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Faith in Peril: Gender and Catholic Conversion in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Philippines


In early colonial Philippines, the Spanish crown believed the Catholic missionizing project was of primary importance. Colonizers and clergy, preliminarily, intended to convert all the Filipino indigenous peoples in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century. However, the tumultuous seventeenth century impeded this mission. In this paper I analyze the ways in which colonizers interpreted the transformation of Filipino gender norms. By examining published correspondence among crown authorities, lay officials, and clergy, I assert that Spanish colonizers measured the success of their mission according to the Filipino's gendered performance of Spanish Catholic gender norms. As full conversion of the Filipinos and Filipinas seemed more improbable, colonizers shifted their focus from what the colonizers believed to be superficial expressions of faith, to the chronicles of exceptional Filipinos. Although colonizers interpreted the success of their mission in different ways over time, they persistently conceptualized their mission through the transformation of indigenous gender norms.

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