Dr Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz, University of Stirling


In order to better understand how Christianity came to be established in non-European cultures, ethnohistorians and theologians have for many decades studied colonial civil and ecclesiastical sources, analysing issues of infrastructure as well as content. Linguists have contributed to these studies by analysing lexical, textual and, to a certain extent, grammatical materials of those indigenous languages which the colonising Catholic missionaries and priests used during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

This inclusion of language data in the analysis of the history of Christianisation is particularly relevant in the colonial Spanish empire because from the very beginning of the colonisation efforts, Christian terminology and basic texts were translated into the most widespread and politically important indigenous languages. It was thought that, in order to eradicate native religions, one of the efficient means to do so would be to communicate the Christian faith to the indigenous peoples in the languages those spoke so that they could understand the message better than if they were christianised in Spanish.

It is easily comprehensible that adapting and transferring Christian terminology and concepts to other religious beliefs and practices presented a challenge to the colonial priests. Frequently a lack of understanding and consequently mistranslations resulted in the emergence of new concepts, different from the intended ones: the linguistic and cultural translation process affected the indigenous religions rather than to eradicate them, and the result was a transformation of Christianity as well as that of the native religions. For centuries this outcome has been the foundation of many indigenous peoples’ contemporary religious beliefs.

This fellowship (2012) pursued the publication of an extensive monograph:

          Entrelazando dos mundos: Experimentos y experiencias con el quechua de la cristianización en el Perú colonial. Quito: Abya-Yala, 2013.

This study examines the Quechua language of Christianisation which was created by the Catholic Church in 16th century Peru. My analysis shows that what had been developed with the objective of unifying Christian Quechua reflects individual methods and varied results rather than a consistent strategy, and thereby contributed to the creation of an ambiguous language of Christianisation.

In a second step I analyse how Quechua words and discourses were elaborated by indigenous authors at the beginning of the 17th century. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala and the authors of the Huarochirí texts document their experience with this vocabulary: they integrated it into their own discourse which can be shown to be intentionally multi-interpretable (sermons, prayers and a testimony). In this way and by using discursive traditions from Europe and from the Andes, they created a new genre of indigenous verbal art in the colonial context.


1   Marco del estudio: Diseño y fuentes

2   Los sermones: Presentando a Dios

3   La comunicación con las wakas y con Dios: Del discurso andino al discurso colonial

4   Del rezo canónico a la expresión individual: Las oraciones cristianas de Guaman Poma en el contexto colonial

5   Una representación imaginativa de la conversión: El encuentro de Don Cristóbal con Llocllayhuancupa

6   Consideraciones finales


Dr Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz

Project Website

RCUK Gateway to Research

Dr Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz Publications and Research (July 2015)

Crossing Cultures: Place, Memory, Identity – A Research Focus at Stirling University

Translating Christianities – Research Group at Stirling University