Preaching to the People of God: Catholicism and National Identity in Spain, 1759–1823

Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM
Brandeis Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Scott Eastman , Creighton University, Omaha, NE
Influential contemporaries as well as foreign travelers often denigrated the visceral religious extremism propounded by zealous clerics in Spain. For example, José Blanco White stated: “The influence of religion in Spain has no limit, and divides its inhabitants into two classes: fanatics and hypocrites.” The Chief of Police in Madrid in 1809 insisted that “there are frequent and repeated warnings in Court and in the provinces of the ‘incalculable damage that some fanatical priests cause to public opinion and to the public spirit' that inspired their penitents to utter the ‘most detestable' maxims.” The trope of religious fanaticism and excess, first articulated during the sixteenth century in debates over the treatment of the indigenous peoples of the New World, continued to mark the discourse of foreign observers as well as Spanish critics during the nineteenth century. The idea that the Spanish clergy symbolized the reactionary nature of the “Spanish character” has been embedded in much of the historiography on the War of Independence (1808-1814). Similar interpretations have been used to suggest that the political-religious ideology of National-Catholicism in Spain was based in the Catholic reactionary sentiment of the early nineteenth century. Such scholarship has minimized the role of clerics who advocated reform of both church and state during the Enlightenment and the first two decades of the nineteenth century. This paper will examine the ways in which actors within a Catholic public sphere, especially the clergy, articulated nationalism and the horizontal bonds of loyalty between the people and the state. While historians agree that a majority of clerics continued to advance the ideals of absolutist monarchy during the epoch, it is paradoxical that a nationalist idiom preached from the pulpit merged a largely religious identity with the radical proposition of the sovereignty of the people.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>