Synopses & Reviews
Until the end of the eighteenth century, missionaries to the New World agreed that diabolism lay at the heart of the Native American belief system and at the root of their own failure to establish a church purged of Satan and pagan superstition. The Devil mattered, and he occupied a central place in discussions of all non-Christian religious systems and in the bitter disputes over how to combat them.
In this elegant and sensitive analysis, Fernando Cervantes gives the Devil his due, illuminating a neglected aspect of the European encounter with America and setting the full history of the "spiritual conquest" in a rich and original context. He reveals how Native Americans reinterpreted the view of Christianity presented to them, how they refused to see the world as the missionaries saw it. Drawing on archival sources, he brings into clear focus the complex, often bewildering, and sometimes tragic clash between a theology that posited the existence of competing forces and one that insisted that all deities were multiform beings within which good and evil coexisted. He 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 ideology of the Old. And he provides a subtle account of the role of diabolism in the emerging baroque culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that strikingly challenges conventional explanations of the growth of skepticism in the period.