The Spanish Inquisition


This is an undergraduate research course on the history and legacy of the Spanish Inquisition.

Founded to combat Christian heresy in the late fifteenth century but based on previous medieval models, the Spanish Inquisition is notorious as an institution of religious persecution. Converts from Judaism and Islam to Christianity, not to mention a host of other minority Christian communities, often fell under inquisitorial suspicion. The interrogation and censorship tactics employed by inquisitors and their agents to police these communities sometimes but not always entailed violence. Punishments for those convicted of infractions similarly ranged widely, from the notorious auto-de-fé to more minor acts of contrition.

In this course, we will study these inquisitorial procedures and their underlying theological presuppositions. We also will examine how the “Holy Office,” as it the inquisition was likewise known, fit into the broader religious and political cultures of the Iberian world during the sixteenth century. That is, both Catholic and Protestant reformers of the period often emphasized inquisitorial violence in order to smear their adversaries or make Spain seem backward, while some apologists for Spanish empire and orthodoxy insisted upon the noble intentions driving inquisition. These early modern tensions have shaped our late modern understanding of inquisition history. Over the course of the semester we will aim to test these “black” and “white” legends of Spanish inquisitorial and imperial violence not only against a range of primary sources and archival documents from the sixteenth century, but also against our own presuppositions about tolerance and intolerance, religious freedom, and the relationship between religion and secularism in the present.

Readings include inquisitorial case archives, polemical and pedagogical works by Nicolas Eimeric, Hernando de Talavera, Tomás de Torquemada, and other early inquisitors and their critics, and articles and book chapters by modern scholars such as Christine Caldwell Ames, Wendy Brown, Michel Foucault, Carlo Ginzburg, Henry Kamen, Doris Moreno, and others.

Last Updated 3 years ago


Knowledge of written and spoken Spanish.