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Church and State in Spanish Formosa

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How did Spanish missionaries and local Christian converts interact with the colonial government in Taiwan during the Spanish era (1626–1642)? Did the largely Dominican and Franciscan clerics and their followers play a mainly priestly or prophetic role relative to the Spanish Crown and its representatives in Taiwan? Did Spanish authorities allow full religious freedom for Spaniards and indigenous converts, and did they even actively support the missionary effort in Formosa? This essay tests Anthony Gill’s political-economic model of church-state interaction by analyzing published collections of primary Spanish- and Dutch-language documents on this topic and by examining related secondary works. The essay concludes that, although a few priests tried to soften the edges of colonial dominance of Taiwanese aborigines, most missionaries largely acquiesced in Spain’s imperial experiment in northern Taiwan. The government, meanwhile, appears to have tolerated and partially funded Catholic activities on the island on the assumption that religious conversion would help dampen indigenous resistance to Spanish conquest.

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