Conversion of Indigenous People in the Peruvian Andes: Politics and Historical Understanding
Historical and anthropological approaches to conversion in the Andes have often been influenced by political attitudes toward the effects of Spanish colonialism, both in the Andean past and in contemporary society. The importance of religious conversion in the colonization of the Andean region and the crucial place religion has in its culture explained the continued interest in the subject.
However, conversion has not been explicitly considered as a conceptual problem. The absence of a discussion, though, does not mean that scholars have pursued their research without prior ideas of what conversion is. Some implicit notion is present, even in the most descriptive of accounts. Yet in reviewing the literature, it is difficult to identify proper debates.
This essay studies changing understandings of conversion in Andean historiography. The review of the literature goes as far back as the time when conversion was seen as a civilizing endeavor. The essay then discusses the widely accepted ideas of syncretism and resistance to investigate conversion and then moves on to the study of conversion as a crucial theme in Andean cultural history. A related viewpoint is the approach that sees conversion as world building. Throughout, the essay examines how politics appear to define different approaches to this phenomenon.