Sabine Hyland on Jesuits and Incans
Date: September 26th, 2011

 What happens when Jesuits meet Incans in the latter half of the 16th century in the Peruvian highlands?  Prof. Sabine Hyland — associate professor of anthropology at St. Norbert College (DePere, WI) — reveals this interesting mix of cultures with a particular emphasis on the thoughts and writings of mestizo priest Blas Valera.  We first begin, though, with some anthropological reflection on how “outsiders” can know anything about a foreign culture.  This brief discussion is all the more revealing when we consider that much of what we know about Incan religious beliefs and traditions comes from a mestizo Jesuit priest who devoted his life to understanding the indigenous population.  The fact that he was half Incan and knowledgeable of the Quecha language situates Padre Blas Valera in a unique position to give a nuanced understanding of the differences and similarities between two religious cultures.  After a short background on the Spanish Conquest and the history of the Jesuits in the Americas, we cover the life of Blas Valera from his birth to a Conquistadore father and Incan mother, to his education on the Peruvian coast, and how he connected with the Society of Jesus.  We then discuss Valera’s observations about Incan religion with a focus on human sacrifice, confession, monasticism and views on the afterlife.  What is most revealing about Valera’s writings is how he saw ancient Incan beliefs as being compatible with the God of the Old Testament, an assertion that got him into trouble with his Jesuit superiors and led to his house arrest and eventual exile to Spain where he died.  We talk about how the Jesuits initially thought about making connections between Incan religious thought and Christianity as a way of smoothing the path to conversion, but by the 1580s had turned against this idea.  We conclude by reflecting upon whether or not this is a valid and useful missionary strategy, and what Valera’s life can tell us about our own contemporary dealings with foreign cultures.  Recorded: September 19, 2011.


Sabine Hyland’s website at St. Norbert’s College.

Gods of the Andes: An Early Jesuit Account of Inca Religion and Andean Christianity, by Sabine Hyland.

The Jesuit and the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J., by Sabine Hyland.

The Quito Manuscript: An Inca HistoryPreserved by Fernando de Montesinos, by Sabine Hyland.

St. Blaise Day, information from Catholic Online.

One Response to “Sabine Hyland on Jesuits and Incans”

  1. Cesar Maguiña Gomez says:

    Estimados amigos,
    Ha ce poco lei el libro Exsul Immeritus Blas Valera Populo Suo Historia et Rudimenta Linguae Piruanorum Nativos, Jesuitas y españoles en dos documentos ecretos del siglo XVII editora Laura Laurencich Minelli, editada por la Municipalidad de Chachapoyas, Peru, obra dificil de conseguir pero al fin llego a mis manos, muy interesante pero que en el Peru ha sido incomprendida. Como podria obtner las ediciones de Gods of the Andes y The Jesuit and the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, de Sabine Hyland. Como podria obtener ambas obras para complementar nuestra vision de los jesuitas en el Peru.
    Gracias por su respuesta

    Presidente del Instituto Americano
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    Chiclayo – Peru

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