Plagues, Priests, and Demons: Sacred Narratives and the Rise of Christianity in the Old World and the New

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This comparative interdisciplinary study of the rise of Christianity in the late Roman Empire and in colonial Mexico reveals that epidemic disease undermined pre-Christian societies, contributing respectively to pagan and Indian interest in new forms of social and religious life. Christian clerics and monks in early medieval Europe and, later, Jesuit missionaries in colonial Mexico, reacted by introducing new beliefs and practices and accommodating indigenous religions as well.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One thousand years apart, Christianity's rapid rise in Europe and in Mexico coincided with plague and social dislocation, but this was no coincidence. Crossing disciplines with apparent ease, Daniel Reff offers a fresh, erudite, and compelling explanation of how Jesuit missionaries in Mexico advanced their cause by echoing the rhetoric and strategies of early Christians." David J. Weber, author of The Spanish Frontier in North America and the forthcoming, Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

"Scholars have spent a generation abjectly recognizing that they cannot fully understand 'the other'. Now it is time to re-recognize that we are all members of the same species. In Plagues, Priests, and Demons we see that Europe in the first centuries AD and Mexico in the first post-Columbian centuries suffered similar pandemics and population crashes, and reacted similarly by accepting a new religion." Alfred W. Crosby, Professor Emeritus in American Studies, History and Geography, University of Texas at Austin

"This work of original and innovative scholarship juxtaposes conversion to Christianity in late antique and medieval Europe and in early modern New Spain. Exploring the self-awareness of Jesuit missionaries in New Spain who viewed themselves as the successors of the churchas earliest saints, Reff traces links of theological imagination and pastoral practice that span centuries and an entire ocean. Simultaneously, he explores the experience of conversion from the vantage point of the people who chose it, and describes their circumstances. Dread of cataclysmic change —whether the end the Roman or that of the Aztec empire— and of disease, death and demonic agency went hand in hand with the emergence of new bonds of piety, charity and community. An admirable, thought provoking book awaits the reader." Sabine MacCormack, University of Notre Dame

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521840781
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2004
  • Pages: 290
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel T. Reff is Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. He is an anthropologist and enthnohistorian who has done research in northern Mexico, the American Southwest, Spaink and Portugal. He is the author of several articles on colonial Mexico in such journals as American Anthropologist, American Antiquity, and Ethnohistory. He is the author of Disease, Depopulation, and Culture Change in Northwestern New Spain, 1518-1764 (1991). He has been a resident scholar at the School of American Research and is the recipient of major research grants as well as a University Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
2 Disease and the rise of Christianity in Europe, 150-800 C.E. 35
3 Disease and the rise of Christianity in the New World : the Jesuit missions of colonial Mexico 122
4 The relevance of early Christian literature to Jesuit missionaries in colonial Mexico 207
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