Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain

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Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain
Despite the extensive modern literature on the evangelization of the New World, the devil has received little attention. Yet until the end of the eighteenth century, missionaries themselves saw diabolism as the root of the Amerindian belief system and as the principal reason for their own failure to establish a church purged of Satan and pagan superstition. This book explores the nature of diabolism and describes how it occupied a central place in assessments of all non-Christian religious systems, as well as in the bitter fight to subdue them. In illuminating a neglected aspect of the European encounter with America, Cervantes sets the full history of the 'spiritual conquest' in a rich and original context. He shows how native Americans themselves received and re-interpreted the view of Christianity presented to them; how they refused to see the world as the missionaries saw it. Based on an exhaustive examination of archival sources, the book brings into clear focus the complex, often bewildering, and sometimes tragic clash between a theology which presumed the existence of competing forces, and one which insisted that all deities were multiform beings within which good and evil coexisted. The book goes on to do much more: it deals, in compelling and persuasive detail, with the social history of the interaction between the two cultures, explaining not only the impact of European ideas upon the New World, but the influence of diabolism on the conceptual apparatus of the Old. And it provides a subtle account of the role of diabolism in the emerging baroque culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which strikingly challenges conventional explanations of the growth of scepticismin the period. In giving the devil his due, Cervantes's elegant and sensitive analysis transforms our bleak picture of the contact between the American and European cultures.
Publication Date: 
May 1, 1997