Accepted paper:

Freedom, liberty and humanity: the contradictions justifying war


Juan Rivera Acosta (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will look at the interplay of ethical and moral categories missionaries espoused, based on Middle Ages Catholicism, and its failure to provide an adequate framework to understand indigenous culture in the Tarahumara colonization and conversion process in the context of northern Mexico.

Paper long abstract:

Having conquered the Mexican empire, the Spanish government started a process of pacification and by civilizing indigenous communities. This was done trough the Christian missionization. The missionary was the perfect portrait of the religious conquest ideals and the perfect agent for the task of converting indigenous people from their savage natural state into utopic Christians. When the converting endeavour reached the Nueva Vizcaya (in Northern Mexico), inhabited by nomadic (dispersed populations of indigenous) people without a centralised government and with a high degree of mobility. Missionaries wrote extensive manuscripts relative to the conquest and evangelisation of the Tarahumara people. This paper will explore colonial categories of freedom, liberty and humanity present in Jesuit missionaries' documents relative to the missionizing process of the Nueva Vizcaya. These documents show the binary good indian/ bad indian, and how this categories were deemed useless as they fell short to grasp the indigenous culture and the resistance carried out by them. This binary comes from a philosophical conception tied up to medieval understandings of freedom and liberty, where only humans have the faculty of making choices, thus holding the individual accountable for their own choices and of the consequences of them. This paper sets out to explore the paradox of how, by acknowledging the free will of the indigenous communities using missionaries' documents rendering them as humans, the Spanish government recognised their freedom not to be converted, at the same time justifying waging war on them.

panel P64
The failed utopia: 'enlightening' the contradictions of christianisation, secularisation and civilisation in the Americas