Catholic Spaces: Religious Practices of Location in Transnational Context
Near and far from the Vatican, in Italy, Ecuador, Mexico and China, local actors inscribe worldwide symbols of the Roman Catholic Church in the histories of different nations, places and people. The spaces that Catholics come to inhabit by means of religious practices are at once physical, cognitive, moral and apparently essential. Catholic identity becomes “naturally” bound up in the habitus of diverse persons, communities and states. Nevertheless, local social architectures shape Catholics’ spiritual desires and religious expressions, and the transnational Church is culturally refracted as local subjects negotiate their own Catholic spaces. This panel will present five ethnographic cases to explore how these locating practices mediate the experience of Catholicism throughout the world. In Sardinia, Italy, a pervasive sense of place invests the celebration of Catholic festivals. Religious processions move through the oldest streets and chapels of a mountain town, inviting the senses to affirm a distinctive moral geography in which Catholic and local histories are mutually relevant and essential. In Ecuador, indigenous pre-Hispanic and Catholic rituals and beliefs are incorporated into practices in both consecrated and nonconsecrated spaces to create a Catholicism that goes beyond mere syncretism. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a locally contested sacred space. Agents of official culture attempt to co-opt popular sacred symbology in the reification of national identity, while ritual performances enable participants to reconstitute community level discourses of shared memory and local experience. In Guadalajara, Mexico, middle class single mothers draw on a variety of competing transnational discourses to carve out a moral space within Catholic discourse on sexuality and motherhood. The result both articulates and contests the more orthodox discourse voiced by Catholic nuns who run shelters for unmarried mothers. In rural China, being Catholic and Chinese in a postsocialist state is bound together with transnational processes that shape the local Church as it looks beyond Vatican II and the Maoist period to the new millennium. These analyses collectively recontextualize past anthropological examinations of Catholic experience within a transnational context. Using a comparative approach to ethnographic case studies, the panel also reflects upon the general significance of “locating practices” to the anthropology of religion.
Discussant: Lawrence Taylor (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)
Struggles over Sacred Space in the Oaxacan Day of the Dead
The Mexican popular Catholic festival of the Day of the Dead is an important repository of traditional Mexican identity, judging by its continued revitalization in locales as far from Mexico as Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, the Church and State attempt to neutralize the popular sacred significance of the festival and to maintain their use of the Day of the Dead as a symbol of national identity and tool of social and political control. Such attempts by agents of ‘official’ culture to monopolize popular sacred space, to decontextualize and resignify the Day of the Dead, work to disrupt traditional (indigenous) Oaxacan social practices and relations. Despite some overlap with ‘official’ Catholic space and discourse, the texture of the Day of the Dead as a popular Catholic fiesta reveals a distinct ‘structure of feeling’ and engagement with the sacred: ritual performances like the Day of the Dead are material practices which recreate sacred space in the everyday public realm, reconstituting local discourses of shared memory and senses of community. This paper examines the festival in the context of tensions between salient Mexican conceptual and actual sociocultural spaces organized by politically resonant dichotomies of urban/rural and ‘modern’/traditional. I argue that the Day of the Dead gives voice to popular experience, and enables the reproduction of a moral economy which stands at odds with the logic and interests of official Church discourse and of ‘official’ cultural memory, working against a neutralization of the past.
Catholic Spaces: the Sacralization of Moral Geography in a Sardinian Town
In a central Sardinian town, the Catholic church moves through and into physical spaces which are simultaneously social and conceptual spaces, thus weaving itself into local experience and identity. With funeral processions, wedding processions and festival processions, a Catholic vision of the community is superimposed upon local geography and integrated into individual life stories. A politically significant representation of community life becomes visually manifest to both townspeople and outsiders, reifying Catholic practices as authentic local traditions. Parishioners collaborate to overwrite the traces of transgressive outlaws and violent events, investing an alternative and positive reading of the town’s past in the many chapels spread across the town and the surrounding hillsides. Studying the use of local space by the church in Sardinia, then, offers insight to the anthropology of religion by suggesting a process by which “real” places are inhabited so as to naturalize the relevance of Catholicism to both local history and modern social relations, enlisting the senses in the project of enfolding the whole town within the moral framework of the church.
Ritual Spaces, Indigenous Faces: the Ecuadorian Practice of Roman Catholicism
St Mary’s of California
For many indigenous people in Ecuador, believing in pre-Hispanic deities and performing pre-Christian indigenous rituals are compatible with self identification as practicing Roman Catholics, while for some members of the Catholic clergy the practice of Catholicism incorporates pan-Andean indigenous beliefs. This paper examines two different events: a baptism and a healing ritual. During the baptism in the parish church, a consecrated Catholic space, the priest speaking Spanish invoked pre-Hispanic Andean deities and the memory of contemporary social activists in a transnational pastiche of influences ranging from the Peruvian Quechua Earth Mother (Pacha Mama) to an assassinated Roman Catholic Bishop in El Salvador to a Brazilian social activist. The healing ritual, conducted by an elderly woman speaking Quichua in the secular space of an indigenous home involved indigenous methods of establishing a balance of forces as well as an appeal to the Trinity. I argue that Catholic spaces in Ecuador encompass practices, beliefs, and locations that go far beyond those considered Catholic in Europe and America, and beyond the facile label of syncretism to involve intentional political statements. In Ecuador they do it their way and it is precisely this inclusivity that accounts for the religion’s continuing vitality.
Catholic Ancestors: Being Catholic and Chinese in Rural Southern China
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Multiple social processes such as modernization and state consolidation have resulted in vast changes in contemporary Chinese rural communities. In littoral southern China, where communities are increasingly integrated into global systems, to understand what makes a village a meaningful social group means understanding how villagers produce locality. Even the most conservative practices such as funerary ritual have been transformed as cultural practices adapt to the changing needs and expectations of villagers in the Chinese countryside. Based on fieldwork conducted in Meizhou Prefecture from 1993 to 1997, this paper will examine the funerary practices of a Hakka Catholic village to depict how villagers produce locality through the especially charged moments of ritual events. Villagers’ participation in the prototypical transnational organization, the Roman Catholic Church, paradoxically creates locality. How is transnational space made into a place where everybody knows your name? What is the role of ritual in the everyday production of locality? Through the lens of funerary ritual and ancestor veneration, this paper will argue that the challenges of transnationalism, modernity, and the evolving nation/state, faced by individuals and the village community as a whole, are being met through transformed boundary mechanisms that define who is and who is not a member of this community. Faced with processes of deterritorialization and fragmentation, villagers reframe their community through the adaptation of cultural practices such as All Souls’ Day as they contextualize their place in history and implement their visions of the future.
A Space of One’s Own?: Catholicism within Single Mothers Discourses, Guadalajara, Mexico
Kathleen M. Murphy
University of Texas at Austin
This paper will analyze two kinds of discourse permeated by Roman Catholic influence in Guadalajara. Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, is known even by this predominantly Catholic nation’s standards for its loyalty to the Church hierarchy and orthodox Catholicism. The first discursive variant was voiced by Catholic nuns who run shelters for unmarried mothers in Guadalajara, in their descriptions of the shelters’ regimes of rehabilitation and surveillance. In the spaces bounded by the shelters’ walls, single mothers embark upon their routes to redemption, which depend upon their embracing prescribed maternal practices, and accepting their sexuality as a highly marked space within female moral identity. This Catholic discourse is both accommodated and contested by middle class single mothers in Guadalajara, who are also self identified Catholics. Through their conversations about gender and sexuality, these single mothers express ideas which often articulate with ‘traditional’ Catholic sexual ethics. Yet, their narratives have also been penetrated by tropes of individual control, female sexual agency and ecologically informed definitions of what is ‘natural’ and appropriate procreation. Their talk demonstrates the significance of other transnational processes and movements, such as capitalism, feminism, and environmentalism, in Guadalajara, an historically constructed ‘Catholic space.’