November 15, 2002
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v2.1 Reference

The Penitente Brotherhood

Patriarchy and Hispano-Catholicism in New Mexico

Honorable Mention for the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing Awards for Sociology and Anthropology

The Penitente brotherhood of New Mexico soared in popularity during the early nineteenth century. Local chapters of the brotherhood, always exclusively male, met in specially constructed buildings (called moradas) to conduct their business and engaged in a variety of religious rituals, including flagellation. The traditional view, still very much accepted, is that Penitente spirituality was a continuation of pietistic practices brought to the New World from Spain by Franciscan missionaries in the sixteenth century.

In this book sociologist of religion Michael Carroll argues that the movement in factdeveloped much later. There is in fact little evidence that Hispanos in pre-1770 New Mexico were particularly religious, and indeed the usual hallmarks of popular Catholicism —such as apparitions, cults organized around miraculous images, or pilgrimage–are noticeable by their absence. Carroll traces the rise of the Penitentes to social changes, including the Bourbon reforms, that undermined patriarchal authority and thereby threatened a system that was central to the social organization of late colonial New Mexico. Once established, the Penitentes came to incorporate a number of organizational elements not found in traditional confraternities. As a result, Carroll concludes, Penitente membership facilitated the "rise of the modern" in New Mexico and—however unintentionally—made it that much easier, after the territory's annexation by the United States, for the Anglo legal system to dispossess Hispanos of their land.

About the Author

Michael P. Carroll is a professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of Madonnas that Main, Veiled Threats, and Irish Pilgrimage, all available from Johns Hopkins.


"A richly circumstantial, well-presented, and interesting account of the New Mexico Penitentes... The Penitente Brotherhood offers readers looking for a historical introduction to this Hispanic confraternity a generous account... I highly recommend reading the book."

- Roy R. Barkley - Catholic Southwest

"In the popular mind, the Penitentes are a late medieval revival and a quaint and irrelevant example of popular religiosity. For anyone who wants to know the real story, this controversial book—with the hallmarks of academic scholarship and the narrative line of a novel—might fit the bill."

"Carroll's multifaceted recounting of Hispano Catholicism in historic New Mexico is well written and compelling."

"A gifted, lucid writer and a great narrator of fiction... Carroll's approach refreshes the literature."

- Michelle Madsen Camacho - Catholic Historical Review

"Carroll is a storyteller... He creates a convincing narrative from the primary sources and the logic of scientific theory available to him."

- Christopher Vecsey - Church History

"A book that requires a careful read in order to acknowledge its full impact... It raises new issues and perspectives that future Penitente scholarship will have to address as we struggle to interpret this critical history."

- Alberto Lopez Pulido - Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses

"Innovative and lasting contributions."

- Enrique R. Lamadrid - Sociology of Religion


"Michael Carroll is a genius at the indispensable art of revisionism. He skillfully challenges conventional wisdom and ossified thought patterns. In this work, perhaps his best yet, he challenges the traditional notion that the Penitential Movement in the Southwest United States results from customs brought from late medieval Spain. On the contrary, he argues, it is a much more recent, almost modern, development that is the result of the influence of the expanding United States on New Mexico. He suggests that it represents in its own fashion a belated attempt to impose the reforms of the Consul of Trent on Hispano-Catholics in New Mexico. It's a fascinating, stimulating and persuasive story."

- Andrew M. Greeley

"A sociological tour de force. The Penitente Brotherhood provides an excellent methodological model of holistic sociological analysis that addresses such issues as piety, religious organization, religious art and symbolism, the economic forms of colonial and post-colonial New Mexico, political organization and psycho-dynamic forces in a population. This is the most complex book Carroll has written and also the most readable."

- John H. Simpson, University of Toronto
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801870552 : the-penitente-brotherhood-carroll
280 Pages
$54.00 USD

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American Catholics in the Protestant Imagination

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Madonnas That Maim

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