Summer Institute of Linguistics

Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

In both Chile and Peru last week, Pope Francis addressed the plight of those two nations’ indigenous tribes that have been on the losing end of interactions with European colonizers since the dawn of the Age of Discovery.

In Chile, he spoke about the Mapuche tribe’s struggle, which has turned violent at times, to gain back some of its ancestral land in that nation’s south. This Associated Press piece (published here as it appeared in the Seattle Times) provides the background necessary to understand the issue.

It was in Peru, however, where the pontiff’s words about the worsening plight of the Amazonian tribes, received greater media attention.

That’s due in part to his equal emphasis on the ever-increasing intrusion by miners, ranchers and others intent, often with government complicity, on exploiting the Amazon basin, the world’s largest tropical rain forest.

Given the Amazon’s critical role in the debate over climate change, any mention of it by Pope Francis is sure to draw headlines.

But I wonder: Why did I find no mention in the mainstream news reports I read about the papal trip of Rome's huge role in the early colonization of the tribes and their land? Why no mention of the, to me, confused status of the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal documents by which the Vatican first officially blessed the ruthless takeover of newly “discovered,” non-Christian lands and any of their inhabitants in the New World?

Because just as the church's sex abuse scandal won't disappear, Vatican relations with indigenous peoples can't fully heal until Pope Francis -- or some future pope -- confronts the lingering anger over the doctrine’s unilateral claim to lands inhabited by non-Christian tribes.

The doctrine, you may argue, has a confusing history dating from a premodern mindset. Nor can it's damage simply be reversed -- so why dwell on it?

Such an argument may be made. But so can an argument be made for its further debate. After all, other Christian churches and even bodies within the Catholic church have repudiated the doctrine or asked that Rome officially take that step.

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Huston Smith: Farewell to a religious voyager who personified modern, progressive faith

Huston Smith: Farewell to a religious voyager who personified modern, progressive faith

Huston Smith -- to my mind an unmatched connoisseur of spiritual experimentation who was also exceptionally grounded in an extraordinary range of religious protocols -- died just prior to the new year, Dec. 30 to be exact, at age 97.

News media coverage of his death, while adequate, underplayed at least one salient point.

Which is: If any one person can be said to represent wholesale societal change, then it may be said that Smith personified the radical reevaluation of contemporary religious beliefs and practices that has profoundly divided Western culture. From the mid-20th century until today, this reevaluation continues.

Evidence of it may be seen in the ongoing culture wars dividing the United States and in parts of Europe.

As I said, the major news media provided adequate coverage of his death, given his limited fame among the general public, and even if they lingered a bit too long on Smith's brief experimentation with (then still legal) psychedelic drugs in the 1960s.

The factual and many faceted details of Smith's academic and personal biography were capably reported, as was his strong support for religious freedoms and religious and cultural pluralism.

For those who missed his death, or are unfamiliar with his life and work, click here for the New York Times obituary. Or click here for the Los Angeles Times obit.

Several outlets noted Smith's death by reposting past interviews and stories. How much easier and cheaper is that in this age of instantaneous web news and shrinking editorial budgets?

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