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Translated Christianities: Nahuatl and Maya Religious Texts.

Translated Christianities: Nahuatl and Maya Religious Texts.

By Mark Z. Christensen. University Park, Pa.: Penn State Univ. Press, 2014. Pp. xxiii, 135. Paperback $29.95.

Translated Christianities: Nahuatl and Maya Religious Texts is part of the Latin American Originals series published by Penn State University Press. The series provides "accessible, affordable editions" of English translations related to colonial Latin America and cross-cultural missional processes there. These texts provide fresh information and perspectives on the very complex story of the conquest and the transmission, reception, and appropriation of the Christian religion in Latin America, particularly the encounters and interplay with Amerindian traditions.

Mark Christiansen presents translations of Nahuatl and Yucatec Mayan Christian texts, along with helpful commentaries on the origins, purposes, and particular linguistic and cultural elements of the texts. He provides contextual and ecclesial factors that shaped the authors (or suspected authors), the church's theological concerns and tensions in approving or disapproving the texts for proper Christian instruction and formation, and the linguistic and mythological elements in the texts that demonstrate the cross-cultural dynamics involved in the creation and dissemination of these texts. Ultimately, as Christiansen suggests, these texts convey a spectrum of Christian theological representations, "with orthodox native-language religious texts on one end, unorthodox texts on the other, and other Nahuatl and Maya texts somewhere in between" (2).

These texts illustrate the Iberian missiological matrix of theological and cultural Roman Catholicism, on the one hand, within which Christianity was transmitted, and on the other hand, the Mexican (Aztec) and Yucatec Mayan languages and worldviews, within which the Christian religion was received and appropriated. For example, the question of who translated or who wrote a text determined whether materials ranging from sermons to catechetical texts would receive official approval as means for Christian instruction. If the author was Amerindian, the text was considered questionable. If the author was an Iberian friar, the text was usually approved as legitimate--despite the fact that Amerindians had an important role in the translation of all the theological material and that in some cases friars left the work to Amerindian Christians. Also, spatial configurations of center and margins emerge as criteria for the "orthodoxy" of texts. Most of the texts from central Mexico seem to have been acceptable to the church. But in the Yucatan, where authorship was more fluid, the texts were richer in linguistic and mythological exchange and in range between orthodoxy and unorthodox texts.

Most Global South readers will have a feeling of deja vu, for these texts place in relief our theological wrestling as we try to ground our Christian faith with linguistic forms that carry multiple religious meanings. The texts also show the theological variety occasioned by linguistic nuances when Iberian Christian theological and catechetical materials are integrated with Amerindian religious worldviews and mythology--hence, Christiansen's argument for local Christianities. Christiansen's Translated Christianities contributes to grounding the thin historical awareness that Latin America was and continues to be a critical region for the study of world Christianity and mission studies.

Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi is professor of global Christianities and mission studies, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.
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Author:Cardoza-Orlandi, Carlos F.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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