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The Persuasive Power of Maryam: Proselytism, Religious Conversion, and the Politics of Marian Devotion in Early and Early Modern Castile (Valdés Sánchez)



In this episode, Amanda Váldes Sánchez addresses the crucial role of Marian devotion in the Castilian domination of the former territory of Al-Andalus and its native Islamic population. The episode analyzes the Castilian exploitation of the local Islamic cult of Maryam as an essential tool for consolidating the Castilian control over the recently conquered territories of the South and the expansion of the colonial project. It also reveals the fundamental role of Mary in the articulation of the Andalusian Islamic population’s place in the Castilian colonial regime and its transformation. In this way, the episode explores the political significance of Marian devotion in the convulsive context of Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain, defined by the birth of the Inquisition, the emergence of new communities of converts to Christianity, from Judaism and Islam, and the progressive racialization of religious ancestry and ethnic differences. 


In this sense, Valdés Sánchez inquires into the political meaning of devotional trends in the changing Castilian religious panorama of the 1500s, analyzing the transformation of royal and ecclesiastic policy and social attitudes towards religious and ethnic diversity, especially regarding the forced conversions of 1501 and 1526, the evolution of the collective perception of Moriscos, and the development of the “Morisco Problem.” Finally, the episode looks into the Morisco response to the significant changes that characterized 16th-century Spain, analyzing how Morisco communities and elites, facing the threat of Expulsion and the erosion of their rights and privileges, used the politically charged figure of Mary as a way to vindicate their place in the emerging Spanish Empire.


Amanda Valdés Sánchez is an art historian and PhD in History by Pompeu Fabra University. She has recently started her stay as a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University, as a Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, and as a member of the Spanish National Research Council. Her previous Ph.D. research focused on the role of the Marian cult in the Castilian colonization of the former territory of Al-Andalus, the religious assimilation of the "native" Islamic communities of “Mudejars” and “Moriscos” and its integration into the changing Castilian colonial project, from the 13th century to the end of the 16th century. 


Throughout her budding research career, she has shown a particular interest in studying cultural encounters, collective processes of cultural and religious transformation, and the politics of devotional culture. Her research tries to reveal the political and identity meaning of religious expressions, the agency of subaltern individuals and communities, and the interception of gender, culture, and religious identity in the configuration of multiple "native" identities and strategies to subvert hegemonic power.


Her current research addresses the political meaning of Marian devotion in the expanding Early Modern Iberian World, particularly the use of the Virgin by Moriscos and Indigenous peoples from New Spain as a political tool to reclaim their place in the emerging Spanish Empire. In this sense, her work explores not only the imperial use of Marian devotion as a way to acculturate and control the local population but also its use by “native” communities as a way to reclaim their rights and privileges in colonial society, vindicate their memory and cultural heritage and propose a more “inclusive” conception of a Spanish Empire in transformation. 


Interested in reading further about this topic? Check out our Show Notes!

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