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Laywomen and the Making of Colonial Catholicism in New Spain, 1630–1790
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Book description

In the first history of laywomen and the church in colonial Mexico, Jessica L. Delgado shows how laywomen participated in and shaped religious culture in significant ways by engaging creatively with gendered theology about women, sin, and guilt in their interactions with church sacraments, institutions, and authorities. Taking a thematic approach, using stories of individuals, institutions, and ideas, Delgado illuminates the diverse experiences of urban and rural women of Indigenous, Spanish, and African descent. By centering the choices these women made in their devotional lives and in their relationships to the aspects of the church they regularly encountered, this study expands and challenges our understandings of the church's role in colonial society, the role of religion in gendered and racialized power, and the role of ordinary women in the making of colonial religious culture.


'Jessica L. Delgado’s ingenious exploration of many different women’s experiences and engagements with the authority, mechanisms and practices of the Catholic Church illuminates what these women came to shape: the moral grammar and spiritual underpinnings of an entire society. Informed by wide, cross-disciplinary learning, Delgado’s 'troubling' of devotion, and of all that constituted spiritual virtue and contagion in mid-colonial Mexico, is a breakthrough.'

Kenneth Mills - University of Michigan

'Here is a deeply researched book of lasting importance about laywomen and the Catholic Church in early Mexico. Rich in memorable cases, it reaches beyond the function of religion to what religion was and how women shaped and experienced it within colonial relationships of gendered and racialized power and difference.'

William Taylor - University of California, Berkeley

'Well researched and marked by thoughtful use of theory, what really stands out in this book is the deep empathy with which Delgado treats laywomen’s relationships to priests, church, and religion. Rarely does a book allow the reader so effectively to comprehend what its subjects are feeling and thinking, to understand why they behave as they do, and to see their impact on the world around them.'

Margaret Chowning - University of California, Berkeley

'Stepping away from the well-trodden paths of analyzing Catholic ideology’s constraints on women’s bodily and spiritual autonomy or the institutional focus on nuns’ cloistered lives … Delgado offers a fresh and innovative perspective on colonial religion and gender; her New Spain is alive with women’s sacramental action, spiritual anxieties, informal support networks, and secular labor … Laywomen and the Making of Colonial Catholicism is a rich exploration of the ways that women’s spiritual status was both policed and engaged in colonial Mexico … The book’s methodological openness - Delgado’s recognition of the limitations and silences of her archives but her clear intention to explore the world of possibility - is a contribution of its own. And her deep knowledge of the workings of the Inquisition, the archbishop’s courts, and religious institutions is extraordinary and complete. This text will be key for historians of religion and of gender for some time to come.'

Karen Graubart Source: H-LatAm

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  • Introduction - Troubling Devotion
    pp 3-32
  • 1 - Sacramental Learning
    pp 33-72


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