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Manuel González Prada’s “The Slaves of the Church”: From exclusion to inclusion in the postcolonial debate1

Thomas Ward


The Peruvian poet and essayist Manuel González Prada deserves to be considered among the authors known worldwide as post-colonial theorists. Like José Carlos Mariátegui and José María Arguedas, González Prada is accorded a primary place in Peruvian decolonial thought, but mainly in Peru. In the international orbit of literary criticism or of cultural or postcolonial studies, however, he is only remembered in anthologies with the inclusion of a poem or his perceived-as-representative essay “Our Indians”; or with sporadic critical articles appearing on some aspect of his oeuvre. While authors such as Achebe (Nigeria), Ngũugĩ (Kenya), and Bhabha (India/UK/USA) are included in the category “postcolonial”, rarely are authors from Latin America or Latino authors from the United States included. This article attempts a small step toward rectifying the paradoxical colonialist exclusion of Hispanics from Anglophone Postcolonial Studies by studying González Prada’s early twentieth-century writing that compared women’s subordinate condition to men as “slavery”, a slavery resulting in part from the Church’s view of women. The primary essay studied, “The Slaves of the Church”, dates from 1904.

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  • 1 The anonymous reviewers’ comments have helped me to hone my arguments and clarify a few ambiguous p (...)
  • 2 Mignolo makes a forceful argument that while “post-colonial” is used in the Anglo-American orbit, “ (...)
  • 3 See the volumes edited by Flores Heredia, Tauzin, and Ward. Other conferences in the works at the t (...)

1As we celebrate the centennial of the passing of Manual González Prada (1844-1918), it might be interesting to make a statement and then ask a question or two about this undervalued author. If González Prada is relatively excluded from the Modernista canon by the Academy in the English-speaking world (Ward, 2016), he has been absolutely omitted from the Anglophone academic tendency originating in the late twentieth century known as Postcolonial Studies2. This exclusion is worthy of pondering because González Prada was one of the first thinkers from Latin America we might describe as postcolonial and he is renowned enough to have become the focus of a series of recent international conferences dedicated to his thought, suggesting his significance in the Hispanic and Francophone world3. The fact noteworthy and canonical authors such as the avant-guard poet César Vallejo and the socialist essayist José Carlos Mariátegui visited him and wrote about him in their youth says something about how he was viewed in his time. During later decades, the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, as a young man, published some articles revealing González Prada’s influence on him (Williams, 16). González Prada also impressed the founder of the ARPA political Party, Raúl Víctor Haya de la Torre (Chang Rodríguez, 216). APRA still wields some influence in Peru because it eventually gained the presidency, two times, between 1985 and 1990, and between 2006 and 2011. Three years before founding APRA, in 1921, Haya de la Torre had founded the Universidades Populares González Prada, the embodiment of González Prada’s ideals. One Aprista who served as vice president between 1985 and 1990 had previously written a dozen books on González Prada. Nevertheless, González Prada is still relatively unknown in the Anglosphere.

  • 4 Of course, there are also Postcolonial Studies in Spanish, French and other languages. This article (...)

2This paper attempts to remedy this exclusion by bringing into the conversation five established postcolonial thinkers associated with Latin America: Immanuel Wallerstein, Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, and Nelson Maldonado Torres. Looking at González Prada in a context with these theorists builds on a continental frame that enlarges his Peruvian-ness and both deepens and broadens postcolonial studies in the English-Language orbit4. We will focus primarily on González Prada’s discussion of the paradoxical relationship between the Church and liberal secularism and where the place of women fits into it, but first some background.

A colonialist exclusion from Postcolonial Studies?

  • 5 For a comparison of Francophone and Hispanic postcolonial discourse, see Hanneken’s recent book.

3What might the reasons for González Prada’s absence in the field of Postcolonial Studies be? One possibility might have to do with the intense literary competition described by Pascale Casanova as filtering out many authors and works by means of what he describes as the “particular economy of literature”. He explains, “works that in one way or another address questions that are dangerous and prejudicial to the established literary order find themselves immediately opposed” (9). González Prada questioned just about every facit of his society, so Casanova’s ideas on the canon are relevant. We will come back to this problem shortly. Another reason, an excuse really, for not including González Prada in discussions of Postcolonialism in the Global North might rely on the fact he wrote in Spanish and hailed from South America. This argument is untenable, however, since authors such as Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire were from the Caribbean, wrote in French, and are well known in the Anglosphere. They were translated into English during the 1960s and 1970s5. Why would Francophone authors be integrated so fully into the fabric of English-language theory, but Hispanic authors are not? One wonders if there is some type of bias in play.

4The Spanish/South hypothesis becomes less defensible as the twenty-first century unfolds because steps have been taken to make González Prada available to readers in the English-language orbit. Harold Eugene Davis’s translation of “Our Indians” had appeared in 1961 and a new version of this piece appeared with four dozen other essays and articles in Frederick Fornoff’s first translation of a volume, Free Pages and Hard Times in 2003. The Peru Reader (1995, 2005) included four essays, some complete, some abridged. PMLA published Cathleen Carris’s English translation of his essay “The Slaves of the Church” in 2013. It remains to be seen if these publications are enough to make academics of the north aware of González Prada’s writing. In this globalized world where the humanities are under siege and the language component inherent to them in decline (Delany; Goldberg, Looney, and Lusin), the question needs to be asked, in the Global North, does one need to be published in English to be included in the category “postcolonial?” Because they wrote in English, many Postcolonial theorists from around the world are easily considered in this category, even if they were from or concerned with South Asia or Africa. These can include the prominent examples of Chinua Achebe, Ngũugĩ wa Thong’o’, and Homi Bhabha who hailed form the former colonies of the British Empire. However, figures who come from Spanish speaking areas with an even longer experience with colonialism find inclusion a much more difficult prospect even though they add another level to the debate. This has to do with the previously mentioned situation Casanova describes as the “particular economy of literature”. Stephanie Kirk elaborates on the specific problem: “Latin Americanists throughout the Americas wield little influence in debates in the United States on postcolonialism” (978). González Prada finds himself in the company of other postcolonial Latin American, Latinos, and Latin Americanist thinkers excluded from postcolonial thinking when expressed in English.

  • 6 Moraña (216) adds Guaman Poma and Mariátegui to Fanon and Césaire’s names as thinkers who were awar (...)
  • 7 For more on González Prada’s awareness of internal colonialism, see Rodríguez Monge.

5The Peruvian poet and essayist Manuel González Prada deserves to be considered among the authors known worldwide as postcolonial thinkers because, like them, he has something to say about the complex and arduous process of decolonization in diverse and geographically dispersed postcolonial societies. Like his compatriots Guaman Poma de Ayala, Mariátegui and José María Arguedas, González Prada is accorded a primary place in Peruvian decolonial thought, but mainly in Peru, although as Hugo García Salvattecci has observed, his work has oftentimes been censored and its meaning distorted (30)6. This is not surprising considering he went against Catholic dogma in a Catholic country, against corrupt politicians in a corrupt political system, and against liberals engaged in hypocritical political posturing. He was developing decolonial approaches in a country that should have been postcolonial but was in fact organized by an internal colonialism with the descendants of the Conquistadores at the top of the racial pyramid and Indigenous people and Afrodescendents at the bottom, with the men of the Church at the top of an ecclesiastical pyramid that held men, women, and children, and especially the latter two, within their private purview7. He was not the only decolonial thinker to be marginalized. Equally so was Clorinda Matto de Turner whose 1888 novel Aves sin nido equally censured both priests and politicians. They were among the few daring ones during that period.

6In the international orbit of world literature González Prada is remembered with the inclusion of a few poems or his perceived-as-representative essay “Our Indians” in anthologies; or with sporadic critical articles appearing on some aspect of his oeuvre. Some commentators have gone so far as to assert, as Karen Sanders does, that “He wrote a lot, but little of his production was published during his lifetime” [Escribió mucho pero poco de su producción se publicó en vida] (236). This is an unfair assessment because although González Prada only released five books during his lifetime, he published hundreds of essays, articles, and poems in the Peruvian periodical press. Critics miss the mark when they overlook that tremendous output. Gwen Kirkpatrick notes that for the Modernistas the idea of fragmentation supersedes the idea of bookish unity. She writes, “The emphasis on interiority and personal expression even fragments the idea of the author of the book concept. The individual writer is seen on personal terms, and the concept of a coherent work gives way to fragmentary expression” (21). While some critics ignore González Prada’s presence in the Latin American tendency generally known as Modernismo (Schulman, for ex.), others assign the Peruvian his rightful place in the group and explain why. In this category, we have Mariano Siskind who asserts, “Martí, Gutiérrez Nájera, and González Prada, among others, are considered emblematic contributors to a foundation of Latin American Identity” (107).

  • 8 The author’s complete works (Obras) edited by Sánchez consist of seven fat volumes. Tauzin has disc (...)
  • 9 Bataillon referred to the “l’incuriosité des éditeurs” of Zárate’s Historia del descubrimiento y co (...)

7The wide gap of exclusion would seem to suggest a lack of research on an obviously significant and interesting, but still largely untranslated, poet-essayist8. Even worse, there could be a lack of curiosity on the part of researchers, as the French philologist Marcel Bataillon once said about nineteenth-century editors of another figure largely occluded from Peruvian literature, the colonial chronicler Agustín de Zárate9. Worse yet, there may be possibly trepidation toward his anarchist, decolonial, secularist, or feminist proposals geared toward righting the social wrongs that come with the legacy of colonialism that that the “particular economy of [World] literature” needed to filter out.

8Regardless of any fear toward his ideas, his role as a deep decolonial thinker positions him as analogous to Mariátegui, José Enrique Rodó, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, José Martí and other late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Latin American essayists and their writings. Their work through the decades, as discussed by Alicia Ríos (22, 33), constitutes a forerunner of modern-day Cultural Studies, long before the supposed birth of this field of inquiry at the University of Birmingham (see Trigo 3). The relationship between Latin American Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Studies is multilayered and deepseated. This brings us back to the notion of “postcolonial” and its relationship to González Prada’s thought as well as his omission from this category, despite his relationship to it.

9 While the expression “postcolonial” was first used in 1883 (according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary), it didn’t gain currency until Ranajit Guha and the South Asian Subaltern Group operating during the 1980s used it frequently. During that time, it expanded into what Patricia Seed has described as a “postcolonial discourse movement” (193). It garnered precise meaning with Bhabha’s Nation and Narration (1990) and Spivak’s The Post-Colonial Critic (1990). It could be argued that Postcolonial Studies became institutionalized with Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin’s anthology, The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995). While Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and Edward Said were on everybody’s minds, Hispanic authors of the same stripe were not. Amazingly, even though The Post-Colonial Studies Reader included authors originating from Africa, India, the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe, only two of its 85 texts deals with “America” in a historical sense (by José Rabasa and Peter Hulme), only one of which originated from Hispanic traditions (Rabasa). This even though intellectuals and scholars such as Gloria Anzaldúa, César Chávez, Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, José Rabasa, Paulo Freire, Donaldo Macedo, Sara Castro-Klarén, Abril Trigo, Antonio Cornejo Polar, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Ileana Rodríguez, Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardenal, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, and Gonzalo Portocarrero, a variety of liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, and many others, had been working on these issues.

10 This concern with exclusion has something to do with the ideas of parity and diversity: to understand a problem, men and women from many (all, if possible) regions, language areas, and social classes must speak and contribute to the discussion. It has to do with overcoming nationalism in discourse. It also has to do with justice, because if Latino or Latin American authors are not allowed to participate in the debate, they are excluded, despite their being an important sector of the population not only in Latin America but also in places like the United States. This is the first exclusion that took place because, as Ilan Stavans points out in the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010), by 1990 there were twenty-three million Latinos living in the United States (1461). None of these people were considered worthy of consideration as postcolonial authors, nor were those residing in Latin America proper. The second exclusion came from the unfounded idea that this “new” field of Postcolonial Studies was something novel originating with the South Asian Subaltern Group. Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, to their credit, work to subvert that notion. They note an earlier example in the United Kingdom from 1910 and conclude, “‘post-colonial theory’ ha[d] existed for a long time before that particular name was used to describe it” (1). As stated above, the term was coined in 1883.

11Just as English-language “post-colonial theory” existed before the South Asian Subaltern Group, Hispanic “post-colonial theory” was developed avant la lettre by the Peruvians Guaman Poma, González Prada, Mariátegui, and Arguedas, as well as by the Cuban José Martí and the Puerto Rican Eugenio María de Hostos in a contemporary hemispheric sense. There is no alternative but to conclude that early twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon postcolonial discourse contains an unspoken truth that is detained and muted behind the dark curtain of recent English-language postcolonial theory. Likewise, late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Hispanic decolonial discourse is the unspoken truth ignored by recent Spanish-language decolonial theory itself arrested behind that dark curtain of institutional Anglo-American Postcolonial Studies which, because of these exclusions, must be considered hegemonic.

12 The third exclusion comes from the fact Postcolonial Studies tend to focus on the delimiting effects of economic and cultural situations, two noteworthy and primary projects. When the Church is brought into the discussion, it is generally to talk not about the Institution, but about Liberation Theology and its attempts to overcome the race-class axis Aníbal Quijano has described as the “coloniality of power”. There are a few exceptions, as we will see, Mignolo is one, González Prada is another. In the breakout anthology Coloniality at Large (2008), edited by Mabel Moraña, Enrique Dussel, and Carlos A. Jáuregui, there is even a section titled “Religion, Liberation, and the Narratives of Secularism”, but without a critique of the religion’s weighty role in subordinating millions of people to the European powers.

A theoretical foundation to begin the decolonial process

13Of the three chapters that Coloniality at Large includes in the section on religion, I would like to comment on one, and what González Prada’s essay, “The Slaves of the Church”, adds to it. I am referring to Nelson Maldonado-Torres’ well-researched “Secularism and Religion in the Modern/Colonial World-System: From Secular Postcoloniality to Postsecular Transmodernity”. What I will show is that by bringing González Prada into the theory elaborated by Wallerstein, Quijano, Mignolo, Dussel, all of whom nourish Maldonado-Torres’s methodological model, an even more nuanced, and comprehensive, I would add, paradigm emerges. This is the case because he not only deals with the conservative institution of the Church and its gears of subordination, but he does so from a gendered perspective that considers the hidden agendas of liberal discourse.

14González Prada is still relevant for dissecting the Church’s little-commented-upon role in colonialism, internal colonialism, misogyny, and other forms of hegemony. His essay on women and the Church, appeared in Montevideo (with the title “El catolicismo y la mujer”) in 1904, was reproduced in Horas de lucha (1908) as “Las esclavas de la Iglesia”, and was recently presented as “The Slaves of the Church” in Carris’ English translation. Carris’ work as well as the centenary of González Prada’ death affords a new opportunity to read this epitomic essay in the hope of broadening the scope of future feminist, colonial, decolonial, postcolonial, religious, cultural and literary studies.

  • 10 The idea of “race” did not become prominent until the nineteenth century. During the sixteenth, peo (...)

15 To begin to appreciate the significance of this author’s contribution to detecting and dissecting colonialism, it is helpful to introduce him into a framework with Wallerstein, Quijano, Mignolo, and Dussel’s thinking on this topic. It is vital here to recognize globalization as a colonialist then neocolonialist process that begins with the formation of what Wallerstein has described in The Modern World-System (1974, 1980) as a unified economic grid linking Europe to the Americas and Asia during the sixteenth century. During that period Spain reached out over the Atlantic, and then the Pacific, and established an empire like none before. Wallerstein looks at this network as an economic one since millions of people were forced into a variety of modes of forced labor ranging from chattel slavery to debt peonage. Quijano, in various articles, adds to our grasp of the world-system by making us understand that those varieties of labor practices were organized by means of a racially constructed hierarchy of power he describes as “coloniality of power”10. He stresses the persistent nature of this matrix: “The racial axis has a colonial origin and character, but it has proven to be more durable and stable than the colonialism in whose matrix it was established” (533). For his part, Mignolo, in Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (2000), helps us fathom that the “modernity” being imposed via the world system was assembled with those forms of forced labor executed by subjugated peoples. He concludes in no uncertain terms, “there is no modernity without coloniality” (43), and to express this idea, he develops a formula of duality encapsulated in the expression, “the modern/colonial world system” (3-45).

  • 11 Sneed summed up the current state of affairs in 2014 when she wrote, “in his year and a half in the (...)

16If Wallerstein underscores the economic nature of this system’s inception and Quijano its racial basis, Mignolo makes us aware of an additional determinant, religion. He states: “Christianity became, with the expulsion of Jews and Moors and the ‘discovery’ of America, the first global design of the modern/colonial world system and, consequently, the anchor of Occidentalism and the coloniality of power” (21). The Church’s power is not only material and economic; it is also political and cultural. Even today, the institution precludes women from important places in its hierarchy, considering the ordination of women a most serious transgression (Govan), it does not permit victims of domestic violence to obtain divorces, and, it discriminates against gay and lesbian people by not allowing them the same marriage rights as other congregants (see Hudson)11.

17 Modernity, however, is not one seamless swooshing initiated in 1492 by a Mediterranean Mercantilism and Catholicism still overtaking us all in the present. Mignolo describes a second phase of “modernity” derived from subsequent economic and religious practices in the Northern European countries that speak French, German and English (we could add Dutch) (2000, 9). Maldonado-Torres describes this second phase as the age of secularism. He delves into this deeper as he explains how “secularism creatively reproduces imperial discursive structures that have been historically embedded in European Christianity” (361). What Maldonado-Torres is talking about is how the Church’s “civilizing” mission among the “barbarians” now becomes liberalism’s “civilizing” mission among the “underdeveloped”. He pounds home this point: “secularism, with its emphasis on civility and civilization, transforms the structure of the difference between the sacred and the profane and reinscribes on it an imperialist intentionality” (368). To solve this problem, Maldonado-Torres calls for the rise of a new critical paradigm, the “Postsecular” (383).

18 There is a critical need to get away from the secular because it uses its opposition to religion the same way religion used its opposition to paganism: to justify imperialism. Spanish Catholicism fervently opposed indigenous religions, which it viewed as heathen or pagan. Thus, we have the churchman Diego de Landa openly admitting burning Yucatecan codices (82). In Peru (and elsewhere) there were great extirpation of idolatries campaigns to weed out autochthonous religion (Arriaga, Escalante Adaniya). And today secularists and liberals sometimes view Islam as primitive and tend toward limiting women’s right to wear burqas and other facial garb (Cline, Habib). In nineteenth-century Peru, a different kind of secularism took the form of anticlericalism. Mariátegui, mentioned above as a decolonial thinker, falls into this category. He is right to mention the terrible role the Church played in the Conquest (151), and his claim that those exteriorized elements that favored evangelization (154) favored a superficial religiosity makes sense. But then, from this perspective, to attribute indigenous “passivity” to Evangelization (156), to describe the Catholicism of the black slaves as “fetishist sensualism” (157), is to assign essentialist characteristics to groups of peoples. Besides the curtailment of ethnic and cultural diversity, anticlericalism taken to the extreme might require disavowing decolonial tendencies such as Liberation Theology during the 1960s and after.

19To get to the worthy goal of not limiting disparate peoples, Maldonado-Torres holds up a component of the liberation philosophy developed by Dussel, the concept of transmodernity, which, “refers to the self-affirmation of cultures that have been occluded by Western modernity” (383). This thrust toward a heterogeneous transmodernity and the reaffirmation of the nation-state in the age of information can only come with a broad arc of knowledge, what Mignolo describes as “subaltern knowledges”. To get to these, one must first deconstruct the heritage of colonialism and the residual coloniality that continues to issue from it. Since González Prada’s “Our Indians” does not recognize the heterogeneity of Peru’s people as Antonio Cornejo Polar’s writing would in later decades, he does not get to Dussel and Maldonado-Torres’s transmodernity. This is because in his time there was no recognition of the diverse indigenous nations and ethnicities. Thought on these matters during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was still organized by the dualist paradigm of Christians “Indians” that the Conquistadores and early friars and priests had set up. However, in this essay he does recognize the initial colonialism and how its effects were maintained. He writes, “First the conquistadors, then their descendants, established in the countries of America an ethnic characteristic strong enough to subjugate and exploit the indigenous peoples” (2003, 185). In saying this he anticipates the relationship between race and the “coloniality of power” as postulated by Quijano. This racial or ethnic element of González Prada’s postcolonial awareness is opened up on a new plane when he brings in the situation of women.

The coloniality of postcolonial Peru

20 González Prada’s essay “The Slaves of the Church”, and others, focuses, not only on the Church itself, but also on its role, as well as secularism’s paradoxical role in subordinating women. In Peru during the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century and after, it is inconceivable González Prada could have been trying to adhere to or devise a Postsecular model. As far as place goes, Peru was one of the more conservative societies in Latin America during that period, still oozing with the heritage of the viceroyalty. As far as time goes, it was coming off the papacy of Pope Pious IX (1846-1878) who issued a series of decrees against liberalism. That pope presided over the First Vatican Council (1869-70) which decreed the infallibility of popes. Jorge Basadre explains the clergy at that supposedly postcolonial time was able to preserve its role as the proprietor of spirituality both for the moneyed and the humble classes, and was granted privileges and exemptions known as fueros (21). The best González Prada could do in that context was to uphold the ideal of secularism, yet, even then, not directly so. Siskind explains that in his 1886 “Conferencia en el Ateneo de Lima”, Prada was trying “to synchronize Peruvian culture with the secular universality of modernity” (110). Yet, in Peru’s traditionalist social context, it would have been difficult to argue directly for secularism, and certainly for postsecularism. It is in this social setting that his work was maligned and even censored.

  • 12 Beals was the only reporter from the United States to interview the Nicaraguan revolutionary August (...)

21Additional background would be helpful. Peru was a place defined by passionate support for the Church. Carleton Beals, a radical journalist interested in Latin America writing in the 1930s, two decades after “The Slaves of the Church”, describes people from Lima as “fervently Catholic”, whose “faith” is a form of “fanaticism [which] has endured from the days of Pizarro’s first invocations on founding the city” (177)12. The idea of “has endured” suggests the perseverance of the religious aspect of colonialism. As Frederick Pike in his classic history of Peru makes plain with respect to the Church, the dynamic process of colonialism lingered. He writes:

As the nineteenth century wore on, Spanish missionary priests began to arrive in Peru and many of them gained high ecclesiastical offices. Often the Spanish ecclesiastical immigrants were arch conservatives and impeded the Church from adjusting itself to conditions in a republic that was at least fitfully and sporadically struggling to join the mainstream of nineteenth-century development. (65)

22For his part, Beals emphasizes this colonial aspect of the Church when he writes, “colonial Lima, as modern Lima, took its religion in great surges of orgiastic frenzy” (177). In such an environment, to propose secular models would indeed be perilousness. Nevertheless, this is exactly what González Prada does, in “The Slaves of the Church”, although he seems to propose its being achieved in increments.

Taking on the postcolonial coloniality of a gendered situation

23From a nucleus formed with Catholicism as was the case with Peru, González Prada could not jump easily or directly to secularism and so he takes the intermediate step of proclaiming, although without professing any religion, “that Protestantism elevates individuals and ennobles nations because it evolves with the spirit of the modern age, without openly contradicting scientific truths” (2013, 768). Protestantism is not González Prada’s goal here. It is more a means to an end, because Protestantism, “by declaring free thought, always leaves an open window in order to escape from itself and move towards rationalism” (ibid.). Embracing Protestantism is a necessary first step in overcoming the difficulties of decolonizing Catholic hegemony. We must remember Protestantism at that time consisted of the mainstream denominations, before the advent of the Evangelical, Charismatic and Fundamentalists movements. González Prada deconstructs the coloniality of rhetoric when he points out the use of a kind of language ploy that could be called a diversionary inversion of meaning. He reminds us of how Catholicism is defended by framing it as a liberating force: “It is repeated as an axiom that Christianity liberated women” (ibid., 769). We know, however, Christianity was actually a step backwards for Amerindian women who were brought into the Christian and Hispanic fold by invading Spaniards during the sixteenth century. With the importation of a male-only clergy, women were cut out of the spiritual world. As anthropologists Karen Bruhns and Karen Stothert find, women throughout the Americas had prominent roles in the spiritual life in their communities, but the “adoption of Christian cultural patterns” repressed those roles (167). Many indigenous societies were matrilineal in nature and Spanish and Catholic conceptions were patrilineal. In Tahuantinsuyo, the precursor to Peru, women and men did work organized by an equality of obligation. More precisely, as Francisco Hernández Astete puts it, there was a gender complementarity (70). Thus, it seems, at least from the perspective of the indigenous, the doublespeak of a public discourse suggesting Christianity as a liberating force for women covers over the true nature of religious stratifying doctrine and practice with respect to women.

24González Prada discerns the same doublespeak with regards to liberalism. In the public debates of his time, he witnessed secularists known as free thinkers and liberals maintaining that “although men can and should liberate themselves of all traditional belief, women still need a religion” (ibid., 768; his emphasis deleted). Such a subordinating stance offered by “liberal” theorists is nothing less than a revelation of their cynicism. Accordingly, in Peru the duplicitous divide between liberalism and Catholicism and the modern/colonial system survives in the secondary status of women with respect to men. The modern/colonial, secular/religious structure is what subdues them. This is not theory, it is a statement of fact. Absolute divorce was not granted until 1930 but laws favoring separation over divorce were not overturned until 1980 (Bronson, 969). Suffrage was not granted to women in Peru until 1955 and legislation was not passed until 2000 that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. For González Prada, the difficult situation of Peruvian women can be traced to the Church’s influence. He asserts, “our Civil Code is a Canonical Law sanctioned by Congress”. He then develops this argument point by point showing how the Civil Code of 1852, which should reflect Napoleonic ideals, instead reflects Canonical Law and how it continues to restrain women as if they were living in the sixteenth-century when they had the same rights as chattel slaves and children. Simply by observing women’s progress in the world he is able to make this inverse relationship between Christianity and liberation clear for us:

In the mid–nineteenth century, slavery reigned among Christian peoples in South America, the United States, and Russia, when it had already disappeared from nations that never recognized the name of Jesus Christ. Can women from Catholic countries today call themselves emancipated? (2013, 769).

  • 13 Coloniality of mind”, is a term I derive from synthesizing Quijano’s “coloniality of power” and Ng (...)

25If women internalized the view that they were inferior, accepting their condition without resistance, they would be suffering a condition I like to describe as “coloniality of mind”13 derived from the limitations of women’s education and powerful male hegemony. Not all women internalized this view, of course, as revealed in the writings of González Prada’s female colleagues, the authors Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera and the above-mentioned Clorinda Matto de Turner. But many did.

26Criolla women González Prada observed in Lima not only remained sidelined themselves but they also conspired with priests to impede the rise of a rational organization of society: “Mothers demolish with sentiment what fathers build with reason” (2013, 771). There is a certain kind of essentialist nature to these either-or proclamations framed to get the reader’s attention. Nevertheless, the essayist observed enough women siding with priests over their husbands in the religious/secular debate that this manner of reasoning came to him. Some of the ones he observed were from his own family. Biographical works by his wife Adriana and his disciple Luis Alberto Sánchez allude to the presence of exaggeratedly pious women in González Prada’s family, his mother, his sisters, and, to a degree, his wife. What the essayist lived, the sociologist Joaquín Capelo documented from his observations. Women, most likely Criolla women in Lima, left their homes in the mornings and afternoons to go to mass, abandoning their domestic affairs and husbands, he explains (t. 3, 162). Certainly Capelo’s view is a traditional one from our vantage point in 2018, but from a positivist point of departure these church-going women were not participating in the progress of society. From all this González Prada concludes, “The emancipation of women, like the liberty of slaves, does not owe itself to Christianity, but rather to Philosophy” (2013, 769). The “philosophy” he mentions is nothing less than postcolonial theory, but by another name.

  • 14 For more on González Prada and the thorny relationship between liberalism, on the one hand, and rel (...)

27González Prada, echoing Voltaire, proclaims the need to search out, “Love, Justice, and Truth”, not in Jerusalem, but in the “secular city” (ibid., 775). This “secular city” is not the one from the Global North undergirded by neocolonial intentions. Unlike the great liberals Voltaire, Bacon, Locke, and Tocqueville, the Peruvian essayist did not come from an expansionist country whose secularism is tinged with imperialism (as Maldonado so convincingly argues about the Western powers). However, his secularism was not yet transmodern given the dualist thinking that impeded his ability to conceive a Qheswa-centric or plurinational state, such as the one that would be achieved one-hundred years later in Bolivia with its 2009 constitution. But he was indeed moving toward a coloniality-free modernity by differentiating a liberalism hijacked to serve as a smoke screen for neo- or internal-colonial designs and a pure liberalism with no designs beyond liberty14. Being from a Peru left devastated in the wake of its defeat at the hands of a neocolonized Chile serving as a proxy for Great Britain in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) (Klaren, 187), he was not an actor in the postmodern/neocolonial system (as were/are intellectuals in Europe, the United States and Canada) and was instead inciting the stirrings of the postcolonial/secular one.

28This postcolonial theory avant la lettre developed by González Prada however is neither akin to the above-mentioned theory elaborated by Indian scholars such as Bhabha after the South Asian region received its independence from Great Britain in 1947, nor to the theory Africans such as Achebe and Ngũugĩ developed in the throes of African decolonization during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, nor the Francophone theory Caribbean intellectuals such as Fanon and Césaire advanced. The colonialism González Prada faced was not the Spanish conquering colonialism of the sixteenth century or the English settler colonialism of the seventeenth century, or the French assimilationist colonialism of the nineteenth century. He had to confront a colonialism that was much more insidious and much more difficult to detect. He was writing about the heritage of Spanish colonialism in Peru, inherited by its Criollo masters, which was still was influencing and guiding social, political and religious power. This kind of colonialism is sometimes called internal colonialism.

29In “Our Indians” González Prada highlights the essential paradox of the hacienda owner in the Andes who sends his son to Europe, so he may become “civilized”, who then returns to the estate where he brutalizes the women with “abduction, rape and sexual abuse”. He writes, “every Indian woman, single or married, can serve as a target for the brutal desires of the master” (2003, 189). Despite his not attaining a transmodern stance as revealed in his use of the term and concept “Indian” which negates local cultures, he does attain a postcolonial stance that recognizes the violence against rural woman in the Andes. In denouncing the brutality committed against these women permitted solely because of their race, again, González Prada anticipates Quijano’s problematization of race and the “coloniality of power”.

30González Prada revolts against “the Spanish tradition” [“la tradición española”] and the “Castilian spirit” [“espíritu castellano”] that keeps Criollo authors from interfacing with the organic Peruvian nation (1946, 217-218). Here he was proposing decolonizing Peruvian literature which would be one way to challenge the internal colonialism at work in both the rural hacienda and the urban church. Another way would be to confront head-on Catholicism’s role in the nation, as explained above.

  • 15 Another perspective can be found in Delhom, 2002.

31While some feminist scholars have been disappointed with González Prada’s vision of women’s liberation, lamenting that, whilst progressive, it was still paternalistic (Peluffo, 2007 and 2010; Tauzin-Castellanos, 2010), his feminism was arguably more advanced than the views held by many men of his era, and perhaps more so than some women, especially those church-going women mentioned above15. In “The Slaves of the Church”, he proclaimed the need for women to liberate themselves from the doctrines of the Church and, more importantly, from the men of the Church who held designs on their bodies and minds. Despite a somewhat misplaced chivalrous overprotectiveness, González Prada sees women not as passive receptacles but as social actors who can civilize men. In an idea he came up with and edited into the essay that became “Instrucción católica”, [“Catholic Education”] after the first edition of Pájinas libres in 1894, , he writes: “a man isn’t civilized in a campaign tent, in the barracks, in the cloister, or in school, but in the home, under the gentle influence of a woman” (2003, 83). In “The Slaves of the Church”, he writes that women act in three ways: “they seek happiness where they believe they will find it, they show weak-spirited victims the path, and they offer the utmost example of morality” (2013, 774-775). González Prada is aware that he is a sociologically oriented nation builder, social science understood here in the original positivist sense developed by Auguste Comte that viewed women and the home as the kernel of social organization, not in the racist sense of later sociologists, contemporary to González Prada, such as Gustave Le Bon. González Prada based much of his early thought on Comte, and unsurprisingly he took on Le Bon in “Our Indians” setting the ground work for appreciating transmodernity, although he was still paternalistic toward Peruvian indigenous peoples.

  • 16 Clorinda Matto de Turner, exiled to Argentina in 1895, translated from Qheswa and published in Buen (...)

32In “The Slaves of the Church”, he argues that social restructuring must begin with the family unit and work its way up to the republic. For the same reason his colleague Matto de Turner translated the Gospel into Qheswa with Protestant funding, that is, so that Qheswa speakers could have direct access to the Bible without intermediaries, González Prada holds up of Protestantism as a progressive model. He vocalizes the following interpretation of the two branches of Christianity: “In Protestant homes, while wives and children enjoy the extensive right to interpret divine law… what happens in homes blessed by the Church? There, fathers leave the family’s moral instruction to a stranger and resign themselves to live forever under clerical tutelage” (ibid, 768; his italics). Without having to go to an intermediary to interpret scripture, González Prada is suggesting women and children can begin to develop their critical thinking skills. He discerns the greater degree of female emancipation in the United States and sees that country and the “European nations of the Reformation” that came before it as countercultural models for Latin America in its pursuit of “science and liberty” (2013, 766)16. This idea of the countercultural functioned as a decolonial lever that could be applied to education, secular education. Before the term postcolonial was coined, before postcolonial Fanon, Ngũugĩ, and Bhabha broke onto the scene, González Prada was theorizing decolonial by another name behind the curtains drawn between English and Spanish, between North and South, and between Catholicism and Secularism. Even though other contemporary authors like Rubén Darío explored new forms of expression and religious life, they did not make the jump into full blown post-Catholic secularism in an attempt to liberate women.

33It is not that González Prada disavowed morality in his secular quest, it is just that he derived morality from objective and verifiable reality. Thus, in the reworked essay “Instrucción católica”, he praises the father of Positivism, Auguste Comte, and his idea of a morality free from theology and metaphysics, a morality based on science, that is, knowledge (2009, 161). This was part of his secular quest. His turn toward a Protestant-inspired model, then, should be considered, not as a goal, but as a transitional step forward in the category we now describe as Post-colonialism. Of course, these kinds of views drew the wrath of the Catholic Church, which responded to Pájinas libres with F. B. González’s Pájinas razonables. Undaunted, González Prada persevered and went on to publish hundreds of additional essays and articles in the periodic press, as well as a handful of very thoughtful books.

  • 17 Some of his poetry has been translated into Italian. See Ferrrari, Polimetro.

34His courageousness provides a template of incremental stages for thoughtful people interested in taking further steps out of coloniality. His Global South alterity can serve as an element for a future polyphonic model of liberation based on decolonial discourse available to English speakers, and as a forerunner to post-secularism, and transmodernity. He still, however waits for the translation of his remaining works into English and almost all his work into other languages in which he will be viewed from as yet still unimagined perspectives in the postcolonial sense17. If this happens he will not be excluded because of the language in which he wrote, because of the time in which he wrote, or because he wrote from the Global South. If included, English readers everywhere, like Spanish readers, will have access to his postcolonial thought as we continue to struggle not only with the coloniality of religion, but with the coloniality of diversionary inverse religious, political and social discourse that continues to layer over multiple colonial realities which are both subtle and dangerous to the equality, diversity, and freedom of women and men.

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1 The anonymous reviewers’ comments have helped me to hone my arguments and clarify a few ambiguous points. Any errors, though, are completely my responsibility.

2 Mignolo makes a forceful argument that while “post-colonial” is used in the Anglo-American orbit, “de-colonial” engages with Mediterranean-derived processes (2011, xxii-xxxi). “Decolonial thinking” saw its genesis with the birth of the Modern/Colonial system in 1492, “at the very moment in which the colonial matrix of power was being put in place”, while postcolonial thinking “emerged from the experience of British colonization” (ibid., xxiv, xxvi). Since this paper is directed toward the English-language reader I will incline toward the term “postcolonial”. Some scholars, however seem to be disinclined to apply this term to Latin American authors. Coronil (186) discusses how scholars Castro-Gómez and Mendieta prefer the term anticolonial over postcolonial when describing Guaman Poma, Las Casas and Rodó, favoring the term when discussing Said, Spivak and Bhabha.

3 See the volumes edited by Flores Heredia, Tauzin, and Ward. Other conferences in the works at the time of this writing will take place in Lima (Academia Peruana de la Lengua/Biblioteca Nacional) and in Bordeaux (Asociación Internacional de Peruanistas/Université de Bordeaux).

4 Of course, there are also Postcolonial Studies in Spanish, French and other languages. This article deals solely with the English-speaking academic world and its tendency to exclude Hispanic authors.

5 For a comparison of Francophone and Hispanic postcolonial discourse, see Hanneken’s recent book.

6 Moraña (216) adds Guaman Poma and Mariátegui to Fanon and Césaire’s names as thinkers who were aware of colonial situations. Guaman Poma preceded González Prada by three centuries and Mariátegui came immediately after him, but Guaman Poma was not “discovered” until the last decades of González Prada’s life.

7 For more on González Prada’s awareness of internal colonialism, see Rodríguez Monge.

8 The author’s complete works (Obras) edited by Sánchez consist of seven fat volumes. Tauzin has discovered additional works not included in the Sánchez edition (Textos inéditos).

9 Bataillon referred to the “l’incuriosité des éditeurs” of Zárate’s Historia del descubrimiento y conquista

del Perú. He also considers the possibility of “negligent overconfidence” [“confiance négligente”] on their part (11-13).

10 The idea of “race” did not become prominent until the nineteenth century. During the sixteenth, peoples of non-Europeans were called “heathens”, “pagans”, “Indians”, and sometimes “nations”.

11 Sneed summed up the current state of affairs in 2014 when she wrote, “in his year and a half in the papacy, Francis has reaffirmed the church’s stances against same-sex marriage, abortion and female ordination” (n/p).

12 Beals was the only reporter from the United States to interview the Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino. He witnessed the Mexican Revolution and other world events. His book on Peru approached his topic from a liberal, or even radical viewpoint. Hidalgo’s translation of Prada’s “The White Horses”, was the only translation of a poem before Beals’ translation of “El Mitayo” (295-296).

13 Coloniality of mind”, is a term I derive from synthesizing Quijano’s “coloniality of power” and Ngũugĩ’s Decolonising the Mind.

14 For more on González Prada and the thorny relationship between liberalism, on the one hand, and religion and politics, on the other, see Ward, “Liberalismo y anarquía”.

15 Another perspective can be found in Delhom, 2002.

16 Clorinda Matto de Turner, exiled to Argentina in 1895, translated from Qheswa and published in Buenos Aires the four Gospels and related documents for the American Baptist Society. She may have come into contact with the protestant evangelists when she taught at the Escuela Normal Norte-Americana in Buenos Aires. Moreover, she may have moved closer to Protestantism after she married an Englishman Joseph Turner, even though he died before her exile to Buenos Aires.

17 Some of his poetry has been translated into Italian. See Ferrrari, Polimetro.

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Thomas Ward, « Manuel González Prada’s “The Slaves of the Church”: From exclusion to inclusion in the postcolonial debate », Amerika [En ligne], 17 | 2017, mis en ligne le 30 janvier 2018, consulté le 22 mars 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/amerika.8400

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Loyola University

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