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Policing the Empires: a Comparative Perspective on the Institutional Trajectory of the Inquisition in the Portuguese and Spanish Overseas Territories (Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries)

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-25
Number of pages19
Issue number1
PublishedFeb 2012

King's Authors


This paper examines aspects of the political and social functions of the Inquisition in the overseas colonies of Portugal and Spain as they emerge through archival sources. The discourse of power is of course vital in understanding how the Inquisition operates; and its global expressions of power are also local expressions of power. By understanding how and if the Inquisition was used as a policing mechanism of the political and ideological development of the colonial worlds, we understand not only something of the articulation of power within this institution but also how, if at all, this constituted a modern institution in being both global and local. This paper addresses these vital institutional questions by looking at the Portuguese and Spanish overseas empires in comparative perspective, looking at Latin America in the case of Spain, and Goa and West Africa in the case of Portugal. The key role of the Inquisition in maintaining ideological conformity on both a secular and religious basis emerges in both cases, together with the Inquisition's fundamental connection to non-religious questions of finance and control over trade through which it asserted secular power.

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