In this interview, Molly Bassett begins by introducing us to the world of Middle America, the sources scholars use today to study this period and its cultures, and then describes the benefits and challenges of teaching with Meso-American materials. Her students learn not only to challenge the categories scholars use to describe religious ideas like "god," ...
Aztec religion at the time of its encounter with the Spaniards in the early 16th century was a sophisticated mix of ritual and symbolic imagination. In this interview with Molly H. Bassett, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, listeners are treated to a glimpse of a society where human sacrifice was a tool for encountering the divine, priests turned into gods and goddesses, and death held radical meanings for religious agents.
At the beginning of the interview, Dr. Bassett shares how she became involved in Mesoamerican studies thanks to her mentor, Davíd Carrasco. “Hardly anybody… in religious studies” works in this area, she says, instead they are in allied fields such as anthropology or history. Stressing the power of mentors on her career, Bassett reminds all scholars of the role a devoted teacher can have on one’s life. And, as the interview unfolds, the value of this disciplinarity is on display as Bassett is able to ask different questions of the Aztec sources than previous scholars have been.
After providing an overview of the many shared features of pre-Columbian cultures from Southern Texas all the way to Honduras that became known as Mesoamerican thanks to the work of ethnologist Paul Kirchhoff. Stepped pyramids, pictographic writing, ballgames, sacrifice, and common linguistic families are just a few of the traits that reveal the roots of this cultural area. Bassett’s work has included a focus on linguistics and especially through the study of texts employing pictograms (sound and symbols) as in the Florentine Codex and Codex Mexicanus. The Florentine Codex was composed by spanish speaker missionaries who encountered Aztecs, and then learned and translated Nahuatl into Spanish with the help of tri-lingual scribes into volumes that contained both text and commentary.
One of the most fascinating elements of these early codices is its portrayal of Spanish conquistador Cortez’ encounter with Aztec leader Montezuma. Bassett’s work on this encounter, especially in her recently published The Fate of Earthly Things, argues that the codices present this ritual occasion as one where the Spanish were presented as “teotl” or gods. For scholars this has been a challenging interpretative moment. Did the Aztecs really think the Spaniards were gods? No, says Bassett, and by asking what the Aztecs meant by “teotl” she reveals the potency of teixiptla or local embodiments of god(s). Montezuma, she claims, may have used the gift exchange with the Spaniards as a way to prepare Cortez for sacrifice and transformation into a teixiptla.
By the end of the interview, Bassett comes to articulate the value of Mesoamerican studies for undergraduate and graduate students. Her own experiences coming to establish material from a religious studies’ perspective suggest the importance of discipline and method in defining the questions we can ask and therefore the answers our subjects can provide. In the classroom her graduate students–often not even Americanists and rarely Mesoamericanists–are challenged by this material, especially by primary materials that have been approached by methods from different disciplines. For many scholars who teach method or theory courses, Bassett’s presentation of a primary source and the way different disciplines’ methods can limit or expand our inquiries is an excellent model for teachers in all areas and subjects.
You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk,Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost buying academic texts, ritual paraphernalia, model airplanes, and more.
This episode has not been transcribed yet.
Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?
Is religion good for your health and wellbeing? Does religion promote prosociality? While positive stereotypes prevail in these domains, studies also typically answer these questions in the affirmative and as such, it is easy to think that there must be something special, sui generis, ...
If Candy Gunther Brown’s work is so divergent with her peers in academia, how does one contextualize her understanding of yoga and her approach to it? In keeping with Bender’s assessment that Brown “exemplifies the ‘caveat emptor’ genre of popular writing about CAM,” I would argue that Brown’s writings on yoga are most similar to the genre of Christian-based criticism of yoga.
Recent scholarship on Mesoamerican religions has been influenced by Mircea Eliade in a persistent fashion that has yet to be critically addressed.
Molly Bassett is an enthusiastic advocate for studying Mesoamerican religion, a welcome new direction in Religious Studies. She credits the critical mentorship of David Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of Latin America Studies at the Harvard Divinity School. Although she does not mention this, his influence makes her an intellectual “granddaughter” of Mircea Eliade, ...
What does math have to do with religion? In his interview with Hans van Eyghen, author Chris Ransford discusses his latest book 'God and the Mathematics of Infinity'. He discusses why mathematics is useful for thinking about religion, covering some of the conclusions he draws in the book.You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast,If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember,...
In this discussion, Professor Schmidt discusses her keynote lecture at the Open University's "Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspectives: Publics and Performances". We turn back to discuss some of the "founding fathers" of the discipline of Religious Studies: Rudolf Otto, R.R. Marrett, and Andrew Lang.
Hoondert discusses the step away from the liturgy associated with requiems as way for today's individual to deal with death or violence in their own way. Still, It is clear that the ritual elements of the requiem remains, hence where this contemporary music fits into the sacral landscape is up for debate.
In this podcast, Anna Strhan talks to Katie Aston about her research among evangelical Christians, exploring their search for coherence in the contemporary city. How do the members of conservative Anglican congregations negotiate their place in a secular multicultural society, ...
In this interview, Milad Milani discusses the basic orientation and history of Sufi thought. He also speaks about the diverse national variations of Sufism, particularly with respect to Iranian (or “Persianate”) Sufism. The interview concludes with a few critical remarks on the questionable appropriation of Sufism in contemporary Western discourses on religion.
The secularisation thesis - the idea that traditional religions are in terminal decline in the industrialised world - was perhaps the central debate in the sociology of religion in the second half of the 20th century. Scholars such as Steve Bruce, Rodney Stark and Charles Taylor argued whether religion was becoming less important to individuals, or that only the authority of religions in the public sphere was declining.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).