The Pyramid under the Cross: Franciscan Discourses of Evangelization and the Nahua Christian Subject in Sixteenth-Century Mexico

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As the driving force in early European expansionism, Spain was concerned not only with the political and economic subordination of the New World native but also with the need to possess his soul. In this book, Viviana Díaz Balsera tells the story of this zealous spiritual endeavor during its first one hundred years in Central Mexico and of how it transformed the European self and the indigenous other in ways sometimes unforeseen for both.

The Pyramid under the Cross looks at the epic project of Christianization as well as the limits of the Spanish spiritual colonizers' power to accomplish it. The book focuses on activities of Franciscan missionaries who, as the first religious order to arrive, occupied the most important political and social centers in the Valley of Mexico and set the strategies of evangelization that others would follow. One such activity, the Nahua theater of evangelization, is represented as an exemplary case of the inevitable cultural negotiation involved in the missionary process. The author explores not only the imposition of a Eurocentric worldview upon the Nahua but also the hybridization of this view as the spiritual colonizer attempted to encompass a new non-Western constituency and the latter interpreted Christianity according to its own cultural paradigms.

The book treats a wide range of texts—the Historia eclesiástica indiana, the Confessionario Mayor, the Coloquios de los Doce, and more—both by renowned Franciscan figures such as Gerónimo de Mendieta, Alonso de Molina, Bernardino de Sahagún, and by Nahua grammarians Antonio Valeriano de Azcapotzalco, Andrés Leonardo de Tlatelolco, and others. Díaz Balsera engages the cultural constraints of all the actors in the episodes she relates in order to show how the exchange between them resulted in the appropriation and/or alteration of the Spanish discourses of spiritual domination—sometimes even in their breakdown—and how it brought about the emergence of Nahua Christian subjects that would never fully leave behind their ancient ways of relating to the gods.

The Pyramid under the Cross will be of interest to readers in the areas of Hispanic literatures, history, religion, anthropology, Latin American and cultural studies, and to those working in the field of colonial studies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this excellent book, Viviana Diaz Balsera . . . [reveals] new insights into the friars’ interactions with native Nahua cultures.”—International Bulletin of Missionary Research
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816523801
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Viviana Díaz Balsera is Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Miami and the author of Calderón y las quimeras de la culpa: alegoría, seducción y resistencia en cinco autos sacramentales.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : Franciscans, Nahuas, and colonialism 3
Pt. I The Christian word comes to Anahuac
1 The Colloquios y doctrina cristiana and the emergence of the Nahua Christian subject in sixteenth-century Mexico 15
Pt. II Nahua theater of evangelization in sixteenth-century Mexico
2 Introduction to some cultural performance practices in medieval Spain and pre-Hispanic Mexico 53
3 Performing the limits of colonialist power : evangelization, irony, and resistance in the Neixcuitilli final judgment 65
4 A Judeo-Christian Tlaloc or a Nahua Yahweh? : domination, hybridity, and continuity in the Nahua evangelization theater 81
5 Performing otherness and identity in The fall of our first parents 97
Pt. III Confession, acculturation, and resistance in sixteenth-century Mexico
6 Confession in the old and new worlds 117
7 Molina's Confessionario mayor and the impossible Nahua Christian subject 125
8 Juan Bautista's Advertencias para los confesores de los Naturales and the malaises of domination 147
Pt. IV Falling back into history
9 Historia eclesiastica indiana or writing the crisis of providentialism 161
Conclusion : the pyramid under the cross 203
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