Turning South – an Excerpt from From Every Tribe and Nation

The following is an excerpt from From Every Tribe and Nation, by Mark Noll.

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Cover ArtThose of us who have been trained as students of Western Christian or North American religious history must make a major intellectual adjustment when turning south.

….North America, in the main, would be Protestant, of a strongly Dissenting influence, and it would rely largely on voluntary organization; Latin America was Catholic and of a strongly integralist hue that strove toward an ideal of social-cultural unity.

North American colonists mostly wiped out or isolated native populations as they went about replanting European Christianity; Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America largely absorbed the native populations and tolerated a syncretism of native religions and European Christianity.

North American religion accepted (relatively quickly) intra-Protestant diversity and showed how lay religious initiative could create the mediating institutions of civil society; Latin America witnessed a stronger Catholic homogeneity than anywhere else in the world during the early modern period and (for its first centuries) a social order organized by crown and cross from the top down.

North America moved rapidly, if also with considerable friction, toward what became the separation of church and state; in Latin America the early arrangement whereby the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs received nearly carte blanche to organize the church (called Patronato or Padroado Real) encouraged much more authoritarian assumptions about connections between church and state.

In North America the usual Christian leaders were married pastors exerting limited authority in settled communities with many other centers of cultural power; in Latin America celibate leaders of religious orders exercising broad powers over native and mixed European-Indian communities competed with viceroys and colonial officials for cultural power.

Perhaps most importantly, North American religious history has always been marked by forces of Christianity and forces of political liberalism moving in roughly the same direction (though more obviously in the Thirteen Colonies/United States than in British North America/Canada); in Latin America the forces of Christianity and political liberalism have been mostly opposed.

©2014 by Mark A. Noll. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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