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Readings in Common: Assimilation and Interpretive Authority in Early Modern Spain


Readings in Common: Assimilation and Interpretive Authority in Early Modern Spain examines how sixteenth and early seventeenth<–>century Iberian scholars negotiated the meanings of shared narratives and parallel rituals across ecumenical and linguistic lines. By rendering Iberian scholastic modes of demarcating Christianity more humanistic, and by comparing these theological arguments with the reading practices of Northern European reformers, I question the conventional genealogy of modern, secular interpretive strategies. My project thus proposes a revised history of religious tolerance and textual historicism on the one hand, and of medieval and early modern Iberian convivencia, scholasticism, and evangelism on the other hand.

The first half of the dissertation, which examines patristic texts, scholastic commentaries, and humanist essays in Latin and Spanish, argues that sixteenth<–>century Iberian reformers defended a moderate politics of peaceful conversion and New Christian assimilation by reformulating established scholastic categories of difference. Emphasizing a model of religion defined by obligatory practice, scholars such as Francisco de Vitoria, Bartolom<é> de Las Casas, Ignacio de Las Casas, and Pedro de Valencia acknowledged the epistemological limitations of knowing and regulating the faith of indigenous Americans, Iberian Moriscos, and other potential or recent converts to Christianity. The second half of the dissertation, which investigates the Sacromonte <“>lead books,< ”> a series of forged holy texts composed in Arabic, as well as several Spanish, French, and Latin philological treatises, moves from an examination of ritual to an analysis of early modern dispute over the nature of language. I demonstrate that a radically formal approach to philology, exemplified by orthodox modes of translation and an evangelical pedagogy of linguistic usage, broadly transformed understandings of cultural and religious similitude and difference. By underscoring the parallel epistemological conditions of early modern Iberian theology and philology, I both present a nuanced account of conversion and reform in the early modern Hispanic world and show how this account can be helpful for rethinking the changing relationship among religion, scholarship, and politics in the present.

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