Date of Degree

2-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor

Herman Bennett

Committee Members

Sarah Covington

Amanda Wunder

Amy Chazkel

Subject Categories

European History | History of Religion | Latin American History | Other History

Keywords

Afro-Mexico, colonial religion, Afro-Christianity, Catholic Church, colonial Mexico, Church History

Abstract

“Black Catholicism: The Formation of Local Religion in Colonial Mexico” examines the emergence of Catholicism and its local expressions among Africans and their descendants in seventeenth-century New Spain. In that century, New Spain (the Spanish term for colonial Mexico) was home to the second largest enslaved population and the largest free black population in the Western Hemisphere. My research studies the intricate, generational process of Catholic conversion among Mexico’s black population and how that process affected the formation of local religion. Previous scholars have largely overlooked early Catholic efforts of African conversion in Latin America and presented Afro-Christianity as a superficial religion that competed with African traditions or deviated from Spanish Catholic norms. I instead offer a new perspective on Christian indoctrination and black religiosity in the New World by highlighting how traditional forms of Catholic instruction – notably confessional moments and clerical interventions – initiated religious exchanges that informed black religious knowledge. My work draws from Inquisition cases, ecclesiastical records, and confraternity constitutions to show how the Catholic Church shaped by the Tridentine reforms of the early modern era offered a space for multigenerational blacks to pursue personal relationships with clergymen, mendicant brothers, and the lay devout that enriched their Christian experience. With a focus on the daily interracial social interactions in parochial centers, I argue that black parishioners with a profound knowledge of the Catholic faith became prominent lay figures who molded Christian practices. They navigated a complex social formation, composed of slaves, free blacks, Indians, Spaniards, and castas (racially mixed, non-Spanish persons), communicating their conceptions of the faith to their fellow parishioners. My findings broaden the scholarly depiction of Catholicism in the early modern Iberian world by recognizing black Catholics as engaged participants, active shapers, and, most importantly, cultural agents.

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