- Religion in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain: An Introduction
The eleven essays that make up this collection address, from a variety of perspectives which unite to form a surprisingly coherent product, the question of religion in late medieval and early modern Spain. The material treated spans from the end of the fourteenth century through the beginning of the seventeenth, a chronological swathe during the first half of which Aragón and Castile were very much separate kingdoms; therefore, we use the nationalistic designation purely for the sake of convenience. “Spain,” though, does serve to distinguish Christian-ruled kingdoms from the Muslim sultanate of Granada, which is only addressed here from a comparative perspective (though more on this issue will be said in the concluding paragraphs to this introduction).
This collection does not treat religion as a component of social history [End Page 27] or from a socio-historical perspective, but rather is concerned with the beliefs, devotional attitudes and practices that comprise Catholicism itself in the context of late medieval and early modern Spain. The essays included, moreover, address their material from a variety of disciplinary perspectives: few if any of the authors consider themselves to be uniquely, or even principally, historians of religion. There is much historiography here (García-Arenal and Pereda, Nirenberg, Pastore), woven into careful, close readings (and counter-readings) of archival sources (Pastore, García-Arenal and Pereda, Surtz, Szpiech), even as certain misgivings are expressed about these very sources (García-Arenal and Pereda). There are, likewise, close readings of individual devotional and literary texts, both those that have been edited and studied and those that still largely await the attention of scholars (Boon, Carrion, Chubb, Hutcheson, Robinson, Surtz, Szpiech), as well as analysis of images which scholars have interpreted as evidence of whole-sale importation of aesthetic fashions from elsewhere, but which are revealed, instead, to be calculated manifestations of Iberian particularities (Robinson). Indeed, one of the most important contributions the volume makes is in the manifold examples it offers of disciplinary collaborations, borrowings and conversations, even as the highest standards of rigor in the reading and evaluation of sources are upheld.
Curiously, though devotion and its practices have been front and center of conversations taking place across the disciplines that make up medieval and early modern studies for the past several decades, Spain has not figured in these discussions; monographic or geographically specific studies of localized devotional practice have not been carried out with Iberian contexts in mind, and publications that purport to address devotional practices and attitudes “throughout Christian Europe” hardly, if ever, take Iberian material into account.1
Though this situation is due in large part to external factors and to the perception of “Europeanists”, over the scholarly longue-durée, of Spain as marginal to their concerns, internal explanations are also worth considering. [End Page 28]
As noted by Mercedes García-Arenal and Felipe Pereda in their essay in the present volume, a scholarly current that, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, appeared poised to undertake “una reformulación historiográfica de los conceptos de herejía y marginalidad religiosa” never fully took root in Spain, given that the study of religion, or of the church itself, was left largely in the hands of the Catholic clergy; as Américo Castro observed more than a decade after the death of Franco, “toda auténtica construcción histórica es, en última instancia, expresión de la vida del historiador mismo” (Castro 13). One might add that old habits die hard; as García-Arenal and Pereda also remark: “todavía hoy la historia de la espiritualidad sufre en España las consecuencias de aquel enfoque confesional y de una reducción de la historia de la espiritualidad y la religión a la historia social”. Though one collection of essays can hardly pretend to remedy decades of neglect, it is our hope that this venture will spark renewed interest in other scholars, both those whose careers are already established and, perhaps more importantly, those who are just starting out, by asking a series of questions and beginning a series of conversations, which...