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Maya and Catholic Cultures in Crisis

John D. Early

Publication Year: 2012

In his most recent book, The Maya and Catholicism: An Encounter of Worldviews, John Early examined the relationship between the Maya and the Catholic Church from the sixteenth century through the colonial and early national periods. In Maya and Catholic Cultures in Crisis, he returns to delve into the changing worldviews of these two groups in the second half of the twentieth century--a period of great turmoil for both.

Drawing on his personal experiences as a graduate student, a Roman Catholic priest in the region and his extensive archival research, Early constructs detailed case histories of the Maya uprisings against the governments of Guatemala and Mexico, exploring Liberation Catholicism’s integral role in these rebellions as well as in the evolutions of Maya and Catholic theologies. His meticulous and insightful study is indispensable to understanding Maya politics, society, and religion in the late twentieth century.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

In 2006 I published The Maya and Catholicism: An Encounter of Worldviews. That work began with the Spanish evangelization of the Maya in the sixteenth century and ended with a description of the results of the Catholic efforts to convert the Maya during the colonial and early national periods. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

Part I. Introduction

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1. The Research

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pp. 3-8

The Catholic church has had an impact on Maya culture since the sixteenth century. This can be seen in the churches it constructed in many Maya communities, the many saint images in them, the invocation of Jesus, Mary, and the saints in traditional Maya ceremonies, and the Maya insistence on the Catholic mass ...

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Part II. The Background of the Crisis in Maya Communities at Mid-Twentieth Century

While life as part of a Spanish colony and later as the lowest segment of newly independent countries was always difficult, the Maya managed to retain many aspects of their traditional culture. Part II briefly examines the traditional culture, its retention, and the forces that began to undermine it, ...

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2. The Traditional Maya Worldview as Influenced by Later Evangelization

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pp. 11-34

This chapter presents a logical outline of a fundamental part of the Maya worldview abstracted from its many concrete expressions and descriptions in myths, stories, rituals, artistic expressions, early Spanish chroniclers, and ethnographic descriptions. It is a Weberian construct, a model that has many variations ...

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3. Retention of Maya Culture through Periods of Domination

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pp. 35-48

This chapter describes the traditional social organization of Maya communities and how it enabled them to retain many elements of their worldview during periods of colonial and national rule. Physically, many communities were clusters of houses surrounded by communal lands, with trees, which provided fuel for cooking and house supports, ...

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4. Growing Inability of Maya Communities to Provide Subsistence

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pp. 49-61

Beginning in the colonial period and continuing into the first part of the twentieth century, an accumulation of external and internal pressures on Maya communities finally resulted in their inability to obtain subsistence from what remained of their lands. The introductory photograph shows children suffering from malnutrition ...

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5. Long-Standing Strains within Maya Communities

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pp. 62-71

Maya culture was never a social utopia, as it is sometimes depicted in ethnographic and advocacy accounts. As the Maya writer Montejo (2002: 125) observed, “I am willing to criticize my own culture because like any other civilization, it has its own problems and little hidden monsters and demons.” ...

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6. The Maya Crisis and the Search for Answers

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pp. 72-84

Given the population increase of both the Maya and ladinos, given the intrusion of ladinos with their culturally different legal and political systems into Maya communities, given the Maya loss of land and self-subsistence, given the resulting sickness and high mortality, given the consequent questioning of the Maya covenant, ...

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Part III. Renewed Efforts of the Catholic Church in Maya Communities

During the nineteenth century, suppressions by political liberals reduced the already infrequent appearances of Catholic priests in Maya communities to intervals measured in years. With changes in national policies around the mid-twentieth century, the Catholic Church in Guatemala and Chiapas began to reassemble its ecclesiastical structure. ...

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7. Worldview of Tridentine Catholicism

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pp. 87-98

The reappearance of the church in Maya communities was not occasioned by the Maya crisis, but by the end of the liberal suppressions. The initial aim of the renewed effort was to form orthodox Catholic communities based on the theological worldview of the sixteenth-century Council of Trent that set the Catholic agenda for the next four hundred years. ...

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8. Presentation and Maya Reception of the Tridentine Worldview

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pp. 99-120

To understand the various ways in which Tridentine Catholicism was presented to the Maya during the reentry period and the various stages in how it was understood, this chapter presents several case histories. The attempt to convert Maya communities to orthodox Tridentine Catholic communities failed to understand the history ...

Part IV. Crisis within the Catholic Worldview

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9. Beyond Tridentine Belief and Ritual: Worldview of Vatican Council II

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pp. 123-132

The problems that the Tridentine catechesis failed to confront were forcefully enunciated at the Indian Congress of 1974 (Ruíz García 2003: 58–63; Ruíz García 1994: 597; Iribarren 1985: 49–50, 61–62; Fazio 1994: 103–5; Morales Bermudez 1995: 305–40). The year of the congress coincided with the 500-year anniversary of the birth of Bartolomé de Las Casas, ...

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10. Crisis and Reaction in Latin America: The Liberation Movement

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pp. 133-144

The statements of Vatican II were necessarily general and abstract as they were intended for Catholics worldwide. Their specification was left to bishops’ conferences that would take into account the local circumstances of their dioceses. This was the task of the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops, held at Medellín, Colombia, in 1968. ...

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11. Maya Dioceses Reorganize for Action Catholicism

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pp. 145-159

With the impetus of Vatican Council II and Medellín, bishops and/or pastors in Maya areas began to restructure their dioceses. In Guatemala, the large western diocese of Los Altos had been divided into individual dioceses, increasing the number of bishops (map 1). ...

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12. Maya Communities Organize for Social Action

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pp. 160-174

This chapter examines some typical examples of community action for Maya empowerment that were undertaken by local parishes. They became centers of reflection about their social conditions interpreted with biblical assistance. They were part of the Catholic Action movement, some in its earlier stages, before Vatican II and Medellín. ...

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Part V. Liberation Consciousness Assisted by Biblical Reflection

Pastoral workers and catechists spent a considerable portion of their meetings with Maya Catholics reflecting on the Bible. The purpose of these reflections was to reinstill a sense of personal dignity battered by years of domination; to assist in an understanding of the local and national political-economic systems ...

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13. The Bible and Its Worldview as a Cultural Document

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pp. 177-188

This chapter examines themes of the Bible and a literary form used to express them. As a document from a specific cultural background, the Bible can be analyzed like any other cultural document. Such analysis abstracts from questions about its validity as divine inspiration, divine revelation, or its truth value. ...

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14. Methods of Reflecting on the Bible

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pp. 189-198

The preceding chapter has described the structure of the Bible as a book of moral guidance. Figure 10.1 indicated the key role of biblical reflection for the liberation movement. This reflection is done from the viewpoint of the poor seeking liberation from social injustice and has certain characteristic marks. ...

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15. Biblical Reflections in Maya Communities

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pp. 199-215

This is the community of Rudolfo, whose early life was described in chapter 6. It is a highland village on the outer edge of the San Pedro Chenalhó municipio. Because of the mountains, communication by trail is easier with the town of San Andrés Larraínzar in the neighboring municipio of the same name. ...

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16. Biblical Reflections in Lacandón Migrant Communities

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pp. 216-232

The Lacandón is a large area of eastern Chiapas that stretches to the Usumacinta River, the boundary with Guatemala. Around 1900 it was a jungle populated by only a few hundred Lacandón Maya and several timber companies. The unused lands belonged to the government and were open to settlement. ...

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Part VI. The Worldviews of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

While Action Catholicism was developing in Maya communities, both Guatemala and Mexico were going through national crises due to an inability to meet their growing problems, especially those of the rural sectors. Governmental corruption was an important factor. ...

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17. Guatemala: The Role of the Maya in the Worldview of Marxist Insurgency

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pp. 235-248

For many years, Guatemala was ruled by military dictators whose main purpose was to maintain their own interests and those of the economic elite. The government’s role in fostering the Maya crisis was an oppressive part of a larger national picture of systemic injustice and consequent unrest. ...

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18. Guatemala: The Maya in the Military’s Worldview of Counterinsurgency

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pp. 249-261

The Guatemalan army had taken over the Guatemalan government, with a series of generals holding the presidency (Schirmer 1998). The officer corps saw itself as entrusted with national security against the threat of Communist subversion. To keep the country secure, they said that it was necessary that the government be run by the military. ...

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19. Militarization in Guatemala

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pp. 262-272

When the EGP had been defeated, the military turned the Maya areas into militarized zones. The goal was to prevent a reoccurrence of insurgency by rooting out any remaining guerrilla bands and by asserting its control over the civilian population. This chapter examines Catholicism among the Maya during this period. ...

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20. Chiapas: The Role of the Maya in the Worldview of the Zapatista Insurgency

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pp. 273-292

In the early morning hours of January 1, 1994, five thousand armed combatants of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) surprised and seized four municipal centers within the boundaries of the San Cristóbal Diocese, including San Cristóbal de Las Casas itself. Two brief encounters with and defeats by the Mexican army disrupted their strategic plan. ...

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21. Militarization in Chiapas

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pp. 293-312

When the EZLN retreated to their communities, the army did not immediately pursue them. It brought in additional military units, militarized the state, and developed a counterinsurgency plan that was initiated in 1995, more than a year after the uprising. During this period, additional Word of God communities became Zapatista supporters. ...

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Part VII. The Impact of the Maya Crisis on the Worldviews of Pastoral Workers

The contact of Catholic non-Maya pastoral workers with the Maya was not always unidirectional in its impact. Some pastoral workers were raised as and remained Tridentine Catholics as they carried out their ritual duties in Maya parishes. But for others, the Maya experience triggered their evolution to Catholic Action, ...

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22. Two Pastoral Workers Evolve

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pp. 315-330

Sister Marian Peter’s autobiography is dedicated to Bishop Helder Cámara of Brazil, a model of Latin American Liberation bishops; to the guerrilla priest Camilo Torres; and to three leaders of the Guatemalan insurgency mentioned in chapter 17: Luis Turcios, César Montes, and Yon Sosa (Melville and Melville 1971). ...

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23. Social Justice by Sacramental Observance

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pp. 331-346

The theological formation of many priests in the Maya area had been Tridentine. It prepared them for teaching the Tridentine catechesis and administering the sacramental rituals. For some, it could involve many hours of travel by horse or foot over winding mountainous trails to reach scattered Maya communities. ...

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24. Social Justice by Maya Empowerment

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pp. 347-360

In addition to administering the sacraments, the type of pastoral worker discussed in this chapter was involved in various community efforts that empowered the Maya to confront their crisis, especially through literacy, health, or cooperative programs. They agreed with the ultimate goal of the insurgents: social justice. ...

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25. Social Justice by Armed Rebellion

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pp. 361-374

Camilo Torres was a Colombian Catholic priest ordained in 1954. He died in Colombia as a guerrilla combatant in 1966 (Torres Restrepo: n.d.). He was never in the Maya area. He is included here because he became the Che Guevara, the inspiring model, for that sector of Liberation Catholicism that took up arms. ...

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26. Liberation Catholicism: Its Relation to the Morality of Armed Rebellion

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pp. 375-392

In bringing Maya to social consciousness and empowering them to take action to confront their crisis, the church played a role in the events leading up to the insurgencies. The preceding chapters have described the participation of some Catholic Action pastoral workers, catechists, and members of Word of God communities in the armed uprisings. ...

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Part VIII. The Search for a Revitalized Maya Worldview

During the last half of the twentieth century, Maya communities came into contact with a variety of theological worldviews, all seeking to convert them. As seen in previous chapters, some clung to the Maya tradition as it had been expressed for much of the colonial and national periods. ...

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27. Choices Faced by Catholic Maya in a Turbulent Society

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pp. 395-407

The previous volume described the Maya absorption of Tridentine Catholicism into their own traditional system during the early colonial evangelization. In the mid-twentieth century, after the liberal suppression and the reentry of the Catholic Church into Maya communities, as described in previous chapters, ...

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28. A Bishop’s Evolving Worldview

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pp. 408-429

Samuel Ruíz García was consecrated the bishop of the San Cristóbal Diocese on January 25, 1960, and remained until 1999, when he reached the mandatory retirement age for bishops. He died in January, 2011. In forty years of wrestling with the problems of Catholicism and the Maya, the bishop pioneered significant changes ...

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29.The Movement for a Maya Christianity

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pp. 430-448

The bishop’s vision for a Maya Christian theology is the goal of a group led by Maya Catholic priests. They have joined indigenous groups throughout Latin America in a theological movement, Teología India. The members of this movement are developing Christian indigenous theologies based on the values expressed by and in their indigenous worldviews. ...

Part IX. Conclusion

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30. A Look Backward and Forward

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pp. 451-460

This volume, and the preceding one, have examined the interactions of the Maya and Catholic worldviews that began in the sixteenth century and have continued to the beginning of the twenty-first. The previous volume showed that at the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Maya interpreted their military defeat as having been due to the stronger power of the Spanish gods. ...


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pp. 461-464


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pp. 465-486


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pp. 487-499

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About the Author

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John D. Early, professor emeritus of anthropology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, is the author of The Maya and Catholicism: An Encounter of Worldviews and the coauthor of several books about population dynamics, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813043593
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813040134
Print-ISBN-10: 0813040132

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 65 b&w illustrations, 5 tables, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mayas -- Religion.
  • Mayas -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Maya cosmology.
  • Indian Catholics -- Latin America -- History.
  • Catholic Church -- Missions -- Latin America -- History.
  • Christianity and culture -- Latin America.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Latin America.
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