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A Flock Divided: Race, Religion, and Politics in Mexico, 1749-1857.

A Flock Divided: Race, Religion, and Politics in Mexico, 1749-1857, by Matthew D. O'Hara. Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Press, 2010. xi, 316 pp. $84.95 US (cloth), $23.95 US (paper).

Building on the work of scholars such as Peter Guardino and Florencia Mallon who have pointed to the importance of peasant politicization in nineteenth-century Mexico, Matthew O'Hara explores the origins of such agency in the late colonial and early republican periods. O'Hara draws on a wide variety of published and archival sources, from church records and sermons to documents from the Inquisition, to assess the relationship between religion and identity over the longue duree. Making contributions to urban history as well as to the study of culture and race, the book begins with a recreation of colonial Mexico City, complete with detailed maps and tables, that had been divided into ethnically exclusive enclaves. In the sixteenth century, parishes had been constructed separately for Indians, on the one hand, and for Spaniards and castas on the other. But with the Bourbon reforms and a secularization project begun in 1749, districts were reconceptualized and rigid social hierarchies blurred as parishes were "rationally" reorganized (p. 96). Mendicant orders were replaced and secular clerics brought in to oversee multi-ethnic parishes. In the subsequent conflicts that played out between Indian parishioners and the regular clergy who previously had been charged with overseeing the doctrinas de indios (Indian parishes), residents emphasized their Indian identities in litigation to claim rights over the churches themselves and the sacred objects they held.

Each chapter contains a snapshot of the tensions between popular manifestations of Catholicism and the new orthodoxy of reformist ecclesiastics. For instance, the contest between a priest and a tanner's assistant over a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe pitted an enlightened cleric against the leader of a local devocion, a neighbourhood religious brotherhood. Occurring in 1772, after the secularization campaign had seen parish boundaries redrawn, the conflict illustrated the strength and vitality of popular religiosity. Such hermandades often operated outside the bounds of the organized church and continued to maintain a high degree of autonomy throughout the age of reform in the second half of the eighteenth century. O'Hara reads these conflicts in a nuanced way, suggesting that they represented struggles over both historical memory and resources. He likewise interprets popular piety as "a form of acceptance as much as of resistance, since [the laity] enthusiastically participated in forms of religious organization and devotion long recognized as legitimate and orthodox" (p. 135).

Concomitantly, church authorities attempted to "de-Indianize" the indigenous population of Mexico City by fostering Spanish language education and by bringing an end to baroque spiritual practices such as vivid re-enactments of Passion plays. Despite the efforts of Jansenist-leaning clerics to Hispanicize and integrate the city, Indian and non-Indian categorization stubbornly remained intact. The gendered connotations of an indigenous identity even affected proposals to establish Indian convents and undermined the founding of Indian seminaries. While Indian women were portrayed as passive and docile--ideal subjects for religious training --urban male indios were denigrated and considered ill-prepared for the rigors of a seminary education. Thus republican Mexico did not inherit a single seminary built for male Indians. O'Hara deftly captures the contradictions of enlightened regalism: "The very reform designed to eliminate caste distinctions from the city's religious practice increased the visibility of those divisions" (p. 120).

Later chapters jump into the interplay between politics and religion in the nineteenth century. Focusing again on legal disputes as well as on processions and public celebrations, such as feast days to honor saints, O'Hara recovers transatlantic conversations that involved church and secular authorities, at times including the Council of the Indies. Although many festivals continued to be held with few changes, complaints tended to single out the lower classes, the plebeians within the city, who were charged with indecency, lascivious behavior, and public drunkenness during such public spectacles. The beginnings of liberalism in New Spain offered a new language through which to couch demands and grievances within an emergent public sphere, and Indians quickly merged a republican syntax with their traditional colonial religious discourse. O'Hara discusses the impact of the Constitution of 1812, written in Cadiz by elected representatives from both Spain and Spanish America. While religion provided a legitimizing symbolic leitmotif for the new politics of the age, the Constitution itself had established an inclusive nation of Spaniards endowed with equal rights, united in their common profession of Catholicism (Article 12). Significantly, Indians were included as active citizens, granted the right to vote in elections that had begun as early as 1809.

In examining post-independence conflicts between Indian notables and local curates, however, political affiliations might have been highlighted in addition to concerns over power and property. Certainly, priests had played influential roles during the war, and peninsulares faced violence and retribution at many junctures. Were the priests facing litigation Creoles, peninsulares, or indigenous? Had the Indians litigants maintained fidelity to peninsular Spain or sided with the insurgency, and why? Did tensions from over a decade of civil strife affect community relationships after Mexican independence had been achieved in 1821? Although Iturbide abruptly announced an end to the use of caste in parish documentation in 1822, O'Hara's final chapter shows the persistence of colonial knowledge in sacred spaces, as "religious practice operated in a colonial and racialized framework into the late nineteenth century" (p. 192). Thus this valuable study conclusively demonstrates the polyvalent relationship between liberalism and Old Regime norms, a complex legacy bequeathed to the nineteenth-century Mexican republic.

Scott Eastman

Creighton University
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Author:Eastman, Scott
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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