Responsible Researcher

Research Project | Department II

New Christians, Old Christians, and Others – Cultural Mestizaje and the Christian Republic of Philip II

In fewer than fifty years, Castilian conquistadors conquered the Muslim kingdom of Granada in Iberia (1492), the Aztec empire in Mesoamerica (1521), the Inca empire in the southern Andes (1533), and the Muisca tribal confederation in the northern Andes (1537), in addition to other smaller polities. Given the Castilian crown’s practice of granting conquered communities the right to local self-governance according to pre-conquest custom, the conquests created a shocking array of overlapping legal jurisdictions. Following medieval Iberian precedent, the Crown typically granted new subjects the right to continue to live according to custom at the local level, except when their customs came into conflict with, or were superseded by, Castilian royal law. 

New problems arose in the decades following the conquest, when the first generation of inter-ethnic children – with one indigenous and one Spanish parent – were born. To what set of rights, obligations, and legal protections should they be entitled? And how should indigenous individuals who relocated from indigenous spaces into Spanish ones, and adopted Spanish customs (religion, speech, diet, dress), be categorized? When asking such questions, scholarship in Latin America has traditionally focused predominantly on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A new wave of scholarship, focused on the interplay between law, custom, and practice has detailed how new logics of inclusion and exclusion evolved in early colonial Spanish society. Yet even these most recent studies have done little to make sense of the role that Spain’s Islamic history played in determining colonial-era identities. This research is an attempt to put the question into a Trans-Atlantic frame. How, it asks, did natives of the Americas experience Castilian conquest and colonialism differently than did descendants of Iberian Muslims? How might patterns of acculturation have been affected by new encounters (the Americas) or centuries of coexistence (southern Spain)? This inquiry aims to address how expanding borders and the circulation of new peoples and ideas led to the re-articulation of moral concepts and their application to the evolving laws of empire.

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