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  • Religious Transformations in the Early Modern Americas ed. by Stephanie Kirk, Sarah Rivett
  • Erin Kathleen Rowe

Atlantic, Religion, Christianity, Conversion, Americas

stephanie kirk and sarah rivett, editors. Religious Transformations in the Early Modern Americas. U of Pennsylvania P, 2014, 360pp.

Religious Transformations offers an addition to a growing body of literature on Atlantic history that puts the Anglo Atlantic and the Iberian Atlantic in direct conversation, choosing to focus on the specific framework of religious history. The volume explores how the movement of religious identities, ideas, and practices into new territories transformed both America and Christianity. It draws inspiration from new approaches to religious history, which have argued for the inclusion of women, indigenous people, and Africans as crucial for the understanding of Christian belief and practice. The editors stress that the American encounter created “new forms [of Christianity] that then reentered a pattern of Atlantic circulation” (3). While several of the essays discuss the Anglo and Iberian Atlantics together, most authors focus on one region, reflecting the parallel nature of colonial organization in the Americas.

The volume consists of a critical introduction and four thematic sections— “Comparisons,” “Crossings,” “Missions,” and “Legacies”—with a total of ten [End Page 232] chapters. The first section, “Comparisons,” consists of three chapters, the first of which, by renowned scholar J. H. Elliott, acts as something of a second introduction, summarizing the main questions raised by the volume and offering a comparative overview of Spanish and British approaches to colonialization and conversion of the native populations. The second chapter, by Ralph Bauer, tackles the parallel role that the devil and beliefs about diabolism played in disparate understandings evinced by the British and Spanish about the American wilderness and its people, although Bauer’s main focus is on British attitudes. Chapter 3, by David A. Boruchoff, looks at the role of the Christian spiritual ideal of self-mastery in relationship to the problem of mastery of others as elucidated in in the critique of Spanish clerical abuse of the Andean native author Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala.

The second section, “Crossings,” contains two chapters that address how religious concepts transformed as they moved across the ocean. Chapter 4, by David D. Hall, looks at the theology of baptism in tension with its practice in New English texts that were in turn read in Stuart England. He argues that transformations occurred for multiple reasons, including theological uncertainty. The next chapter, by Asunción Lavrin, explores the opportunities for and reinvention of martyrdom in New Spain, whose colonial environment created power structures that militated against the traditional experience of martyrdom.

The third section, “Missions,” has three chapters focused on the process of evangelization in the Anglo and Spanish Atlantics. Chapter 6, by Matt Cohen, considers the relationship between piety and reciprocity as experienced by New England Puritans and indigenous peoples. Examining artifacts rather than relying exclusively on textual evidence reveals that Puritans integrated native magical items into their homes. In Chapter 7, Júnia Ferreira Furtado follows the mission of two mulatto Brazilian priests to Dahomey in the eighteenth century, tracing the reverse-Atlantic flows of people and ideas. The final chapter of this section follows a journey by Jesuits who mapped the Amazon from seventeenth-century Quito, highlighting the relationship between empire, mapping, and missionary work.

The last section, “Legacies,” consists of two final chapters. Chapter 9, by Teresa Toulouse, considers the evolution of Cotton Mather’s understanding of divine providence. It tackles the larger historiographic problem of the secularization process, arguing that a closer examination of the transformation of religious concepts on the local level would bear greater fruit than overemphasizing grand narratives. Sandra Gustafson finishes the volume with Chapter 10, in which she analyzes Ciceronian versus Augustinian ideas of republicanism, creating a parallel (at times more implicit than explicit) between Latin America, which followed Augustine, and British America, which followed Cicero. Her conclusion is ultimately that the looser structure of government and multiplicity of religious groups led to the adoption of a more Ciceronian style of republicanism in the United States. This last essay echoes, in several important ways, points raised by Elliott in the first chapter. The essay might...


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pp. 232-234
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