Religious Negotiation and Identity Formation: Reading Material Religion in Oaxaca’s “Guelaguetza Oficial”
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The Oaxacan Guelaguetza Oficial is a folk-dance festival in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico which takes place on the last two Mondays of July each year. This state-sponsored celebration of Oaxacan identity is intertwined within histories of Indigenous religious belief and Catholic everyday practice. The Guelaguetza Oficial can be traced back to late 19thcentury celebrations venerating the Virgen del Carmen Alto. Oaxaqueños today predominantly practice an Indigenous-Catholic tradition whose rituals, festive scripts, pantheon of popular saints, and immanent understandings of heavenly power over earthly events can be traced back to negotiations between Indigenous forms of popular belief and institutionalized Catholic practice. Through historical and present-day religious tensions between existing modes of Indigenous religious belief and institutionalized Oaxacan Catholic practice, this thesis asserts that while Indigeneity often represented an obstacle to different structures of power in Mexican history, hegemonic institutions eventually came to accept the lasting presence of Indigenous identity and religious life to varying degrees within Mexican society and culture. This resulting reading of Guelaguetza demonstrates how religion is fundamentally implicated in the history of public festival and popular culture in Oaxaca. Furthermore, this thesis argues that Indigenous-Catholicism has not lost its prominence in public space in Oaxaca despite the reforms of post-1910 Oaxacan state and Mexican national politics and the effects of globalized neoliberal economies in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
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