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Anthropology of CatholicismA Reader$
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Kristin Norget, Valentina Napolitano, and Maya Mayblin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520288423

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520288423.001.0001

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Excerpt from “The Priest as Agent of Secularization in Rural Spain”

Excerpt from “The Priest as Agent of Secularization in Rural Spain”

Chapter:
(p.89) 7 Excerpt from “The Priest as Agent of Secularization in Rural Spain”
Source:
Anthropology of Catholicism
Author(s):

Stanley H. Brandes

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520288423.003.0008

Stanley Brandes is an American sociocultural anthropologist whose work spans both European and Latin American peasantries. In this article Brandes describes a kind of Catholicism characteristic of peasant villages of the Iberian peninsula: locally inflected by rites and practices particular to specific regions, and organizationally overlapping with kinship and territorial corporate groups. At the broadest level, the essay offers a set of reflections about processes of modernization and secularization, viewed through a classic set of anthropological oppositions: collective/individual, rural/urban, great/little. More specifically, however, it tells us something interesting about the impact of Vatican II reforms on the ground. Brandes argues that what might be read as “secularization” is, in the village of Becedas, a function of processes internal to religion itself. Today, in light of works such as Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, this line of argument has become quite familiar. Yet as Brandes’s ethnography suggests, ruminations around the polemic between belief and unbelief have not merely been the preserve of scholars and philosophers; they have inflected the lives of ordinary Catholic peasants as well. Through Brandes we see how Becedas villagers narrate, in their own idiom, the development of the idea of “the secular” as something that is contingent upon the history of Christianity in the West. By exploring the disjuncture between Catholic “great and little” traditions Brandes touches on one of the most interesting pressure points within the anthropology of Catholicism: the division of labor between the clergy and the lay. Such a division may map with varying intensities onto other distinctions, such as those between elite and folk, or educated and uneducated, and even onto distinctly differing ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Whether or not clergy are perceived as “cultural outsiders” in the communities they serve, where a person stands within the institutional hierarchy matters. That is, Catholic subjectivities are incontrovertibly shaped by an individual’s relationship to or position in relation to the church. Belonging to the priesthood thus diminishes the possibilities for certain abstractions and sensorial trajectories, just as it makes others imminently actualizable. In the particular context being described here, the priest, Don Sixto, sees “folk Catholicism” a bit the way a radical Protestant sees Roman Catholicism: as a Christianity contaminated. His work is one of purification: separating true belief from “blind adherence to custom.” For parishioners, however, there is no a priori concept of a religion “contaminated.” There is only a corpus of devotions whose gradual elimination leaves a sense of spiritual vacuum. By foregrounding a “perspectival” approach split between the view of the priest, the people, and the anthropologist, Brandes allows us to grasp the structural tensions that propel different versions of what is correct and what is proper in Christian forms of practice. Brandes’s article might be read in some ways as a tentative exploration of the interesting and often fraught role Catholic priests perform in their day-to-day ministry as mediators between the center and the periphery, and old and new, in the great march of Christian modernity.

Keywords:   Brandes-Stanley, Spain-rural, Secularization, Popular devotion, Catholic procession, Catholic Mass, Clergy-Catholic, Priest, Iconoclasm, Vatican II

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