David Tavárez, "Words and Worlds Turned Around: Indigenous Christianities in Colonial Latin America" (U Colorado Press, 2017)

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Professor David Tavárez’s edited volume, Words & Worlds Turned Around: Indigenous Christianities in Colonial Latin America (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2017), is a collection of eleven essays from historians and anthropologists grappling with the big questions of the Christianization of Mexico after the Spanish Conquest and using sources in several indigenous languages.

The collaborators explore the “quilt” of “vibrant and definitely local Christianities” (in the plural) formed by the dialogue of cultures in each place and in each soul. The philological inquiry into indigenous-language primary sources illuminates the interwoven threads of that quilt. Taken together, the essays also show how the field of Mesoamerican and Colonial Mexican history has blossomed since Robert Ricard’s foundational Spiritual Conquest of Mexico a hundred years ago and James Lockhart’s New Philology fifty years ago.

This florescence is the first subject of today’s interview. Dr. Tavárez also summarizes the first century of Franciscan and Dominican forays into Mexico. Then, he gives several examples of religious hybridization, simultaneously functional and concealed, and how he and his colleagues were able to find these out.

For example, certain Zapotecs turned the images of Catholic saints around (face to the wall) while performing the sacrifice of a deer, and even those who practiced “ancestor worship and child sacrifice counted themselves as Christian” (52). Finally, Professor Tavárez discusses the last essay in the volume, written by anthopologist Abelardo de la Cruz, who recounts hybrid practices that he observed first-hand in the present-day Huasteca Region of Veracruz.

David Tavárez is a historian and linguistic anthropologist; he is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Latin American and Latino/a Studies at Vassar College. He is a specialist in Nahuatl and Zapotec texts, the study of Mesoamerican religions and rituals, Catholic campaigns against idolatry, Indigenous intellectuals, and native Christianities. He is the author or co-author of several books and dozens of articles and chapters.

Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Spanish Empire, specializing in sixteenth-century diplomacy and travel. He has also written about missionary efforts in Early Modern Colonial Mexico.

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