The Maya and Catholicism:
An Encounter of Worldviews

John D. Early

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"John Early is the only scholar in the field of contemporary Maya ethnographic studies who could have written this book. His unique background as both a careful scholar as well as a [former] Roman Catholic priest gives this book an authority of insight which could not be equalled. . . . Early speaks eloquently of a Maya worldview that is founded both in Maya core beliefs dating back thousands of years and in European elements that resonate and expand on their beliefs."--Allen J. Christenson, Brigham Young University

Mayan ethnographer John Early examines the centuries-long speculation about why the ritual calendars of the Mayan Indians in Guatemala and the regions of Chiapas and Yucatan in Mexico revolve around festivals in honor of the Catholic saints. During these festivals, at the insistence of the Maya, a Catholic priest comes to their villages to celebrate mass and baptize newborns. Refuting the often-repeated thesis of a "spiritual conquest" by the Spaniards or their post-colonial successors in which the Maya were converted to Christianity, Early argues that the Maya identify with Catholicism despite their failure to embrace the religion in any orthodox sense. The author explains the paradox by showing that, as is often the case in conversion attempts, the Maya adapted elements of Catholicism into their existing beliefs.

Drawing on historical and ethnographic materials to discover the cultural logics with which the Maya interpret their ritual behavior, Early offers a detailed description of all the elements of the Mayan festivals for the saints and of the pre-Columbian Maya worldview about rituals and the theological concepts behind them. Considering the sixteenth-century worldview of the Spanish royalty, the conquistadors, and the Catholic priests to reveal the Spanish mindset before and during their encounters with the Maya, the author also cites the
testimony of the Maya.

Early provides a unique synthesis of archaeological, historical, ethnographic, and theological data that shows the use of Catholic elements is completely understandable in terms of the traditional Mayan worldview dating from pre-Columbian times.

John D. Early is professor emeritus of anthropology at Florida Atlantic University.

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…acontribution to understanding the phenomenon called syncretism. International Bulletin of Missionary Research

"A welcome addition to the literature on Maya religion, processes of conversion, and evangelization as a case of applied anthropology." Journal of Anthropological Research

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