Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Tomás Bartoletti presents a working paper on 'Tupi or not Tupi: towards an ecological history of early modern superstition'

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, demonological and theological output and controversies over the idea of superstition marked antagonistically the limit of what was Christian, civilized and rational. There are various studies into how the ideas of demons, witchcraft and superstition were projected and exploited in the Christianization of the New World. But to a lesser degree, interpretations can be found that centre on the opposite process: how chronicles, accounts and letters written about the New World contributed to the ideas of early modern superstition. This paper sets out to map which accounts and imaginary of the New World returned and fed the early modern construction of superstition. Such mapping aims to explore this output and identity associations and how they were established. This is a necessary step towards an ‘ecological’ history of modern superstition. Here the ‘ecological’ dimension for historiographical inquiry aims to cover the diversity of sources, authorities, spaces of circulations in which the idea of superstition was reproduced in relation to the New World and not only understand it as a phenomenon limited to the European territory. But the ‘ecological’ dimension is tied too to its more widely-accepted meaning and has to do with the role of nature in ‘savage superstition’, in other words, the place that was given to the relationship that Amerindian cultures established between ‘religion’ and nature. This second question runs through this paper. In order to show the ecological diversity of sources and authorities, the mapping proposed here delimits certain outlines and paths to explore in this territory. To do so, I propose three sections. The first will concern itself with the works produced on Latin American soil or by transatlantic figures that focused on the demonic question, in a kind of ‘reception’ of European discourse in the New World. In the previous semester I looked into the chronicles, relaciones, extirpation trials, the indigenous chronicle of Guaman Poma and the Quechua manuscript of Huarochiri, sources that are evidence of the ‘official’ anti-superstitious colonial discourse, with the exception of this latter Quechua document. On this occasion I will focus on certain colonial literary output, specifically some epic poems such as Alonso de Ercilla’s La Araucana (1569, 1578 and 1589) and Juan Mogrovejo de la Cerda’s satirical story La endiablada. In the second section I will analyse passages of the works of Jean Bodin and Martin Delrio, known for their demonological writings. Lastly, I will review writings by Gerardus Vossius, François de La Mothe Le Vayer and Bernard de Fontenelle and their ‘comparative theology.’ Considering that superstition (and later ‘divination’ and ‘magic’ as scientific concepts) was the frontier that marked the limit of all kinds of alterities and epistemic teratologies, an ecological history of this would, in a second instance, make it possible to open the possibility of diffracting the line that separates the western Self (Christian and Rational) and the Other (non-western) in order to overcome the potential biases in our current onto-epistemological understandings.

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