Reimagining Religion: The Development of Indigenous Christianities in Colonial Colombia, 1537-1637





Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Alison J. Bruey

Second Advisor

Dr. David Sheffler

Third Advisor

Dr. J. Michael Francis

Department Chair

Dr. Dale Clifford


Recent scholarship has greatly enhanced our understanding of religious culture in colonial Latin America. In particular, a growing focus on popular religion has revealed the importance of local “Catholicisms,” shaped by the interactions among Europeans, Indians, and Africans. This thesis assesses the nature of Spanish efforts to Christianize the Muisca Indians in the Eastern Highlands of New Granada (modern Colombia), a region which has received only limited scholarly attention. Careful examination of the rich colonial documentation, including extensive visitation records, extirpation of idolatry campaigns, and indigenous wills and testaments, reveals a complex process of religious change, one that can be characterized neither as a triumphant spiritual conquest nor a uniform resistance by the Indians to Catholicism. The evidence suggests that during the first century of Spanish rule, the Muisca did not abandon their ancestral beliefs. However, over time and in various ways, those beliefs for many Indians were transformed – unevenly, gradually, and locally – by compelling encounters with Christianity. This thesis demonstrates that in response to the introduction of Spanish Catholicism, the Muisca began to reimagine and reconstruct their spiritual systems. New religious forms emerged at the intersections of these complex spiritual systems, forms with indigenous and European elements which may be characterized as “indigenous Christianities.”

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