The New Latin American Mission History

The New Latin American Mission History

The New Latin American Mission History

The New Latin American Mission History

Synopsis

The subject of missions-formal efforts at religious conversion of native peoples of the Americas by colonizing powers-is one that renders the modern student a bit uncomfortable. Where the mission enterprise was actuated by true belief it strikes the modern sensibility as fanaticism; where it sprang from territorial or economic motives it seems the rankest sort of hypocrisy. That both elements-greed and real faith-were usually present at the same time is bewildering. In this book seven scholars attempt to create a "new" mission history that deals honestly with the actions and philosophic motivations of the missionaries, both as individuals and organizations and as agents of secular powers, and with the experiences and reactions of the indigenous peoples, including their strategies of accommodation, co-optation, and resistance. The new mission historians examine cases from throughout the hemisphere-from the Andes to northern Mexico to California-in an effort to find patterns in the contact between the European missionaries and the various societies they encountered.

Excerpt

Beginning in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Castile and Portugal conquered and settled extensive territories in North and South America, initiating profound changes in the economy, social organization, culture and belief systems, and political structure of the native populations in the New World. The conquest of the Americas led to the demographic collapse and in some instances cultural and biological extinction of Indian groups. The impact in the core areas of Latin America (Mesoamerica, the Andean region, and the coastal sections of Brazil) of Spanish and Portuguese colonization and postindependence Latin American Indian policy has been thoroughly explored and documented by several generations of scholars. Paradoxically, however, with the exception of the region of colonial northern Mexico that now forms a part of the United States, the frontier in Latin America has received relatively little attention in comparison to the number and sophistication of historical studies of the core areas. In particular, the single most important frontier institution, the Catholic frontier mission, has in the last century been largely ignored by professional scholars.

Spain's frontiers in the Americas expanded in fits and starts, as miners, ranchers, and farmers followed or at times preceeded missionaries sent to evangelize and assimilate diverse Indian groups. In the core areas of Spanish America conquistadors subjugated sedentary hierarchical societies in many ways similar to Spain's own feudal society. Spanish frontier policy sought, in part, to modify the social and economic structure of semisedentary and nomadic native groups to conform more closely to that of the sedentary, town-dwelling agricultural communities that the Spanish successfully dominated and exploited in Mesoamerica and the Andean region.

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