Religion in Latin America; the Age of Discovery and Conquest (1492-1597)

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Religion played a big role in shaping the values, attitudes, and conduct of the Spanish during the Age of Discovery and Conquest (1492-1579). The colonial church provided control and a standard of conduct and living for the new world. In fact, the colonial church had even more power in Spanish America then it did in Spain. Why this is important though, is because it limited the possibility of rebellion and opposition. As long as the church was in place, there was Spanish order, and as long as there was Spanish order, the colonization process could continue to run smoothly and prosper.

Nurtured by the crown, the colonial church thrived. Its main priorities were to convert the Indians, and to theoretically justify the Iberian presence in the Indies. The church’s missionaries worked to convert the Indians, offering them means such as protection, as well imposing their religious ideologies such as monogamy and political organization. The Spanish believed that if they were able to successfully convert the native people, then it would not only undermine the system that had been in place, but reduce the likelihood for resistance. They were successful and the colonial church grew very powerful. Its presence was felt in every aspect of colonial life, and spiritual excitement flourished throughout the colonies.

The conversion of Indians played right into the hands of the Spanish because in a sense, it turned the tables. Instead of the settlers being the outsiders to the society, land, and religion of the Indians, it was the Indians who were now the outsiders. New religion, political structure, and societal differences all made it difficult for the natives to maintain control of themselves, and in turn, Indians found themselves nearly second class citizens of their own land. The conversion of Indians drew the indigenous peoples into cultural orbit of Spanish and Portuguese settlers, and now all of a sudden they clearly had the upper hand in the direction of which the...
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