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Secret lives, public lies : the conversos and socio-religious non-conformism in the Spanish Golden Age


The dissertation examines the conversos (men and women whose recent ancestors had converted from Judaism to Christianity) as socio-religious non-conformists in early modern Spain. My contention is that converso middle-sort professionals were at the forefront of sixteenth-century Spain's socio-religious reform movement. Humanism was particularly appealing to this group. As adherents to a humanist credo conversos could attack the unacceptable face of Catholic Spain without making obvious their backgrounds. Nevertheless, for many converso humanists this was not sufficient. For these intellectuals there was also a deep-seated psychological need to defend the converso against accusations of inferior blood; to attack Old-Christian Spain's illiteracy and ignorance; and to celebrate a Sephardic cultural inheritance. It is these elements, subtly woven into the Spanish humanist tapestry, that are so often overlooked in our examination of Golden- Age Spain. The Introduction to the dissertation expands upon the argument I have adumbrated above. Chapter 1 examines the conversos in Spanish historiography and in particular the Spanish academy's reluctance to countenance the conversos as important members of the Golden Age pantheon of writers and artists. Chapter 2 charts the converso involvement in an incipient humanist movement in the late fifteenth century and their connection with a Christian reform movement that formed around the figure of Erasmus. Chapter 3 examines the converso reformers during the period before the Tridentine reforms, in an atmosphere of tension and oppression created by the growth of Protestantism in northern Europe. Chapter 4 follows the converso humanists' fortunes in a Counter-Reformation environment and looks at the strategies used by this group to present their non-conformist message. Chapter 5 presents five case studies of humanists in Counter- Reformation Seville. These humanists, heretofore presented as men of orthodox views, were, I contend, antagonistic to an orthodox Catholic religion. Chapter 6 examines the background and works of the painter Diego Velázquez. I argue that Velázquez was nurtured in Seville's converso- humanist environment and that his works display the same non-conformist characteristics found in an earlier generation of converso-humanist writers

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