The University Record, November 2, 1992

Quincentennial conference focuses on Spanish Inquisition

By Terry Gallagher
News and Information Services

The fourth in a series of five conferences on “Jews and the Encounter with the New World, 1492/1992” will be held here on Nov. 8. Scholars from the U-M and other institutions will discuss “Jews, Conversos and the Inquisition in the New World.”

The conference is part of a year-long observance of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.

“Many people don’t realize that the Spanish Inquisition, and its Portuguese counterpart, operated in the New World as well as in the Old,” says Judith Laikin Elkin, a historian at the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and director of the conference series. “People who were suspected of heresy could not escape prosecution by fleeing to the overseas colonies.

“Conversos (sometimes called New Christians, Marranos or Judeo-converts) were a class of people who came into existence in Spain during the Middle Ages due to intense pressures on Jews to convert to Christianity.”

The keynote address will be delivered at 1 p.m. in Rackham Amphitheater by Richard Greenleaf, director of the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University, “and the foremost authority on the Inquisition in the New World,” according to Elkin. After Greenleaf, University of Minnesota Prof. Stuart B. Schwartz will speak on “New Christians in Brazil.” Each lecture will be followed by a discussion period.

At 7:30 p.m. in the Askwith Auditorium in Lorch Hall, a panel of four scholars will discuss “Early Jewish Settlement in the New World.” Jeff Lesser of Connecticut College will discuss Brazil; Victor Merelman of the West Suburban Temple Har Zion will describe the Sephardi diaspora; Lois Baer Barr of Northwestern University will discuss a literary view of Jewish and converso life; and Sandra McGee Deutsch of the University of Texas will review conservative objections to Jewish settlement in the Americas. The panel will be moderated by Daniel Elazar, director of the Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem.

In a related event, the Clements Library’s exhibit on “Maps and the Columbian Encounter” will be open during the conference.

The final conference in the series, which is sponsored by the Frankel Center and the National Endowment for the Humanities, will take place on Dec. 6. For information, call 763-5857.