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  • The Great Altepetl of Jerusalem:A Visitor's Guide for the Anglo-Colonialist
  • Kristina Bross (bio)
Nahuatl Theater, Volume 1: Death and Life in Colonial Nahua Mexico. Edited by Barry D. Sell and Louise M. Burkhart. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. xxviii, 337 pp.
De Religione: Telling the Seventeenth-Century Jesuit Story in Huron to the Iroquois. Edited and Translated by John L. Steckley. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. 213 pp.
In Place of Gods and Kings: Authorship and Identity in the Relación de Michoacán. Cynthia L. Stone. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. xi, 324 pp.

Recent review essays in these pages have been interested in texts, such as those considered here, concerning missionary-Indian encounters. Reviewers have outlined how new critical or theoretical approaches to colonial studies have made possible close scholarly attention to these previously undervalued works, particularly by literary scholars, and they have made the case for more cross-cultural study of such texts. I agree wholeheartedly with these assessments. New attention to Native confession narratives, catechisms, and lexicons is, as Phillip Round suggests, reinvigorating the canon of colonial American literature (382). And by now we must all agree that although (as Hilary Wyss argues) maintaining the "borders" between Anglo-colonialists and other scholars of early America is "a wonderful mechanism to prevent us all from going mad from overwork" we do so [End Page 129] "to the detriment of our scholarship and our teaching" (506). The dangers of avoiding cross-cultural study are clear: too-quick assessments of national (or literary) exceptionalism; misunderstandings of the historical record because of ignorance about the interconnections of European colonies; and reinforcement of a present-day sense of national insularity or identity based on mistaken notions of an all-white, all-English ancestry.

Nevertheless, meeting such calls to action can seem daunting. Even those of us making use of the new approaches Round describes can be hard pressed to extend those approaches to cultures and literatures with which we are not familiar. And there must be comparativists out there who can attest that juggling multiple languages and historical cultural contexts is hard enough without having to attend to all of the latest methodological innovations in our overlapping fields (those admirable high fliers at the recent Ibero-Anglo summits notwithstanding).

So I must confess that despite their accessibility, works such as John L. Steckley's edition of De Religione, a Jesuit-written, Huron-language catechism, Cynthia Stone's In Place of Gods and Kings, a close analysis of the Relación de Michoacán, and Nahuatl Theater, the first volume in Barry D. Sell and Louise M. Burkhart's collection of Nahuatl Christian drama, made me keenly aware of my scholarly limitations. I suspect that many of the questions these works led me to ask about the material aspects of Nahuatl theater performance, the dissemination of writings in New Spain, or the millennial hopes of Jesuit missionaries are terribly basic to my colleagues in the Spanish and French programs across the hall.

And so, in these remarks, rather than offering comprehensive critiques of the three works, I would like to suggest what I hope are some pragmatic approaches to the new studies of Native–European religious encounters, especially for Anglo-colonial scholars venturing into the literature of New France, New Spain, and other colonial empires. In particular, I would like to take up the questions of methodology that all students of early modern, especially early Native American, literature must face, regardless of the colonial tradition in which they specialize. I will talk about what these books have to offer literary scholars, both together and separately, and make some specific suggestions for introducing them to our students, as it is often easier to integrate such texts—at least initially—into our thinking via pedagogy rather than research.

At first glance, these three books seem widely disparate, although their [End Page 130] differences include productive contrasts, both aesthetic and scholarly. Nahuatl Theater gives us various forms of drama, including dialogues and monologues. De Religione gives us catechism through idealized—but not fictionalized—dialogues (I admit the distinction is a fine one), and in her study of the Relaci...


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