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Places in Motion - Reading Response 3

Places in Motion: The Fluid Identities of Temples, Images, and Pilgrims by Jacob N. Kinnard.
Thoughts on Chapters 6 - 8

The very first thing I thought of when reading about the supplanting of one ‘holy’ site over another was Mexico. When I traveled in Mexico a few years back I went on several tours, including one of Mexico City which highlighted the Templo Mayor (an Aztec temple); part of which rests under the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Also, on a tour of Puebla, the Great Pyramid of Cholula has the Iglesia de Nuestra SeƱora de los Remedios sitting atop it. As I understand it, from tours I’ve taken and books I’ve read, placing a Catholic site on top of a previously pagan/indigenous site was a routine thing in both the Americas and Europe. I believe in European history it was referred to as the Interpretatio Christiana (Christian reinterpretation). I also seem to recall reading somewhere that something was found under St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican which was probably the remnants of an ancient Roman temple.

In chapter 7, I was very struck by Kinnard’s conflation of sacred space (that which is set aside) and an American identity of being chosen and of being entitled to both possession and freedom of use. As if Euro-Americans were chosen to inherit a ‘pristine’ and “idealized landscape devoid of Native Americans” (pg 171). And as if they were also entitled to define (as we have seen throughout the book) who is entitled to use a place and how. The identity of a place like Devil’s Tower / Mato Tipila) was, and still is, a definition created by Euro-Americans for other Euro-Americans. For there to even need to be a court case to determine who is entitled to use a space, and how, when that space is seen as having more than one definition, seems the epitome of colonial arrogance. How is the ‘right’ or ‘true’ identity of a place (religious or otherwise) ever determined fairly when one definition is completely outside the cultural context of the person making the decision?

My primary takeaway from this book is that religious/sacred spaces are cultural inventions. As such, they are constantly in a state of reinvention / redefinition, by both those who use the sites, and those who control the sites. There is, in fact, no pristine / original version of any cultural construct – even the idealized version of a perfect representation of nature in a National Park is a work of fantasy and perception. What I think I learned most from this book is that all sites and all religions are the same in that they are based on perception and narrative and defined by those with the power to do so at any given moment – a definition which has, and will again, change over time.


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