Accepted paper:

Conquest and conversion of the Indians: colonial regimes and missionary practice in 16th century New Spain


Andrés Barrera-González (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will examine the principles and methodologies Spanish missionaries put to work in pursuing the conversion of the Indians in New Spain. In parallel, it will consider the theological debates triggered by the discovery of such a diversity of peoples and mores.

Paper long abstract:

Among the Franciscan friars who were sent to Mexico immediately after the fall of Tenochtitlan, summoned by Cortés yet under the direct authority of the Pope, there were a number of extraordinary individuals: Andrés de Olmos, Francisco de Toral, Toribio de Benavente 'Motolinea', Bernardino de Sahagún. In their zeal and dedication to the conversion of the Indians of Mexico, they learned their languages, compiled the first vocabularies and grammars of Nahuatl and other local languages. With the invaluable help of the Aztec elite's children educated in their colleges, they produced detailed descriptions of their cultures, wrote the first histories of the pre-hispanic peoples and civilizations in the region. They were true pioneers in what today would be called ethno-linguistics, ethno-history, ethnography through fieldwork and native informants! There are on the other hand the theological, doctrinal and moral debates conducted by leading figures such as Francisco de Vitoria, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, and the renowned Bartolomé de las Casas. In some important aspects these verge upon contemporary debates and theory building within ethnology, or indeed socio-cultural anthropology, as the historian Anthony Pagden (1982) avows in his thoroughly researched study. In revisiting such an extraordinary 'ethnographic-ethnological occasion' (Pels and Salemink 1999), in the context of colonial New Spain, I will examine the complex interplay between the diverse agents, forces and factors that impinge in this particular socio-political and historical arena: Crown, Church, Conquistadores, Missionaries, the Indians. The theologians back in Salamanca, the officials of the Inquisition brought in the colonies.

panel P059
Topics in the social history of anthropology, in Europe and elsewhere (Europeanist Network)