Philippine "Folk" and the Christian Mystical Tradition


Philippine Catholicism is widely understood to be a deviation from orthodoxy, indicated by the oft-used prefix “Folk.” Whether denigrated as an aberration or valorized as a creative adaptation, “Folk Catholicism” is considered a syncretistic, “local” religious practice distinct from Catholicism proper. This paper argues first that the scholarly definition of some religious practices as “folk” is congruous with the church’s project of institutional disciplining, which classifies some practices as heretical and some as orthodox. In this way, secular power and church power work together to contain and repress the manifestations of piety among the church’s lower-class constituents—that is, the “folk.” In order to avoid participating in this disciplinary project, the presentation then argues that popular devotional practices among Filipino Catholics can instead be understood as a continuation and development of a Christian tradition. In particular, I show how practices that are commonly associated with “folk” Catholics resemble the practices of prominent figures in the Christian mystical tradition. Through readings of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, Mechthild of Magedburg, Teresa of Ávila, and Ignatius of Loyola, I show how three elements of Christian devotional practice are common to venerated mystics and “folk” Catholics: the use of prayer, over and above scripture or doctrinal knowledge, as a means of direct engagement with the divine; the importance of affect and emotion in devotions; and the conception of human beings as debtors in a reciprocal relationship with God. These connections offer one way of seeing Philippine Catholicism as within, rather than outside, of Christian tradition.


Philip Conklin
Student, PhD, University of California, Santa Cruz, California, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Religious Commonalities and Differences


Syncretism, Folk Religion, Religious Diversity, Institutions, Religious Identity, Comparative Catholicisms

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