10675 - Religious Translation and Dialogical Encounters in the Americas' First Theologies

This paper presents an intertextual analysis between works in K’iche’an languages by Hispano-Catholic missionaries and highland Maya in the 1500s. While many of these Mayan texts like the Popol Vuh and legal deeds are of value for ethnohistory, scholarship neglects examining exactly to what Maya authors responded. Without a fuller understanding of mendicant work with K’iche’an languages key sections of contemporaneous Mayan texts remain obscure. This paper presents a reconstruction of the Americas’ first explicit theology, Domingo de Vico’s Theologia Indorum written in K’iche’. Through a new cataloging of the 16 surviving manuscripts and based on comparative study of genres, this paper argues that the Theologia Indorum is not a random collection of sermons or catechism but a systemic theology influenced specifically by Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Quignon’s breviary, and narratives like the Popol Vuh . Genres of Hispano-Catholic literature informed Mayan religious discourse as much as did Spanish deeds. This paper tracks the use of two key terms through the writings by highland Maya and Vico: nima ajaw (God) and ch’ab’al (language). The shifts in these terms are contrasted with the term tzij (word), a juxtaposition in the Popol Vuh that scholars argue indicate Mayan rejection of missionaries. But later K’iche’ and mendicant texts indicate a Mayan entextualization of Catholicism rather than simple resistance or accommodation. This paper concludes by suggesting that these early dynamics in K’iche’an ceremonial and religious speech possibly continues into the present despite the 90 percent population decline of indigenous peoples and the arrival of the Catholic Reformation in the Americas by the 1580s, a dialogicality present in and useful for understanding charismatic Christianities among the Maya, Christian inculturation (late liberation) theology, and the Pan-Maya Movement’s use of “spirituality.”      

Keywords: Maya, religion, ethnohistory, language, Mesoamerica

Author: Sparks, Garry (Valparaiso University, United States of America)


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