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Popular Religion, Death, and Nation in Paraguay  

Michael Kenneth Huner

Like many topics in Paraguayan history, the subjects of popular religion and death are under-researched. And yet, if we can conclude anything about them, experiences involving popular religion and death, like many cultural aspects in Paraguay, have intersected with experiences of nationhood. We find many historical and present-day manifestations of this, most conspicuously in language, which inevitably also draws our attention to questions of syncretic religious legacies. Still today most Paraguayans speak Guaraní, a vernacular of indigenous origin. This language itself is a colonial product of the “spiritual conquest,” whose subsequent role in galvanizing popular participation in two postcolonial wars has long been noted. In fact, perusing national monuments and local cemeteries today draws us to a specific time period when many formative links among syncretic experiences of religion, death, and nationhood were being constructed: the fateful López era (1840–1870) that culminated in the cataclysmic War of the Triple Alliance. Here we find how a modern nation-building project attempted to channel, rather than suppress, popular religious energies, and we encounter the many contradictory, and formative, consequences this project produced. A sampling of scholarly literature and primary sources from within a broader framework of Paraguayan history likewise reveals how links among popular religion, death, and state formation are indeed recurring themes for more research that needs to be done.


Sacrilege, Profanation, and the Appropriation of Sacred Power in New Spain  

Luis R. Corteguera

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the Inquisition in New Spain tried individuals for a broad range of sacrilegious acts against religious objects, including spitting, trampling, stabbing, and breaking them to pieces. Men and women also desecrated images through verbal insults, irreverent gestures, and even sexual acts. In most of these cases, the term sacrilege does not adequately reflect the often-complex motivations behind such actions. The Protestant iconoclastic violence of the 16th century unleashed on Catholic sacred images has made us think of acts of sacrilege as primarily directed at denying the power of images and their ability to represent divinity. Yet even seemingly obvious cases of iconoclasm in New Spain challenge this assumption. In many and possibly most cases, such actions betrayed the longing of men and women for spiritual closeness with divinity. The anger, desperation, and desolation sacrilegists sometimes expressed were not always unlike the ardent emotions that sacred images could elicit from devout Catholics. At other times, men and women sought to appropriate the power of sacred images and relics for reasons that challenge an easy distinction between religious and superstitious intentions. Taken together, cases of sacrilege, blasphemy, desecration, irreverence, profanation, and superstition can therefore reveal the variety and creativity of authorized and unauthorized religious practices in colonial Spanish America.


Witchcraft in Colonial Latin America  

Nicole von Germeten

The European ideas associated with witchcraft came to the Americas as a multipronged weapon of imperialism, a conception of non-Christian beliefs not as separate worldviews but as manifestations of evil and the reigning power of the devil over Indigenous peoples and, slightly later, African slaves and free people of African origins or heritage. To create this imperialist concept, colonizers drew from a late medieval demonological literature that defined witchcraft as ways of influencing one’s fate through a pact with the devil and the ritual of witches’ sabbaths. Through the court structure of the Holy Offices of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, Iberian imperialists set up judicial processes that they designed to elicit confessions from their colonial subjects regarding their involvement in what was labeled witchcraft and witches’ sabbaths, but which was most likely either non-European beliefs and practices, or even popular European ideas of healing. Archival documents from the Holy Office fueled Europeans’ vision of themselves as on the side of cosmic good as well as providing some details regarding popular practices such as divination and love magic. Whatever ethnographic details emerge from this documentation, the use of the terminology of witchcraft always signals an imperialistic lens.