Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Adean Religion and Extirpation, 1640-1750

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Adean Religion and Extirpation, 1640-1750

Article excerpt

Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640-1750. By Kenneth Mills. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1997. Pp. xv, 337. $55.00.)

In this well-researched work, Mills continues an inquiry into mid-colonial religious life begun in his earlier publications including An Evil Lost to View? (Liverpool, 1994) and The Limits of Religious Coercion in Mid-Colonial Peru," (Past s Present, November, 1994). The chronological and geographical scope of this new study is much broader than these earlier pieces. Mills's sources are rich and varied, encompassing documents such as idolatry testimonies, ecclesiastical letters, catechisms, books of sermons, and pastoral guides as well as the contemporary religious chronicles. The perspective presented is twofold: first, Mills seeks to understand the religious mentality of mid-colonial Indians; second, he also examines the religious assumptions and cultural filters through which the priest-extirpators themselves viewed Andean religious practices.

Despite relying on documents created by European missionaries, Mills tries to highlight the indigenous perspectives in them. The difference in perspective is significant. Contemporary extirpators conceptualized Christian and pagan practices as a strict polarity. The indigenous religious beliefs and behaviors uncovered by the extirpators illustrate that they were not.

For a variety of reasons, conversion in Peru proceeded at a slower pace than in New Spain. In the mid-seventeenth century in the Archdiocese of Lima, an ambitious campaign of investigation and punishment against idolaters and religious objects was undertaken to finalize the rupture with pagan religious practices and finally secure the triumph of Christianity. Yet, the extirpators' misunderstanding of the nature and significance of Andean religious objects, practices, and religious practitioners, combined with the adaptability of these things to a changed religious climate, ultimately undermined these extirpation efforts. …

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