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  • Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Niño de Cebu by Julius J. Bautista
  • Grace Liza Y. Concepcion
julius j. bautista Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Niño de Cebu Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2010. 249 pages.

Julius Bautista is a Filipino-Australian anthropologist, who is presently Senior Lecturer in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is likewise affiliated with the Asia Research Institute’s Religion and Globalisation in Asian Contexts Cluster. Bautista conducts research on religion and material culture in Southeast Asia, with a focus on the Philippines, particularly Cebu and Pampanga. In his works Bautista uses history and anthropology to understand how religious icons have been constructed to become significant symbols of faith.

Figuring Catholicism is based on Julius Bautista’s dissertation at the Australian National University, under Reynaldo Ileto’s supervision. The book is an insightful critique of the processes by which the Santo Niño, or the image of the child Jesus as king, has become “enshrined” as a symbol of Philippine Catholicism. The author delves into the “historical, political, and cultural circumstances, in which some versions of the Santo Niño’s story are considered more dominant, more official than others, thereby facilitating their transmission among Filipinos across time and space” (6). He engages the “episodic” rather than the “epic” history to discover how the Santo Niño and Catholicism have been “figured” in these instances in Philippine history. Bautista uses discourse analysis to understand how encounters of [End Page 579] varying discourses, with roots in Spanish and American colonialisms, have produced this ubiquitous symbol in the Catholic Philippines. He also looks at ways “in which Filipinos sought to subvert their primacy in the crafting of their own counter-discourses” like folk religiosity (7), an approach akin to those of Ileto and Vicente Rafael.

At the outset Bautista is keen to problematize his position as a Philippine-born scholar based overseas, as his diasporic character bears significantly upon his scholarship. Although not the focus of the book, the author’s connection with his subject is worth mentioning. Born in Cebu and raised in Manila and Sydney, Bautista sees his scholarship as fuelled by both nostalgia for home and a scholarly pursuit (12–15). He situates his fieldwork in Cebu between “‘coming home’ in a sentimental sense and ‘doing fieldwork’ in a professionally academic sense” (13) and thereby demonstrates that, while nostalgia can form an idealized notion of the past, scholarly research can undermine that ideal and bring it back to reality. The fruits of his fieldwork are unique insights about the dominant position of the Santo Niño in Filipino Catholic belief. As he interrogates the ascendancy of the icon, he introduces unconventional ways of viewing it, which detract from the commonly accepted narratives of discovery and Christianization. In fact Bautista’s study transcends nostalgia and critiques the symbol of the Santo Niño.

Throughout the book Bautista juxtaposes episodes that present various approaches to the Santo Niño as a religious symbol. “The Ins and Outs of the Santo Niño de Cebu” (chapter 1) locates the image in its “official” place, i.e., inside the Basilica of the Santo Niño, and its “popular” place outside the church. Inside the church the “official” veneration and structured worship include acts like bowing, waving, and kissing of the image; the formal rites of worship in the basilica represent permitted gestures of faith. Outside the basilica, however, worship is more spontaneous. The author describes how the Santo Niño is found in various places: store windows, jeepneys, and in other “mundane and utilitarian spaces” (43). “Outside” represents the flamboyant and unorthodox ways of paying respect to the image. But “outside” also signifies the Santo Niño’s presence in the quotidian, without demanding from the Cebuanos solemn acts of worship. More than sacralizing these spaces, the presence of Santo Niño replicas in mundane places shows the devotion’s deep-rootedness in the Cebuanos’ habitus.

“An Archipelago Twice ‘Discovered’” (chapter 2) discusses how the Santo Niño figures in the two instances of “discovery.” The first was Ferdinand [End Page 580] Magellan’s...


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