Jaffary, Nora E. 1968–

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Jaffary, Nora E. 1968–


Born 1968. Education: University of Toronto, B.A.; University of British Columbia, M.A.; Columbia University, Ph.D.


Office—Concordia University, Sir George Williams Campus, McConnell Bldg., Rm. LB-1001.03, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montréal, Quebec H3G 1M8, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian, educator, and author. Concordia University, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, assistant professor.


False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2004.

(Editor) Gender, Race and Religion in the Colonization of the Americas, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2007.


Nora E. Jaffary is a historian who specializes in the history of Latin America and the Hispanic world. She teaches classes on the colonial and modern history of Latin America and conducts research into the history of childbirth and contraception in colonial and nineteenth-century Mexico.

In her first book, False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico, Jaffary presents a history of popular religion, race, and gender in colonial Mexico. Focusing on questions of spiritual and social rebellion and conformity, the author examines the cases of 102 men and women who were accused of being "false mystics" by the Mexican Inquisition. Fortunately for the author, Mexican officials kept exhaustive reports, including everything from the statements of the accused to the numerous witnesses, who included both defenders and denouncers of the accused. "Through examining the records of these cases, Nora E. Jaffary constructs a complex history of gender, race and class which addresses the unique religious and cultural situation which prevailed in Mexico during the oft-neglected later colonial period," reported Caroline Dodds in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.

These false mystics were prosecuted during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In her examination of the cases, Jaffary points out that many of the accused showed signs of being bona fide mystics. Writ- ing in the book's preface, the author notes that "over the course of researching and writing False Mystics … I have discovered that its scope, in fact, encompasses the history of many sectors of colonial Mexican society and confronts issues of tremendous importance to the people who lived in this context, as well as to those living in many other times and places, including our own."

The author explains why the Catholic Church accused these people of deviancy, arguing that this charge partially resulted from the unconventional aspects of their spirituality. The author also points to social anxieties over class and race, appropriate gender behavior, and fears of Indian and African influences on orthodox Catholicism. Writing in the Canadian Journal of History, Barry D. Sell commented: "In her brief preface, Nora Jaffary bares her two main motivations for writing this engaging study: to ‘tell good stories’ and to reveal the ‘spiritual and social conventionality’ of those appearing to be hell-bent on rebelling against religious orthodoxy (pp. xi-xii). She succeeds on both accounts, and in the process reminds those studying early Latin America that good scholarship is compatible with good storytelling."

Basing much of her research on inquisitorial records from early-nineteenth-century Mexico, the author examines the transformations that the category of heresy known as "alumbradismo" or "false mysticism" underwent in Spain and the New World. In addition, Jaffary remarks on contemporary theories that the false mystic accusations resulted from notions of demonic possession, sickness, and mental illness. In one chapter, the author focuses on mystical spirituality in the social context of colonial Mexico. In the book's preface, the author notes: "As I pursued their history in greater detail, however, I discovered that focusing on these mystics' rebelliousness meant ignoring significant elements of their spiritual and social commonality. As in all historical contexts, the analysis of the figures a society labels ‘deviant’ (or virtuous) reveals a great deal more about the anxieties, values, and modes of perception pertaining to the administrators of deviancy and sanctity than it does about the people attributed with these qualities."

False Mystics received good critical reviews. "Jaffary approaches her subject from two directions: first, she examines the Inquisition's perception of these people and the factors informing the court's final verdicts; second, she looks at what the documents really tell us about the spirituality of the defendants," according to Ellen Gunnardottir in the Journal of Latin American Studies. "The results are fascinating and break new ground in the study of popular Catholicism in New Spain." Daniel P. Dwyer wrote in the Catholic Historical Review that "this book provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who crossed religious, political, social, and sexual boundaries in the years 1598-1799," adding: "While an excellent resource for scholars of Mexican colonial history, it will also appeal to more general readers."

Jaffary is also the editor of Gender, Race and Religion in the Colonization of the Americas. In her introduction to this collection of essays, the author writes: "The essays collected here treat the time period from the early sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries and examine the colonial locales of Brazil, New Spain and Peru, English, and French America, and the Dutch and French Caribbean. They are organized according to four salient topics in the history of women's experiences in the colonization of the New World: the colonial frontier, women's relationships to Christian institutions, race mixing and female networks. Many of the following chapters reveal much about women's experiences in several of these areas. Networks, for example, appear in nearly all of them in some way." The author also contributes an essay to the book titled "Incest, Sexual Virtue and Social Mobility in Late Colonial Mexico."



Jaffary, Nora E., False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2004.

Jaffary, Nora E., editor, Gender, Race and Religion in the Colonization of the Americas, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2007.


American Historical Review, February, 2006, Pete Sigal, review of False Mystics, p. 239.

Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, July, 2006, Elisa Sampson Vera Tudela, review of False Mystics, p. 186.

Canadian Journal of History, spring-summer, 2006, Barry D. Sell, review of False Mystics, p. 166.

Catholic Historical Review, October, 2005, Daniel P. Dwyer, review of False Mystics, p. 885.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November, 2005, V.H. Cummins, review of False Mystics, p. 553.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, April, 2006, Caroline Dodds, review of False Mystics, p. 387.

Journal of Latin American Studies, August, 2006, Ellen Gunnardottir, review of False Mystics, p. 629.


Concordia University History Department Web site,http://history.concordia.ca/ (April 16, 2008), faculty profile.