HIST 4704A: The Inquisition
Winter 2021

Instructor: Professor Sonya Lipsett-Rivera

Description: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” said the skit comedy group, Monty Python. Their famous line is just one example of many ways that the Inquisition has entered our collective imaginations. The Holy Office has been constructed as an all-powerful institution with an iron hand within the societies that is governed.  It did have extensive powers, but it was not as powerful or feared as often believed.  In fact, many people denounced themselves to the Holy Office and others simply ignored its many edicts. This class will explore the origins of the Holy Office, how it worked, and how it fit into the societies that it governed.  Although we will look at its European origins, the emphasis for this class will be on Latin America. Through readings and class discussion, we will examine the Inquisition as an institution with rules and procedures including interrogation and torture. The institutional reach of the Holy Office was based on denunciations both by those who accused others and themselves and thus we will interrogate how this process was accepted and reproduced within Latin American colonial societies.  The documents produced by the Holy Office also provide a window to the popular culture and beliefs of the time including hidden practitioners of Judaism, magic and healing, those who made pacts with the Devil and less dramatic crimes such as bigamy, blasphemy and singing dishonest songs.


If possible, the class will be organized in three-hour seminars. If not, we will meet via ZOOM to discuss reading and ideas for an hour or so and other materials and activities will be provided online.

The readings for this class are mostly available online via the reserves. I also use a book of documents taken from Inquisition archives.

John F. Chuchiak IV, ed and trans. The Inquisition in New Spain, 1536-1820: A Documentary History. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2012.)