- Coloniality, Religion, and the Law in the Early Iberian World ed. by Santa Arias and Raúl Marrero-Fente
In collecting these essays, editors Santa Arias and Raúl Marrero-Fente seek to broaden and deepen our understanding of the roles played by the Catholic Church and various legal/political institutions in the production of coloniality. Looking beyond the formal codifications of the racial, social, and political orders imposed by Spain, the authors of these fourteen essays investigate a range of texts to reveal the complex discursive networks from which these hierarchies were constructed. In doing so, they make a significant contribution to the growing scholarship of the Iberian empire, in particular to our understanding of the formation of colonial identities and modes of thought within it. [End Page 928]
The editors group the essays into the three categories of politics, religion, and law. Through careful explication of written and visual texts, the essays articulate the strategies used by colonizer and colonized to adapt existing modes of thought to changing circumstances. Some of the essays focus on texts by recognizably influential writers in the history of colonization such as José de Acosta and Bartolomé de las Casas; others examine lesser known artifacts and figures. Ezekial Stear, for example, closely reads selected episodes from the Anales de Juan Bautista to reveal the tangled responses of indigenous Nahua elites to Christianization and Spanish colonial policy in sixteenth-century New Spain. Ana M. Rodríguez-Rodríguez uses the Historia de Mindanao y Joló to examine how its author, the Jesuit Francisco de Combés, negotiated the jarring encounter between Spanish imperial identity and its Muslim Other during the conquest of the Philippines. Both essays indicate the range of figures, contexts, positions, motivations, texts, and contexts surveyed in the book.
The precision, richness, and collective range of these analyses impress and inspire. Careful attention to narrative and rhetorical devices reveals the linguistic traces of coloniality’s conceptual construction, both as it was experienced on the ground by a variety of actors across the Spanish empire and as it was theorized in the centers of imperial power. Especially welcome are those essays focusing on indigenous political agency and the means used to resist, or at least negotiate, the imposition of Western structures. The resulting mosaic suggests the value of such analyses, as well as the directions and forms future work could take.
At the same time, the combination of such depth and scope can be frustrating. Readers may be intrigued, for example, by the analysis of the iconography of Marian shrines in the Philippines but will have to look elsewhere to understand how they compare to shrines in other areas of the empire. Readers who are interested in the role of the Catholic Church in colonization may be vexed to find that only a handful of chapters attempt a sustained analysis of the intersection of church doctrine and colonial administrative law.
Of course, no collection of essays would be expected to coalesce into a cohesive narrative about something as heterogeneous and complex as the formation of Iberian coloniality. What readers will find instead in these essays is a range of models for analyzing colonial writing and representation, as well as an array of examples that suggest new directions for further investigation.