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Center for Research on Global Catholicism Book Symposium

Friday, 21 October, 2022

Jennifer Scheper Hughes (University of California, Riverside) will discuss her brilliant new book, The Church of the Dead: The Epidemic of 1576 and the Birth of Christianity in the Americas (NYU Press, 2021). The Church of the Dead “tells the story of the founding of American Christianity against the backdrop of devastating disease, and of the Indigenous survivors who kept the nascent faith alive...[offering] a counter-history of American Christian origins.

It centers the power of Indigenous Mexicans, showing how their Catholic faith remained intact even in the face of the faltering religious fervor of Spanish missionaries. While the Europeans grappled with their failure to stem the tide of death, succumbing to despair, Indigenous survivors worked to reconstruct the church. They reasserted ancestral territories as sovereign, with Indigenous Catholic states rivaling the jurisdiction of the diocese and the power of friars and bishops.

Hughes thus argues that Christianity in the Americas today is thus not the creation of missionaries, but rather of Indigenous Catholic survivors of the colonial mortandad, the founding condition of American Christianity.” Formal responses to Hughes’ book will be delivered by Paul Ramirez (Northwestern University) and SLU's own Nathaniel Millett.

The Center for Research on Global Catholicism (CRGC) at Saint Louis University supports scholarship at the nexus of Catholicism and culture, providing robust programming that promotes interdisciplinary research, collaboration, and methodological innovation. The objectives of the CRGC include advancing knowledge and understanding of global Catholicism and supporting scholars and archives working in the field of global Catholicism by providing resources, community, and opportunities for collaboration.

The CRGC is the first Humanities Big Idea project sponsored by the Research Growth Fund at SLU. It brings together three key components of SLU’s Jesuit history and mission: a legacy of global engagement, a commitment to rigorous academic inquiry, and a focus on social justice. For more information, contact CRGC director, Mary Dunn, Ph.D., at