Completed as a master’s thesis at the Universidad Nacional, La mentalidad religiosa en Antioquia demonstrates the increasing sophistication of regional history in Colombia. Gloria Arango traces the consolidation of a hierarchically organized project of social discipline, arguing that the church exercised a profound control in almost all areas of life in Antioquia’s scattered pueblos. Although she points to a growing alliance between the regional elite and a conservative church, Arango insists that Antioqueño Catholicism functioned as a profoundly internalized system of disciplinary norms and not as a system of social control imposed from above. Yet she also shows in detail the unevenness of this disciplinary process as bishops complained of the frequency of “superstitious” practices, the high rates of illegitimacy, and the impossibility of imposing certain norms (such as forbidding Sunday markets in the town plazas). She also maintains that religious practices were more easily codified in the agricultural towns of the colonización antioqueña than in the more rough-and-tumble mining centers. Nuanced and carefully documented, this is a solid contribution.
Arango intends her work not only as an empirical history of the regional church but also as a demonstration of the usefulness of a “mentalities” approach. Throughout, she relies heavily on Philippe Ariés and other cultural historians of Europe to buttress points made about Antioquia. This makes sense at the level of official religious discourse, but it is less convincing at the level of practice and popular religiosity. Missing is any discussion of the tensions involved in borrowing analyses made by Europeans about European societies and what doing so might obscure. In sections on Sunday markets and familial patterns, for example, Arango does provide glimpses of the possible specificity of local patterns, but leaves them undiscussed. Nineteenth-century Antioquia may well have been as profoundly European as Arango’s treatment suggests, but the possibilities of religious syncretism and local idiosyncrasy remain wholly unconsidered. Part of the difficulty is Arango’s focus on reconstructing the bishops’ disciplinary project, a focus that seems to limit any sustained exploration of heterodox practices. The emphasis here is firmly on the “omnipresence” and increasing coherence of the church.
Arango’s restricted focus is entirely reasonable in a master’s thesis, as is her unwillingness to push her conclusions or to attempt more speculative arguments. Yet the quality of her work would have allowed her to take more risks than she allows herself in this monograph. Her suggestive chapter on funeral practices and the spatial organization of cemeteries, for example, might have been deepened by more sustained reflection. The material she has collected on gender relations and marriage practices also merits more analysis. Arango concludes with excellent suggestions for further research, asking whether a degree of syncretism might have gone unstudied and pointing to the need for a comparison with other regional histories. She is demonstrably well qualified to lead that effort.