The Church of the Dead: The Epidemic of 1576 and the Birth of Christianity in the Americas


Product Details

New York University Press
Publish Date
6.06 X 9.13 X 1.34 inches | 1.15 pounds

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About the Author

Jennifer Scheper Hughes is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Riverside and author of Biography of a Mexican Crucifix: Lived Religion and Local Faith from the Conquest to the Present.


"In this sharp study, historian Hughes examines the devastating epidemic of 1576 in what is present-day Mexico and its effects on the expansion of Christianity ... Hughes draws on art, architecture, and landscapes to paint a consistently rich, accessible portrait of the era. This impressive work persuasively challenges ideas about the inevitability and nature of the 'Christianizing' mission in the Americas."-- "STARRED Publishers Weekly"
"Truly magnificent. Deftly overturning narratives of triumphant Christianization, Hughes shows us a colonial church born out of loss and devastation and shaped fundamentally by Indigenous survivors. It is both a scholarly tour de force--meticulously researched and methodologically sophisticated--and a beautiful work of mourning and memorial."--Jessica Delgado, The Ohio State University, Columbus
"Argues eloquently and persuasively that Catholicism in Mexico was forged in and through death. Attentive to the affective aspects of colonial rule, Scheper Hughes studies missionaries' despair as they witness their 'new world' body of Christ dying, a view indigenous peoples utilize to solidify control over their new world. In a brilliant move, she points to what has been hiding in plain sight: future-oriented indigenous Catholic communities demanding that Crown and Church live up to the possibilities that pueblos de indios now envisioned as their due as members of the body of Christ."--J. Michelle Molina, author of To Overcome Oneself: The Jesuit Ethic and Spirit of Global Expansion, 1520-1767
"A brilliant and timely book, reminding us of how America's First Nations dealt with epidemic disasters far more lethal than the 2.5 million lost to COVID-19. The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire led to some 20 million deaths from smallpox and what the natives called "cocoliztli" (salmonella). How the Mexica implored the aid of their gods, and how they tried to religiously understand the collapse of their society, is the shocking story Jennifer Scheper Hughes tells."--Ramón A. Gutiérrez, University of Chicago
"The Church of the Dead is a unique history of Christianity in the Americas because it centers death as a founding principle but examines the surviving practices as exceptionally autonomous in Indigenous communities. Best suited for theologians and historians, it breathes affective life into our understanding of past pandemics, at a time when everyone struggles with the reality of COVID-19."--Rebecca Dufendach, Stevenson University "Hispanic American Historical Review"
"[M]akes the convincing case for the position of late sixteenth-century Indigenous Mexicans as vital actors in the forging of American Christianity in the face of demographic catastrophe brought by the arrival of Europeans on Indigenous land."--Sierra L. Lawson "Religion"
"Jennifer Scheper Hughes breathes new life into an important topic...Readers of this journal will be most impressed by Hughes's theological readings of her primary sources."-- "American Religion"
"This powerful book reorients American Christianity in time and space, grounding it firmly in the history of Indigenous peoples."-- "Christian Century Book Review"
"The Church of the Dead is a stunning work that offers a powerful counter-history of Christianity in the Americas...Rather than being passive vessels for the Christian message, Hughes convincingly argues that Christianity may not have survived without the sacred labor of Native communities. Similarly, her attention to the spatial dimension of imperial domination and subaltern resistance through extensive cartographic analysis points to future areas of research for scholars working at the intersection of the history of Christianity, Religions of North America, and Indigenous studies."--Joshua Mendez "Reading Religion"
"The book presents an indigenous-centered discussion of its themes, a practice which is increasingly prevalent but still quite uncommon... Scheper Hughes's approach and style are critical for balancing the Eurocentric tendencies of scholarship on Central America, and is a welcome addition to the ongoing discussion."-- "Religious Studies Review"