties of colonization meant fewer colonizers than in other parts of the Americas, the native population suffered under colonial impositions that forced changes in their traditional lifestyle, imposed coercive labor regimes, and brought disease. The native population did not accept this passively, resulting in some of the most successful uprisings in the colonial period, including the Juan Santos Atahualpa rebellion.

Article

In 1947, a Colombian priest, Padre José Joaquín Salcedo Guarín, established a small radio station in Sutatenza, Boyacá to provide basic literacy education for poor peasants. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, Salcedo’s pioneering example gave rise to hundreds of similar initiatives across the Andes. Amid widespread illiteracy, entrenched poverty, and a mountainous terrain that limited access to state institutions and the mainstream media, radio was seen as a technology of immense promise that could increase education levels and stimulate development. The escuelas radiofónicas (radio schools) were an innovative form of distance learning designed to be followed in groups within the home or in a community building. In other parts of the world, radio education was largely delivered by secular agencies, but in the profoundly Catholic Andean region they had a strongly religious character, being operated by priests and funded by international Catholic organizations. Although hailed by many for their transformative impact on rural communities, others criticized their “developmentalist” assumptions and tendency to spread anticommunism. Initially focused on basic numeracy and literacy, radio schools later included programs on agricultural techniques, health, family relationships, music, and spiritual guidance, which were accompanied by newspapers, pamphlets, and readers. Peasant leaders and so-called auxiliaries were recruited and trained to promote radio school attendance and reinforce new ideas and practices. As the tenets of liberation theology filtered out through the Latin American clergy in the 1970s and 1980s, radio education acquired a more activist tone and moved away from didacticism toward community participation, often having a cultural and political impact far beyond that intended in the 1960s. Cultural and economic changes of the late 20th century brought an end to many such radio schools, but a number persist and radio continues to be vitally important among rural Andean populations.

Article

While several indigenous languages from the Americas have been alphabetized and written, no Native American language has such an extensive corpus of historical texts as Nahuatl, the language of the Nahuas or Aztecs of central Mexico. Writing in Nahuatl but using Latin letters, colonial Nahua scribes or tlahcuilohqueh produced an unparalleled outpouring of texts throughout the colonial period. Prior to the Conquest, the Nahuas recorded information in codices, which consisted of pictographic glyphs painted on sheets of bark paper, analogous to European books. They thus readily perceived the parallels between their pictographic codices and European alphabetic texts and quickly saw the utility and potential of the new technology. All that was needed was an introduction to European writing techniques. For the most part, this came in the form of friars, some of whom established schools for elite Nahuas, such as the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in the latter part of the 1530s. Some Nahuas likely also learned writing from professional Spanish scribes as well. These students of the friars and lay Spaniards would soon teach other Nahuas to write, such that only a few years after the opening of the Colegio, Nahua scribes, working entirely on their own, were producing written texts. These scribes then taught others, and by the 1550s Nahuatl alphabetic writing became a self-sustaining, independent tradition that touched nearly every corner of the Nahua world. Alphabetic writing overtook indigenous glyphs, and by the 17th century most Nahuatl texts were entirely alphabetic. Last wills and testaments made up the bulk of scribal output, along with other “mundane” Nahuatl documents of financial, legal, or governmental matters, which have proven highly illuminating to historians. There were also annals; local histories stretching back to preconquest times; and plays, songs, and speeches (huehuehtlahtolli). Nahua scribal culture thrived until the 19th century, when opposition to it from both the Spanish Crown and, later, the independent Mexican nation made Nahuatl texts obsolete and superfluous.

Article

For many years Brazil was a mission land, a space for evangelization mostly occupied by non-Christian peoples and targets of the conversion work of Catholic missionaries. Furthermore, the slowness of the colonizing—and missionary—advance toward the vast sertões of Portuguese America meant that a large part of the territory remained outside the principal organizing institutions of the colonial space, among which was the diocesan church. However, by confusing the space effectively occupied by colonization with what would eventually form the extension of the territorial possessions of the Portuguese monarchy, the field was opened to mistaken perceptions about the presence and importance of the diocesan Church in colonial Brazil. Since 2000, the proliferation of studies about the episcopacy and different aspects of the structures and actions related to episcopal power has contributed to a change in the understanding of its role and relevance in the development of the Church and the Luso-American colony. Contemporary historians, more attentive to documentary sources related to diocesan administration, have sought to show that the diocesan geography of Portuguese America had greater complexity and importance than has been attributed to it by incautious researchers convinced they were aware of the limitations of the role played by secular clergy in the construction of the Church and Catholicism. Emerging out of recent 21st-century studies is a better knowledge of diocesan structures—bishoprics, ecclesiastic administrations, parishes, chapels—and the functioning of the mechanisms of pastoral vigilance and the punishment of deviants, whether they were clerics or simple believers. This demystifies the idea that the royal Padroado was a nefarious obstacle to the development of the diocesan church in Brazil and shows the importance of the study of diocesan geography not only for the understanding of the history of the Church and Catholicism but also for the development of colonial society.

Article

Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (b. Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador, August 15, 1915; d. San Salvador, El Salvador, March 24, 1980) was the seventh Archbishop of San Salvador. During his episcopate (February 22, 1977–March 24, 1980), Romero gained international renown for his human rights activism, advocacy for the poor, and denunciation of El Salvador’s political repression and violence. Romero was one of Latin America’s most influential political and social voices and routinely drew thousands of people to San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral, while his homilies were broadcast across Central America on shortwave radio. In 1978, members of Britain’s Parliament, the United States Congress, and the US press supported Romero’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to halt the economic, political, and social violence that plagued El Salvador and, more broadly, Central America, during the late 1970s. In his final homily, delivered on March 23, 1980, Romero directly addressed members of the Salvadoran military and police forces, “in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.” The following day, Romero was murdered by Salvadoran government forces while he celebrated Mass at the Church of Divine Providence in San Salvador. His assassination sent shockwaves through Central America, and over one hundred thousand people attended his funeral. In May 2015, Pope Francis beatified Romero and elevated him to sainthood on October 14, 2018.

Article

R. Andrew Chesnut and Kate Kingsbury

Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s, and an integral part of conquest and colonization was missionary activity by Catholic clergy. Brazil, like all of Latin America, was Catholic for over four hundred years. However, in the early 1900s, missionaries from overseas came to Brazil extolling a new faith, known as Pentecostalism, that had its origins in the United States. This creed consisted of a charismatic Protestant movement that focused on baptism in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal churches, originally founded by outsiders, soon began to burgeon under Brazilian leaders. Pentecostalism mushroomed in a brief span of time, proliferating across the nation and gaining popularity among immiserated urban dwellers. It has proven so popular among Brazilians that it has resulted in the pentecostalization of Christianity, in which the Charismatic Renewal has become the predominant form of Catholicism as the Church has struggled to compete with Pentecostalism over the past few decades. There are numerous notable denominations that boast millions of members, such as the Four-Square Gospel, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and Assemblies of God. These churches proffer a range of religious products to the urban poor, ranging from Prosperity Theology to faith healing. Impoverished city dwellers, faced with limited opportunities and denied access to basic human needs, nevertheless seek to navigate the difficulties of their daily lives. Faced with somatic diseases and social distress, many seek sacred succor to surmount their troubles. This may lead them to the door of a Pentecostal church, where they are promised miracles and healing in exchange for steadfast piety and generous tithing. Many find empowerment through conversion and catharsis during spirited services, where they imagine that through sacred power they might be freed from material deprivation. Pentecostal leaders, such as Edir Macedo, a billionaire bishop, have acquired not only significant capital but also great influence over their congregants. Such is their sway on the vox populi that political leaders have sought the support of Pentecostal clergy to further their ambitions, such as the recently elected president Jair Bolsonaro, who won thanks to the Evangelical vote.

Article

Kristian J. Fabian and David T. Orique

A variety of useful digital resources provide material for enriching the study of Christianity in New Spain (colonial Mexico). Such records, covering the period from the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 until Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, reside in the growing digital collections in Mexico, the United States, and Europe. These repositories—such as the national archives in Mexico and Spain; specialized libraries in the United States, like the Library of Congress or the Newberry Library, university-based collections; and Mexican religious institutional sources—have searchable databases to help users in their research of Christianity in New Spain. Knowing how to navigate these databases and which keywords to use will help users find their way through the morass. Some collections also have a thematic organization around such topics as colonial art and architecture (where one can find information about churches, convents, and monasteries), indigenous pictorial manuscripts (which will illustrate the constructions of community churches, baptism activities, and the like), printed texts of all kinds (doctrine, sermons, information about indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and so on), and Inquisition records.

Article

The New Philology and its emphasis on the use of indigenous-language sources for ethnohistorical insights contributes greatly to the study of religion in New Spain. Previous studies primarily employed Spanish-language accounts and reports to understand evangelization efforts. Although providing important insights, histories based solely on Spanish sources are limited in their contributions. The New Philology, however, provides an additional point of view from which to study religion. Indigenous-language texts in Nahuatl (Aztec), Yucatec Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, and other languages contain a wealth of information on how natives responded, negotiated, resisted, and participated in the spread of Catholicism. The contributions of the New Philology to the study of religion in New Spain, although many, are particularly evident in its re-evaluation of the spiritual conquest; the natives’ role in evangelization; the diversity of religious beliefs, practices, and experiences throughout the colonial period; and through its critical study of the legend surrounding the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Article

Free and enslaved Africans played an important role in developing a unique form of participatory Christianity in New Spain’s mining towns, especially Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Parral. Afro-Mexicans founded, organized, and led religious organizations, called cofradías, shaping them to their own needs and understandings of the sacred and its connections to social ties, gatherings, and celebrations. The practical goals of cofradías included helping sick members and paying for burials and funerals. Historians observe a kind of Latin American African-influenced Baroque piety in cofradías, with embodied practices concentrating on annual flagellant processions held during Holy Week, and an evolving internal gender dynamic, which suggests assimilative goals, even as cofradías strengthened Afro-Mexican communities.