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Beyond the Legacy of the Missionaries and East Indians

The Impact of the Presbyterian Church in the Caribbean

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Jerome Teelucksingh

In Beyond the Legacy of the Missionaries and East Indians Jerome Teelucksingh intends to establish a revisionist perspective of the role of the Presbyterian Church in Trinidad in the enlightenment of the society, especially the faster rate of social mobility achieved by the Indo-Caribbean diaspora in the post-World War 1 era. Additionally, the Presbyterian Church in the Caribbean provided the vital human and financial resources needed to champion the elevation of Indian women. By simultaneously providing a formal education whilst assisting the poor and oppressed, the Canadian missionaries and locally-trained persons played a pivotal role in the colonial society.

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Micah True

The French Jesuit Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix’s 1744 journal of his voyage through French North America—New France, Louisiana, and the Caribbean—is among the richest eighteenth-century accounts of the continent’s colonization, as well as its indigenous inhabitants, flora, and fauna. Micah True’s new translation of this influential text is the first to appear since 1763. It provides the first complete and reliable English version of Charlevoix’s journal and reveals the famous Jesuit to have been a better literary stylist than has often been assumed on the basis of earlier translations. Complemented by a detailed introduction and richly annotated, this volume finally makes accessible to an Anglophone audience one of the key texts of eighteenth-century French America.

Aztec Religion and Art of Writing

Investigating Embodied Meaning, Indigenous Semiotics, and the Nahua Sense of Reality

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Isabel Laack

In her groundbreaking investigation from the perspective of the aesthetics of religion, Isabel Laack explores the religion and art of writing of the pre-Hispanic Aztecs of Mexico. Inspired by postcolonial approaches, she reveals Eurocentric biases in academic representations of Aztec cosmovision, ontology, epistemology, ritual, aesthetics, and the writing system to provide a powerful interpretation of the Nahua sense of reality.
Laack transcends the concept of “sacred scripture” traditionally employed in religions studies in order to reconstruct the Indigenous semiotic theory and to reveal how Aztec pictography can express complex aspects of embodied meaning. Her study offers an innovative approach to nonphonographic semiotic systems, as created in many world cultures, and expands our understanding of human recorded visual communication.
This book will be essential reading for scholars and readers interested in the history of religions, Mesoamerican studies, and the ancient civilizations of the Americas.

'This excellent book, written with intellectual courage and critical self-awareness, is a brilliant, multilayered thought experiment into the images and stories that made up the Nahua sense of reality as woven into their sensational ritual performances and colorful symbolic writing system.'
- Davíd Carrasco, Harvard University

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Isabel Laack

This chapter first discusses the fundamental methodological problem of performing research and writing history in a postcolonial world. It reflects patterns of hegemony and epistemic violence, questions objectivity, and discusses the limits of our understanding of the Mesoamerican Other. This chapter briefly presents the available sources about Nahua culture and analyzes the main historiographical challenges. The theoretical background of the study is introduced, including the approaches of the Aesthetics of Religion, Visual Religion, and Material Religion, as well as the research on “sacred scripture” and material text practices. The study’s objectives are delineated and problems of inter- and multi-disciplinarity discussed.

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Isabel Laack

Abstract

This chapter summarizes the interpretative results of the study by drawing on its initial objectives and research questions. In short, the study aimed at reassessing previous academic representations of Nahua religion, scripture, and sense of reality in constant dialogue with the available primary sources. It began with revaluing common understandings of Nahua religion and ended up examining complex forms of Nahua being-in-the-world, analyzing the Nahua concept of scripture, reconstructing Nahua semiotics, and discerning their interrelations. The result is a complex interpretation of the Nahua sense of reality, Indigenous semiotics, and pictography as an expression of embodied meaning.

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Isabel Laack

Abstract

This chapter broadly outlines Mesoamerican history and the living conditions, society, and way of life of the Nahuas who lived in the Central Highlands of Mexico in the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries. Challenging traditional presentations of Nahua culture as homogeneous, Nahua religion is presented as highly diverse within a varied and multireligious Mesoamerican and Postclassic Central Mexican context.

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Isabel Laack

Abstract

After tracing traditional myths about the creation of the cosmos and the human world from the Central Mexican perspective, this chapter analyzes the basic elements of Nahua cosmovision. The Nahuas experienced themselves as deeply embedded in a dense fabric of social and cosmic relationships based on concepts of body and person very different from modern European concepts. Living properly as a Nahua, that is, living a healthy and moral life, meant staying in balance with the external and internal cosmic and social environment. These are core aspects of the Nahua sense of reality and provide the foundation for any deeper analyses in the following chapters.

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Isabel Laack

Abstract

Nahua concepts of reality have been commonly interpreted through the lens of European ontological theories. With regard to the “sacred,” Nahua deities have typically been compared with the Greco-Roman pantheon or the idea of philosophical monotheism. Considering the baffling fluidity of Nahua deity personae and the flexibility of forms in which the deities existed, this chapter suggests adopting an alternative interpretation for understanding Nahua deity personae as cosmic force complexes based on the Indigenous notion of teotl, which is best described as a kind of force or essence underlying all being in a myriad of forms. In this context, it is argued that the Nahuas did not envision a fundamental dualism between the material world on one side and some immaterial essence on the other, based on the discussion of the deity Yohualli Ehecatl, the Nahua concept of nahualli, and Indigenous ideas of ultimate reality.

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Isabel Laack

Abstract

This chapter analyzes Nahua ideas of epistemology. As evidence suggests, the Nahuas thought everyone could experience most aspects of reality through the corporeal senses, whereas only specially gifted people (such as shamans) who possessed nonordinary senses could experience further aspects. Despite this, reality was generally better understood by all in its intensified form within objects and phenomena of exceptional beauty and brilliance. The Nahuas, training their young in various types of schools, had knowledge experts, among them the tlamatinime (wise wo/men), the tlacuiloque (painter/scribes), and people with special insights. The Nahuas understood knowledge as inspired by cosmic forces and expressed in the arts, including the writing system.

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Isabel Laack

Abstract

As the Nahua world was a world in motion, so humanity was part of this motion, influenced by it and attempting to interact with it in both deeply practical and puzzling aesthetic ways. Contrary to typical depictions of the Aztecs as a pessimistic, fatalistic people, it is argued that they believed they had far-reaching agency in counteracting human and divine transgressions against the overarching balance of forces to influence the cosmos and its future in beneficial ways. They also believed that certain duties were required to keep the cosmos in constant motion. Ritual performances offered an important means for interacting with the forces of the cosmos. Based on recent academic ritual theories, this chapter demonstrates that Nahua rituals were highly dynamic affairs and sensational events that stimulated sensory experiences and used many aesthetic objects that were understood as materializations of the deities. The center of many rituals was the teixiptla, a personification of particular deities in material or human form. Apparently, the teixiptla was not so much a material “container” for an immaterial essence but the temporal realization of specific teotl forces. Thus, the teixiptla was not a (material) signifier referring to a (transcendent) signified but a conflation of the signifier and signified into one.