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Workshop: “Painting Christians on Paper Soldiers: Jesuit Arms-Dealing and Moral Entrepreneurship in the Controversial Origins of the Guarani Militias of Paraguay, 1618-1735,” by Justin Heath, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Thu, December 5, 2019 | GAR 4.100

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

From the on start of their publishing history, the Jesuit missionaries of Paraguay have always lauded their religious order’s efforts to bring the light of the Gospel to the distant reaches of the Rio de la Plata, where the mission priests allegedly “conquered” the indigenous peoples of Paraguay “by the Gospel alone.” Such an approximation—more often assumed rather than proven by both their staunchest supporters and fiercest detractors of the Society of Jesus--- belie the degree of Jesuit integration within the expansive network of Spanish colonial towns of the Rio de la Plata. Since the Jesuits’ entry into Paraguay, the inhabitants of the region invested in collaborative partnerships with this highly mobile and well-connected religious order to the benefit of the mission church.

This chapter explores the hitherto unexamined connections between the Jesuit missions and the colegio network of municipal secondary schools that not only served as educational centers for the next generation of the literate elite Spanish-speakers of the frontier, but as useful logistical nodes that aided and comingled Jesuit and lay interests beyond the confines of the local community. The so-called “Spiritual Conquest” of the Guarani peoples, a topic of sustained historiographical inquiry that tends to portray the Jesuit contribution as adversarial relative to the other political stakeholders of the nearby Spanish towns, cannot be convincingly assessed without consideration of these “hidden protagonists” of the Paraguayan towns whom the Jesuit missionaries would only later come to denounce once the politics of tribute extraction in Guarani-inhabited lands became increasingly polarized following the failure of state-imposed reform in the region.

Focusing on the early years of the mission church’s foundation, this chapter reveals a much more nuanced political situation where the Jesuits and the tribute-collecting encomenderos not only saw eye-to-eye on many related issues, but supported one another in a setting that was far from propitious for Spanish domination of the Guarani landscape. For many decades, the Spanish towns remained an important beachhead that facilitated the reduction of Guarani-speaking peoples in the surrounding countryside.

This chapter that explores the mutually beneficial relations that the Jesuits had maintained with the Paraguayan laity will caution against sweeping generalizations about the partisan divides that would inform much of Paraguay’s turbulent political history over the course of the colonial period. Such a reorientation offers a promising revisionist take on the foundation of the Jesuit Reductions of Paraguay that situates Guarani political actors at the forefront of the controversial decision to supply the new converts with the military means to defend themselves and their lands from Portuguese and Spanish intruders alike.

Justin Heath is a PhD. Candidate in history department at the University of Texas at Austin where he has studied since the Fall of 2014. Heath’s interests cover a variety of topics related to the Iberian-Atlantic world, including ecclesiastical history, the study of logistics and the Catholic missions of the Americas, as well as Jesuit educational models and pedagogies from the Early to Late Modern periods. A Fulbright-award recipient, Justin Heath is interested in cultivating connections between the worlds of government, private enterprise, and academia to the benefit of all three sectors, which often remain out-of-touch with one another. Heath completed both his Master’s degree in History at the University of Georgia at Athens where he also completed his undergraduate degrees in the study of Economics, International Affairs, and Spanish literature. Read more about his work at:

Susan Deans-Smith
Associate Professor in the Department of History
University of Texas at Austin

Tiana Wilson
Doctoral Student in the History Department,
Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Historical Studies, and
Coordinator, New Work in Progress Series
University of Texas at Austin

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to to sign-up to attend and receive the pre-circulated paper. Refreshments provided to all who RSVP. The Institute for Historical Studies is committed to sustainable practices and minimizing waste. To that end, we have eliminated all bottled water and encourage attendees to bring their own reusable canteens to fill at our first-floor bottle-refilling station.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History, and Center for European Studies

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