El Volcán y la Virgen: Maya Spiritual Frameworks for Understanding Geography among Catholics and Evangelicals in a Maya K’iche’ Town


This paper examines how Maya K’iche’ Catholics and Evangelicals alike perform Maya Spirituality—openly, secretly, and subconsciously—in a Guatemalan highland town that is ethnically 99% Maya K’iche’. The paper argues that local conceptualizations of and relationships to regional geography are understood in the framework of Maya spirituality. As people in the community reconcile the extensive local theological change that accelerated over the twentieth century, the way that they relate to God has transformed, yet the way that they relate to space has remained largely within the cosmovisión of Maya Spirituality. Maya Spiritual conceptions of the lifeforce animating mountains govern how members of Catholic and Evangelical congregations practice a culture of thanks, respect, and worry towards the ridgelines that ring their town. The paper presents a case for how pre-colonial Indigenous faith systems can endure and adapt through the imposition of foreign religions over time and for what geographical knowledge can reflect about the intersection of beliefs. The sources for this paper come from long-term ethnographic and historical research within the community. It draws from experiences of attending Maya Spirituality ceremonies, Catholic events, and Evangelical gatherings and of being directed in how to engage the mountains by local colleagues. In addition to observation and participation at religious events, sources include oral history testimony in Spanish and K’iche’ and primary source documents regarding local changes to religion.


Polly Lauer
Student, Ph.D., Yale University, Connecticut, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2024 Special Focus—Spaces, Movement, Time: Religions at Rest and in Movement


Indigeneity, Comparative Religion, Geography, Change and Continuity Over Time

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