The horizons of universality: Serge Gruzinski's research and perspective.

Receipt: December 4, 2023

Acceptance: December 10, 2023

In April 2023, within the framework of the activities related to the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the presence of the Jesuits in Mexico, the iteso and the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus organized an academic colloquium that took place on the campus of that university and whose thematic axis was centered on the reflection and discussion of the horizons of universality, which are generated at the planetary level since the beginning of the 20th century. xvi. The organizers' interest in addressing this event, from that century to the present day, consisted in analyzing how societies and various institutions in different fields (political, economic, social, artistic, religious and spiritual), one of them the Society of Jesus, developed, adapted and actively participated in this planetary event.

The analysis of this process was approached from three perspectives: the globalization scenario, taking as an example the links between New Spain, Europe, Africa and the Orient; the interactions between European Christian civilization and imperial China; and the horizon of Christianization in the Mayan societies of southeastern Mexico. The first perspective had the function of introducing the beginnings of the globalization phenomenon initiated in the 20th century. xviIt also provides the backdrop for understanding the formation of new societies whose foundations were formed from the integration of multiple and varied elements, both from native societies and those that came into contact with them.

To present and help understand this scenario in history, the colloquium counted on the participation of one of the best researchers of the globalization process, in addition to being one of the most internationally recognized historians of Mexico. We are referring to Serge Gruzinski, whose academic production is already a classic of historiography, an indispensable and obligatory work to delve into the study of the aforementioned topic.

It was 50 years ago, in 1973, that Gruzinski entered the Roman Archive of the Society of Jesus - the general archive of Jesuit historical documents - to begin his research on Mexican history and society, especially since the crucial first century of the Spanish Civil War. xviIt was in that period and in those latitudes that a new style of society began to take shape, integrating European, African and Asian faces, customs, beliefs, worldviews and information with those of the so-called New World. Those years of historical, ethnological and anthropological studies resulted in a doctoral thesis which, under the direction of François Chevalier, Gruzinski presented at the Sorbonne in 1986.1 Two years later, in January 1988, a shortened version of that monumental doctoral research (which was over a thousand pages long) was published by Gallimard under the title La colonisation de l'imaginaire. Sociétés indigènes et occidentalisation dans le Mexique espagnol, (xvie-xviiie siècle)The author does not consider this process as a simple domination that would have only implied an inert and passive attitude of the ethnic populations of the newly established New Spain, but also observes the fascination factor that these same populations had for what "the West" had to offer. The author does not consider this process as a simple domination that would have only implied an inert and passive attitude of the ethnic populations, but also observes the fascination factor that these same populations had towards what the "West" introduced in their lands, such as images, beliefs, devotions, rites, stories, texts, techniques.

With such an approach, Gruzinski -in this research and several others- also analyzes the development of miscegenation -or perhaps it would be better to refer to miscegenation- in the irreversible, complex and at the same time interesting scenario of globalization. Other classic works by the author then emerge, such as The war of images, from Christophe Colomb to "Blade Runner". (1989), La pensé métisse (1999) y Les quatre parties du monde (2004), to mention only a few of those that make up the vast literary production of the French historian.

In his most recent visit to Mexico to participate in the aforementioned colloquium, Gruzinski gave a lecture entitled "From alphabetic colonization to digital colonization: from the golden legend to Arknights, the indigenous Mexico between Europe and China (centuries xvi-xxi)". In this presentation, the author referred to a text written in Nahuatl by the famous fray Bernardino de Sahagún, which was published in 1583 under the title of Psalmodia christiana. This work consists of a succession of psalms to be sung and danced inside the temple, in continuity - Gruzinski recalled - with the ancient pre-Hispanic tradition of the "cuícatl" (songs and poems of praise and prayer), but adapted to Christian rituality. The chants of the Psalmodia include translations of biblical texts, as well as antiphons or even elements from medieval hagiographic narratives. Golden legend. In one of the psalms of the text - as the historian showed - allusion is made to the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, to whom the Nahuatl expression ".tiacauh"warrior of great bravery, a term that in the Psalmodia is also attributed to other saints, such as St. Sebastian or St. Michael. What was unexpected, Gruzinski said, was that in tracking down the term tiacauh on the Internet, he was referred to the electronic portal of a video game designed in 2019 in China (more precisely, in Shanghai) called "Arknights", which also uses that word in Nahuatl to name a warrior, but represented as a kind of dinosaur. The academic then raised questions and reflections: firstly, how is it that the tiacauh enters the Psalmodia how can this same term - appropriate in the 20th century - be used to refer to the saint of Padua? xvi by Sahagún - travels through the centuries to become part of the nomenclature of a Chinese video game of the century. xxi?

Thus, Gruzinski pointed out, the definition of an important role for Mexican society, the warrior, the tiacauhThe European and Christian world is entering the Christian and European world with its inclusion in the Psalmodiacenturies later, the same term enters the digital space of Chinese video game designers. Hence, the speaker pointed out, the theme of alphabetic colonization initiated in the 20th century, which is the xvi cannot be best circumscribed or analyzed by the study of that time alone, but it is indispensable for the historian to give an account of what happened in the 20th century as well. xxiIn this case, it is no longer only a religious or European imaginary, but now contemplates a cybernetic-digital imaginary, the imaginary of a future that is projected beyond pure amusement and that is not exempt from considering dystopian scenarios.

By taking up the century in his presentation xviGruzinski pointed out the fundamental role that writing played in the colonial system, since without writing the colonization process that forged the Novo-Hispanic society, the first colonial society established by Europeans, and whose process spread to other latitudes and regions of the planet, would never have taken place. Hence the great importance that Europe gives to the past of this society. Therefore, said the French scholar, it is essential to realize the relevance of alphabetic colonization, which began to consolidate in New Spain with the installation of the first printing press in 1539, as well as with the work of schooling and Latinizing the indigenous elites of central Mexico. At this point, Gruzinski recalled, it should not be forgotten that this Latinization arose by decision of the authorities of the Crown of Castile, although it was the ecclesiastical authorities who carried it out with the Franciscans in Tlatelolco, several of them of Flemish origin and who were influenced by the educational tradition of the Brothers of the Common Life, who gave rise to modern school pedagogy in Europe in the late Middle Ages. Here, let us keep in mind that such pedagogy also influenced the methods of several universities of the Old Continent, especially the educational methods of Paris, the place of formation of Ignatius of Loyola and his first companions. Loyola was so convinced of the Parisian pedagogical efficacy that he took up the so-called "Parisian pedagogy". modus parisiensis in the dispositions that the Jesuits had to follow in the formative processes of the colleges and universities under their charge.

And how did the natives react to the alphabetic colonization? The students of Tlatelolco came to write Latin even in verse, they acquired that ability of refined European culture. Here we see, Gruzinski pointed out, not only the assimilation of the natives, but their great intellectual capacity. On the other hand, when producing documents such as the so-called Florentine Codex, we should not lose sight of the fact that what was then and is now known of the indigenous world passed through the vision and intellectual dimension of those Latinized natives. In addition, those outstanding students also gained access to the realm of European spirituality and religiosity, by translating into Nahuatl texts such as the Imitiatio Christiwhich even reached five editions in the Mexican language, or even several books of the Holy Scriptures. Although the Church forbade the translation of the biblical text into vernacular languages, the Indians escaped this prohibition and had access to the divine word in their native language, which a Spaniard of the xvi could not do in his own. In Gruzinski's expression, this fact "sacralized" Nahuatl, since, unlike Spanish, it had the same superior rank as Latin to express the Word revealed in the Old and New Testament texts. In such a way, the "imposition" of literacy on the indigenous elites made them play important and outstanding roles in that nascent novo-Hispanic society, which, speaking of universality, will allow a series of appropriations and integrations of other cultures in the indigenous world. Already the fact of having access to the Bible in Latin made the indigenous elites enter into the universal that this same sacred text represents; and even the mastery of Latin introduced those Mexican scholars, these novi homines (new men) in the expression of Pablo Nazareo de Xaltocan, in the world of ancient literary culture and Roman law, in the world of liberal arts, in the world of Renaissance humanism, in the Republic of Letters. Thus, Gruzinski concluded his presentation, he did not lose one world to enter another, but that it had been a particular moment of the Mexican past that demonstrated the possibility of being Christian and assimilating the refined European culture and, at the same time, of preserving the memories of the lineage of the indigenous nobility and the references of its Nahuatl cosmovision.

Such exposure helped to understand how those Latinized Indians were able to move in two worlds, to contribute to the universalization of their language, to integrate and reconcile cultures without shared references, and to be the foundation for the formation of a new society, a mestizo society.

Gruzinski's magisterial contributions, as well as his entire recognized academic trajectory, motivated the journal Encartes to seek out and record in audiovisual format an interview with the French historian, which took place on Wednesday, April 26, the last day of the colloquium referred to at the beginning of this text. This was the opportunity to learn more about his perspective on the complex process of globalization that continues to unfold today, the origins of which, as we have seen, date back to the 20th century, and which, as we have seen, is still underway today. xviWhat benefits, in the end, has globalization offered to one part of the world as well as another? What are the risks of the interaction of diverse societies? How can we understand over time the different "colonizations" in history, not only that of the New World, but those that had already taken place in other parts of the planet? What were the characteristics of Iberian colonization? Are there parallels of such a process with those that took place in other parts of the New World, such as the Portuguese colonization of Brazil? How can we now consider Mexico's position and role in the globalization scenario, as opposed to the one it had and wanted to promote in the 20th century? xvi?

In a clear and simple manner, Serge Gruzinski commented on his reflections arising from these questions, and emphasized the mobility that emerged in the past and the differences between these processes when they were carried out by conquerors, traders or missionaries; likewise, he reaffirmed that, although there is colonization, there is also the creation of a new society that had never existed before, and in which one of its fundamental elements is miscegenation, with the background of local notions and references, but also global, universal ones. At the end of the interview, Gruzinski alluded to the role of the Society of Jesus in the process of globalization, indicating that the Jesuits played a fundamental role in the transmission of information between New Spain and distant kingdoms, such as China, which motivated them to project the desire to expand Christianity to the East from Mexico, since political and commercial expansion always translated into religious terms: saving souls.

Therefore, we invite the readers of the magazine Encartes to listen to the complete interview with one of the foremost experts on the globalization process and the history of Mexico.


Gruzinski, Serge (1989). La guerre des images, de Christophe Colomb à “Blade Runner”. París: Fayard.

— (1999). La pensé métisse. París: Fayard.

— (2004). Les quatre parties du monde. París: La Martinière.

Arturo Reynoso is a chemical engineer (iteso(Instituto Libre de Filosofía y Ciencias de la Compañía de Jesús, Guadalajara), Bachelor of Philosophy (Instituto Libre de Filosofía y Ciencias de la Compañía de Jesús). Master in Social Philosophy (iteso(Universidad Iberoamericana, Guadalajara). Licentiate in Religious Sciences (Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City). Master and PhD in Theology with mention in History of Christianity (Facultés Jésuites de Paris: Centre Sèvres, Paris, France).

In recent years he has conducted research on the history of the Society of Jesus, particularly on the educational and missionary ministries of the Jesuits. He has deepened his studies in the history of the Society in Mexico during the viceregal period and in the work of Francisco Xavier Clavigero.

He has published books, articles and materials on historical, theological, biblical, ethical and educational topics. He has been director of social institutions and academic and publishing institutions in Bolivia and Mexico.

He is currently an academic and researcher at the Academic Information Department of the itesoand coordinator of the Commission on Memory, History and Heritage sponsored by the Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America (cpal). His formation and work in the Society of Jesus, which he joined in 1989, has been carried out in Mexico, Bolivia, France and the United States.

Serge Gruzinski (Tourcoing, France, November 5, 1949). French historian specialized in Latin American themes, belonging to the history of mentalities. He is an archivist, paleographer and doctor in history. He has carried out studies on the mestizo image and its entry into modernity in Mexico. In recent years he has been doing research on Brazil and the Portuguese Empire. His latest published work is Les quatre parties du monde in 2004. He currently serves as director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research (cnrs), directs the Joint Research Unit Empires, Sociétés, Nations, and holds its annual seminar in Paris. Cultures et sociétés de l'Amérique coloniale, xvie-xixe siècle and is director of doctoral theses at the Escuela de Altos Estudios en Ciencias Sociales.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.