1. Proslavery theology
  2. Liberation theology
  3. Positivist Church
  4. Ayahuasca religions
  5. Baptism of money
  6. Religions in the Mughal Empire
  7. Bartolomé de Las Casas
  8. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Proslavery theology

Historians know well the central role proslavery religion played in the antebellum white South. American Protestantism faced an intractable crisis over slavery before the Civil War, and the United States’ three largest antebellum religious denominations—Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians —suffered schisms into northern and southern branches over the slavery question. The South’s white Protestants grounded their argument in a conservative reading of the Bible that demonstrated unequivocally that their Triune God of Grace sanctioned the right of white masters to own black slaves. Breaking from northern Protestants strengthened the voice of the white southerners on slavery, and proslavery theology became the critical ideological building block in the making of southern sectionalism and, ultimately, the Confederacy.

Liberation theology

Liberation theology has been one of the most significant movements in Christian theology in the last thirty years. For a decade or more liberation theology dominated the intellectual horizon of theologians in universities and seminaries throughout the world. Recent evidence of a declining profile cannot mask the enormous influence this approach to theology has had on the contemporary Church. It emerged in Latin America, though there have been parallel developments in other parts of the world, in which experiences of oppression, vulnerability or marginalisation have led to a sustained reflection on the Christian tradition. The Third World setting in situations of abject poverty and human need has given the theology a particular urgency and distinctive outline. The concern with human well-being and an understanding of the Church’s mission which includes practical measures for human betterment have embraced theologians as co-workers in practical expressions of Christian commitment. The agenda is distinctive in its emphasis on the dialogue between Christian tradition, social theory and the insight of the poor and marginalised into their situation, leading to action for change.

Positivist Church

At the heart of Auguste Comte’s program for resolving the ‘crisis’ of (early) industrial society — and explicitly so with the publication, in 1851, of Système de politique positive ou Traité de sociologie was a project for ‘positivising’ religion by instituting (as its subtitle announced) la religion de l’Humanité.


Based on a ‘demonstrable faith’, but otherwise homologous with the Catholic form of Christianity it was ‘destined’ to replace, the religion of Humanity was to be a triple institution. Its full establishment required a doctrine (dogme), a moral rule (régime) and a system of worship (culte), all organised and coordinated through a Positivist Church. The first of these, the doctrine, could be considered established in Comte’s own writings, though not yet in complete form. The ‘objective synthesis’ of the Philosophie positive needed to be complemented by a ‘subjective synthesis’, for which the Politique positive was to provide the groundwork. As well, though he never got beyond a sketch-plan, there was to be a summarising and integrating science de la morale. Taken as a whole, the Positivist System would provide the scientific–humanist equivalent to what systematic theology had been in the high Middle Ages: it would serve as the intellectually unifying basis of the new industrial order.

Ayahuasca religions

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive mixture typically made from the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi combined with the leaves of the bush Psychotria viridis, among other possible admixtures. The beverage contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a controlled substance subject to national and international drug laws.


Vegetalismo, an urban healing tradition based on indigenous ayahuasca shamanism in Western Amazonia, spread among mixed forest and urban populations around the main Peruvian Amazonian towns of Iquitos, Tarapoto, and Pucallpa throughout the twentieth century. It is now being remodeled to accomodate social and cultural changes within the wider political economy. In rubber camps of the Brazilian Amazon, indigenous and mestizo ayahuasca rituals became further entangled with diverse Afro-Brazilian and Christian religious traditions, resulting in the founding of several organized religions in which ayahuasca is the principal sacrament, notably Santo Daime and União do Vegetal (UDV).

Baptism of money

In the southern extremities of the Cauca Valley, Colombia, it is commonly thought that male plantation workers can increase their output, and hence their wage, through entering into a secret contract with the devil. However, the local peasants, no matter how needy they may be, never make such a contract when working their own plots or those of their peasant neighbors for wages. It is also thought that by illicitly baptizing money instead of a child in the Catholic church, that money can become interest bearing capital, while the child will be deprived of its rightful chance of entering heaven.

Religions in the Mughal Empire

At their peak, the Mughals ruled over some 100 million subjects—five times the number ruled by their Ottoman rivals, and many times that ruled by their immediate westerly neighbors, the Safavids of Isfahan in Iran.


But if the Mughals represented Islamic rule at its most magnificent, they also defined Islam at its most open-minded, tolerant, and syncretic. Unlike the Ottomans or the Safavids, who ruled largely Muslim polities, the Mughal Empire was effectively built in partnership with India’s Hindu majority, and succeeded as much through diplomacy as by brute force: Akbar in particular was a true humanist who strove for the reconciliation of his Hindu and Muslim subjects, and managed to unite them in the service of a coherent multireligious state.

As emperor, Akbar promoted Hindus at all levels of his administration, married a Rajput princess, and entrusted his army to his former Hindu opponent, Raja Man Singh of Jaipur. He ended the jizya tax levied only on non-Muslims, ordered the translation of the Sanskrit classics into Persian, codified minority rights, and filled his court with Hindu and Muslim artists and intellectuals.

Bartolomé de Las Casas

Bartolomé de Las Casas was born in 1484 in Sevilla, Spain. In 1502 he left for Hispaniola, the island that today contains the states of Dominican Republic and Haiti. He became a doctrinero, lay teacher of catechism, and began evangelizing the indigenous people, whom the Spaniards called Indians. He was probably the first person ordained as a priest in America, on either 1512 or 1513. During his first twelve years in the New World, Las Casas participated in various expeditions of conquest in the Caribbean. Due to his service, the Spanish crown rewarded him with an encomienda (a royal land grant including native inhabitants) as it was the custom of the time to pay for the services of those Spaniards participating in the exploration of the new territories.

Like many other Spanish missionaries who had traveled to America and experienced the brutality of the conquest, Las Casas became an advocate for the Indians and a critic of the brutal exploitation of indigenous slave labor and the lack of serious religious instruction. In 1514, he returned his Indian serfs to the governor of Santo Domingo, and a year later, traveled to Spain to defend the natives and plead for their better treatment. Las Casas sought to change the methods of the Spanish conquest, and believed that both the Spaniards and indigenous communities could build a new civilization in America together. For this reason, during his stay in Spain he conceived the Plan para la reformación de las Indias (Plan for the Reformation of the Indies). The emperor Charles V appointed Las Casas as the priest-procurator of the Indies, the head of a commission to investigate the status of the Indians, and in 1519 supported his project to found communities of both Spaniards and Indians. This settlement was located on the Gulf of Paria in the present-day Venezuela. Las Casas traveled to the new colony from Spain in 1520, but two years later had to return to Santo Domingo after his experiment failed due to the opposition of the powerful encomenderos and the attacks of native communities of the region.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Juana Inés Ramírez was born in 1648 on the farmstead of San Miguel Nepantla on the slopes of the Popocatépetl volcano, some 60km from the capital of Nueva España (now México).


[I]n 1690 a letter of hers criticizing a famous sermon by a Jesuit priest was published without her permission by one 'Sor Filotea de la Cruz', a curious feminine pseudonym adopted by her supposed friend the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz. This was accompanied by a letter written by the Bishop (under the assumed female name) admonishing her for her preoccupation with worldly affairs and for the lack of biblical subjects in her poetry and study. Sor Juana wrote an energetic reply, the famous 'Respuesta a Sor Filotea', which has been hailed as the first feminist manifesto. The Ecclesiastical hierarchy, however, particularly the Archbishop Aguiar y Seijas, began to attack her more openly, demanding that she renounce her books and all worldly study. She continued to publish, and wrote a group of eight villancicos on the life of St Catharine of Alexandria some of which have a defiant feminist tone.

Floods hit Ciudad México in 1691, followed by famine in 1692. Besieged by criticism, and under great pressure even from her confessor, Sor Juana began what appears to have been a process of forced abjuration. There is no evidence of her actually renouncing her devotion to letters, and all the documents of 1694 to which she supposedly put her name have the tone of mere rhetorical formulae. However, she was forced to sell all her books, an extensive library of some 4,000 volumes, as well as her musical and scientific instruments.