Black Experiences and the Sacred in Latin American Cities: A Rio de la Plata-Brazilian Counterpoint, 17701930

Conference on Latin American History 15
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Great Republic Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Erika Denise Edwards, Florida International University
George Reid Andrews, University of Pittsburgh

Session Abstract

Latin American’s urban centers were initially established to secure new territories and valuable resources for the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. These same centers also helped establish and secure the ridged socio-economic structures that remained intact long after these communities declared their independence from the Iberian powers. While elites largely dominated the political institutions governing Latin American towns, Catholic institutions often proved more egalitarian, providing venues for typically ostracized segments of society to participate in the rituals and events that greatly contributed to old social hierarchies as well as newly burgeoning national identities.  Indeed, the struggles and successes of Africans and their descendants are well-articulated in the histories of the congregations, brotherhoods, and other religious societies that developed in urban centers throughout colonial and early-independent Latin America. 
Beginning in the late-eighteenth century, the South American Atlantic littoral experienced profound social, economic, cultural and political changes: the resurgence and abolition of the slave trade, deep changes among indigenous communities, and the transformation of the judicial and political systems occurring during and after independence. This panel specifically investigates significant aspects of black history in the long nineteenth century by considering the close associations forged between Afro-descendants and religious institutions through experiences across the Rio de la Plata and Southeastern Brazil.
Ranging from the analysis of marriage dissent cases to the study of Church architecture, the participants of this panel seek to investigate the social and cultural history of sacred experiences shaped and faced by the black population. The engagement of Africans and Afro-descendants in the Catholic sacraments and lay-brotherhoods provides a window to study how they defined strategies to deal with elites and dominant institutions as the colonial scenario faded, and how they reshaped these practices during the post-colonial times. Building on the rich scholarship produced on the African Diaspora, this panel search for local strategies and responses of black communities dealing with the sacred.
What were the relationships between churches, citizenship and civic life? Did religious material culture provide a venue for negotiating citizenship status for free and enslaved Afro-descendants? How the decision-making on communal property set the boundaries of black brotherhoods –and to the larger black communities? In what ways did lay-brotherhoods shape black leaderships? To what degree did Catholic religious thought shape the discourse of black leaders in their relations with post-colonial elites? How did race relations intersect the process of secularization of marriage during the nineteenth century? What marriage choice can tell us about changing racial patterns in this era? The questions addressed by this panel provide valuable new insights into the ideologies, experiences, and institutions that have informed black life and culture in Latin America since the colonial era.