March 25, 2013 Scholars to Discuss Religion and Colonial Mesoamerica

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: John Hessler (202) 707-7223
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A panel discussion at the Library of Congress will explore how different native groups in Mesoamerica, from the 16th to 18th centuries, creatively responded to Christian evangelization.

“Indigenous Translations of Christianity in Colonial Mesoamerica: A Panel Discussion” will be held from on April 25 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 113 in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not needed.

The discussion is sponsored by the Library’s John W. Kluge Center and the Jay I. Kislak Foundation, and is organized by the Early Americas Working Group.

The scholars—Louise Burkhart, Nancy Farriss and Frauke Sasche—will discuss indigenous-language texts and the interplay between traditional native cultural elements and missionaries’ Christianity. The panel will be moderated by John Hessler, curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress and by Marcy Norton, associate professor of history at George Washington University.

Burkhart will present “How the Ancestors Learned to Pray: A Reevaluation of the Colonial Mexican Pictographic Catechisms.” Her talk will argue for a reconsideration of Mexican pictographic catechisms, long considered a product of early Franciscan evangelization, as a late-colonial phenomenon that accompanied resurgent native communities’ efforts to reclaim lands and privileges.

Burkhart is a professor of anthropology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Currently she holds the Paul Mellon Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art.

Farriss will present “Sweet Words: Indigenous Oratory and Christian Doctrine in Early Colonial Oaxaca (Mexico).” The different languages of Mesoamerica share a common style of ceremonial discourse used to speak to and about sacred beings. According to Farriss, missionary linguists and their native collaborators adopted this discourse in an effort to make Christianity more familiar and more palatable to the Indian neophytes.

Farriss is the Walter Annenberg Professor of History, emerita, at the University of Pennsylvania. Recently, she has been engaged in extensive fieldwork and archival research on the Zapotec of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sasche will present “The Continuity of Belief and Practice: Pre-Hispanic Religious Ideology in Early Colonial Doctrinal K’iche.” She will analyze how concepts of faith and divinity were communicated between two cultures. Sasche will look at the Highland Maya language K’iche. The collection of missionary texts for this language is comparatively rich and includes biblical narratives, catechisms and sermons.

Sasche is a fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, D.C. Starting in May, 2013, she will be an assistant professor in pre-Columbian studies and anthropology at the University of Bonn in Germany.

The Kislak Foundation was founded by Jay I. Kislak to promote the study of early American cultures, and the Early Americas Working Group consists of scholars from Washington D.C. universities, museums and libraries who meet to discuss the latest research on Mesoamerican studies.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit


PR 13-051
ISSN 0731-3527