Constructing Lives at Mission San Francisco

Paul Harvey

Apparently this is religion in early/colonial America week here at the blog! Recently I had occasion to re-survey some of the literature about the California missions, especially one of my favorite recent works of scholarship, Steven Hackel's Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850, for my money the most thorough scholarly study of the subject, full of painstakingly constructed data sets from mission records -- the book is reviewed at length, and quite thoughtfully, here.

Religious studies scholar Quincy Newell's new book on native life and religious practice at a California mission is now out, and it came to my attention via the Choice review reprinted below. Her work brings ethnographic and religious studies methods to bear on the subject, and zeroes in on one mission in particular. Another longer and more extensive review may be found here; the money quote there, for our purposes here: "She postulates that many Native people chose baptism and mission life over continued residence in their traditional villages in order to enhance their spiritual power within their society and maintain the prestige of ever-weakening kinship networks. This interesting and thoughtful analysis lends new a perspective to the literature."

Below is the review from Choice. Be sure also to check out Quincy Newell's contributions at the blog Religion in the American West.

Newell, Quincy D. Constructing lives at Mission San Francisco: Native Californians and Hispanic colonists, 1776-1821. New Mexico, 2009. 267p bibl index afp; ISBN9780826347060, $39.95. Reviewed in 2010aug CHOICE.
Despite the passage of 175 years since the last Spanish California mission was secularized in 1834, these Hispanicized Indian communities continue to provoke contentious scholarly debate regarding the nature and intent of the Franciscan missionary enterprise more generally. With cultural critique all the rage, it is no wonder that indigenous voices have been lost in the fray. By contrast with earlier such treatments, religious studies professor Newell (Univ. of Wyoming) delivers a culturally nuanced, meticulously researched, and thought-provoking narrative treatment for contextualizing voices silenced in earlier works regarding Native lifeways in the California missions. Newell's narrative delivers brilliant insights and exceptionally fine-grained readings of both Costanoan Indian and Hispanic colonial perceptions, beliefs, and cultural norms. Deploying a narrative approach borne of historical fictions and the reconstituted life histories of such memorable Costanoan converts as Pismote, a disaffected though perceptive young female left to ponder the contradictions of both the Spanish empire and the Catholic faith, readers ultimately learn to "see" the surreal world of the Costanoan people and the Hispanic Catholic colonists with whom they held court. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Al levels/libraries. -- R. G. Mendoza, California State University, Monterey Bay


Christopher said…
Thanks for the heads up on these books, Paul. Both look great. And I for one welcome the emphasis on early/colonial American religion.

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