New Theology Review

January 6, 2022

“This book is the fourth volume of World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest. Edited by Gray Gossen, professor of anthropology and Latin American studies at the University of New York at Albany, the current volume reads like a “Who’s Who” of anthropologists who have engaged over the last twenty-plus years in serious studies of Latin American religious traditions. Thumbnail sketches of each of the contributors together with a list of their more recent publications are given at the end of the book.

There is a deepening sense of the significance of the popular religiosity of the Latino community of the United States, evidenced both in the growing role it plays in pastoral ministry and in the attention given it by Latino theologians as a starting point for doing U.S. Latino theology. Its major contributions are the creation of a balance with the more rationalist and sober post-Vatican II expressions of religious faith and the relativization of the universalist myth of North Atlantic theology. Gossen’s work, though focused on Latin America, is helpful as an investigation of the religious mestizaje of the world of Latino religious imaginations, based on the thesis that ‘the archaic level of spirituality survives within the later tradition as a foundational stratum, preserved in ritual and myth’ (p.xi).

Part One features foundational articles on the three Great Traditions (Nahua, Mayan, Inca) as they existed at the time of the conquest. Part Two looks at characteristics of the sixteenth century medieval Spanish Catholicism that arrived with the conquistadors. Manuel Marzal’s overview concentrates on the ‘popular version’ brought by the conquistadors and the colonists, which he contends was the version that ‘reached the Indian communities’ (p.141). Perhaps the most fascinating section is Part Three, dedicated to the religious mestizaje itself as it occurred in each of the traditions, primarily in the sixteenth century. Louise Burkhart’s article on Guadalupe may make some uncomfortable with its historical and anthropological analysis of this Mexican icon, but it offers a refreshing balance to work done by more intuitive theologians like Virgilio Elizondo. Part Four, on the mestizaje of less well-known Mesoamerican religious traditions (Huichol, Lacandon, Mapuche, Bribri), begins an expansion of the reader’s appreciation of the diversity of spiritual substrata that existed (and still exist) in Latin America. This expansion is carried through in the final section, which features a potpourri of articles on significant spiritual traditions, that exist today alongside what Gossen calls the ‘National Traditions,’ for example, the Tzotzil Maya in contract to contemporary mainstream Mexican Catholicism, Mayan Protestantism in Guatemala, liberation theology versus rightist Catholicism, Afro-Brazilian spiritualistic religions, and Santería.

. . . a veritable gold mine of information for pastoralists and theologians in understanding the origins of the popular religious imagination of Latinos today.”

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