Atlantic Reformation: How Confessional Conflict Affected Brazilian Society, 1554-1654

Doctoral Dissertation


By examining religious connections among Brazil, Portugal and other parts of Western Europe from 1554-1654 I attempt to rethink one aspect of early modern Christianity: the continuity of Protestant and Catholic reforms in the missionary context of Brazil. Historians have come to understand the Catholic Church in Europe as engaged in defending itself against the Protestant Reformation and in Catholic renewal, while in Latin America, Africa and Asia it was dedicated to overseas missionary enterprise, where the objective was converting the indigenous peoples to the faith. I challenge the common paradigm of the “Catholic spiritual conquest” of Latin America. Starting from a reconsideration of the French and Dutch Protestant presence in colonial Brazil, I seek to understand how the Reformation affected Brazilian society. I argue for an Atlantic Reformation by suggesting that Brazil be included in the larger history of the Reformation.

I explore several problems within this arena: how and why Catholic and Protestant traditions crossed the ocean; how contestation among Protestants and Catholics unfolded in Brazil after a century of Catholic “spiritual conquest;” how cross-confessional influences originating in Brazil affected European religion in turn; how missionaries communicated specific notions and practices of European origin, including sacraments, priesthood, martyrdom, and traditional devotions and cults; and how and why some natives became Protestant adepts. I approach these questions in a way that looks, first, at how contentious doctrines, rituals, and cultural practices from the era of Reformations in Europe arrived in Brazil and how they affected Catholic evangelization, Portuguese colonization and the inhabitants’ lives. Second, I examine how theological debates and cross-confessional killings that occurred on Brazilian soil contributed to discourses in Europe at the time of the Reformation. I suggest that since scholars rarely tell the history of both Catholic and Protestant colonial missions, we have come to misunderstand the Christianization of Brazil and consequently the Atlantic World. I show how a legacy of what I call “exported confessional conflict” affected the construction of Brazilian society.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12092013-123554

Author Anne B. McGinness
Advisor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Contributor Thomas Cohen, Committee Member
Contributor Brad S. Gregory, Committee Member
Contributor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Committee Chair
Contributor Edward Beatty, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2013-11-01

Submission Date 2013-12-09
  • United States of America

  • Reformation

  • Jose de Anchieta

  • Brazil

  • conversion

  • Dutch Reformed Church

  • evangelization

  • Dutch Brazil

  • Christianity

  • Catholicism

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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