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Gods, Demons, and Idols in the Andes

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 67, Number 4, October 2006
pp. 623-647 | 10.1353/jhi.2006.0034


During the era in which the Spanish first encountered public religious practices that they perceived to be idolatrous in the Americas, the study of Hermetic and Platonic texts in Europe was reactivating interest in the power of images and idols, and in the agency of demons. In the Americas, Spanish newcomers encountered idolatry, the cult of deities present to their worshippers in material objects of various kinds, as part of daily religious practice. The resulting battle over idols and the beliefs surrounding them is in one sense only an outcrop of debates over idols and demons in the ancient Mediterranean and in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Yet while ancient beliefs about idols were reiterated in Peru, arguments shifted in this new context. At question is whether these arguments achieved anything beyond imposing European ideas and cognitive models on the Andean world?

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