Abstract PhD project „Conversos and Moriscos: Identity and Violence in Early Modern Spain„
Tanja Zakrzewski, Potsdam University
Early Modern Iberian society is best described as paradoxical. While uniformly Catholic on the surface, society was strictly divided according to the statutes of blood purity which stigmatised „New Christians“ and distinguished them from „Old Christians“.
„New Christians“ included both Conversos and Moriscos. The term Converso designates persons who either converted from Judaism to Catholicism themselves or are descendants of converts. Similarly, Moriscos are either converts from Islam to Catholicism or descendants of converts. Both groups are usually considered religious minorities and distinguished social groups within Iberian society.
In my PhD project I examine how and to what extent violent conflict influenced and shaped Converso/ Morisco group identities. For this I chose the Morisco rebellion in the Alpujarras (1568-1571), the expulsion of the Moriscos (1609-1614) and the proposed expulsion of the Conversos as case studies. I have set myself three rather challenging tasks that require a mix of methods from historiography, sociology and identity studies.
Firstly, I include Conversos and Moriscos in a shared narrative in contrast to the prevailing approach of viewing their histories as separate or parallel at best. In order to establish the shared narrative, I will employ the approach of entangled history as proposed by Michael Werner and Bénedicte Zimmermann.
The second task I strive to accomplish deals with the very definition of the groups‘ nature. Rather than adopting the ’social group and religious minority‘ paradigm, I lean towards regarding Conversos and Moriscos in terms of culture and ethnicity as Jonathan Ray and David Graizbord suggested.
Thirdly, and closely related to this is the question of identity. How did the historical agents construct their respective group identities? Which social boundaries were erected around these groups, how were they contested and defended? What meant being Converso/ Morisco to the contemporaries? The focus is on how Conversos and Moriscos defined, interpreted and constructed their identities, again contrasting the approach of deriving Converso/ Morisco identity from Old Christian sources.
My sources include chronicles, royal decrees, official responses to the decrees as well as arbitrios (advice literature directed at the monarch) and polemics. I mainly focus on sources that are of genuine Converso or Morisco origin. This is quite difficult, especially with regard to the Morisco perspective. Fortunately, I have encountered two suitable Morisco sources so far: Francisco Nuñez Muley’s Memorial en defensa de las costumbres moriscas (1566) and Miguel de Luna’s Historia de la perdida de España, y vida del Rey Iacob Almançor (1600). The Converso perspective is provided by Luis del Mármol Carvajal in his chronicle Historia del rebelión y castigo de los Moriscos del reyno de Granada (1600). The discourse about the Moriscos‘ expulsion, however, is, as far as I can tell at this point, exclusively led by Old Christians thus adding a third entanglement, namely the involvement of the Old Christian majority in Morisco and Converso history.
My findings suggest, that there were various (sub)group identities at play. Some had a solid Catholic core; some stressed honour and nobility and some built on a distinct culture based on regional traditions rather than religion.