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The subject of missions—formal efforts at religious conversion of native peoples of the Americas by colonizing powers—is one that renders the modern student a bit uncomfortable. Where the mission enterprise was actuated by true belief it strikes the modern sensibility as fanaticism; where it sprang from territorial or economic motives it seems the rankest sort of hypocrisy. That both elements—greed and real faith—were usually present at the same time is bewildering.
In this book seven scholars attempt to create a “new” mission history that deals honestly with the actions and philosophic motivations of the missionaries, both as individuals and organizations and as agents of secular powers, and with the experiences and reactions of the indigenous peoples, including their strategies of accommodation, co-optation, and resistance.
The new mission historians examine cases from throughout the hemisphere—from the Andes to northern Mexico to California—in an effort to find patterns in the contact between the European missionaries and the various societies they encountered.
Erick Langer is associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of Economic Change and Rural Resistance in Southern Bolivia, 1880–1930 and editor, with Zulema Bass Werner de Ruiz, of Historia de Tarija: Corpus Documental.
Robert H. Jackson is the author of Indian Population Decline: The Missions of Northwestern New Spain, 1687–1840 and Regional Markets and the Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia Cochabamba, 1539–1960. He is an assistant professor in the Department of History and Geography at Texas Southern University.