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Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories and the Politics of Fear in the Early Modern Iberian World


Saint Dominic Presiding over an Auto-da-fe Pedro Berruguete, circa,1495. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Date: Friday 19 September 2014
Time: 1.00pm - 2.00pm
Venue: Room 210, Napier Building. The University of Adelaide

Jews were officially expelled or forced to convert in Spain and Portugal during the last decade of the fifteenth century. In spite of the ‘official’ absence of Jews, from the fifteenth century until the middle of the eighteenth century a large number of early modern Spaniards and Portuguese in Europe and overseas were convinced and feared that there existed a secret ‘Jewish plot’ to destroy those kingdoms and the Catholic Church. Focusing their suspicions upon the descendents of Jewish converts to Catholicism (the conversos), they accused the latter of a wide range of secret conspiracies including infiltrating secular and religious institutions, medical murder, collaboration with foreign (especially Protestant) enemies and deliberate economic sabotage. This paper argues that we should not merely understand such conspiracy theories as cultural phenomena derived from medieval anti-semitic lore and driven by popular animus. Rather, their longevity resides in the fact that they were primarily politically-driven and officially endorsed by elements within the State and Church to further their own agenda by deploying powerful emotional language and themes in official propaganda.

Dr Francois Soyer, a postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Adelaide focuses articularly on the religious and social history of early modern Spain and Portugal. This includes the history of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions and the various heretical groups that they persecuted, the history of Gender in the early modern Iberian World and the history of the censorship of art in the early modern Hispanic world. He published his first book on the persecution of the Jewish and Muslim
minorities in Portugal in 2007, his second book “Ambiguous Gender in Early Modern Spain and Portugal. Inquisitors, Doctors and the Transgression of Gender Norms” was published by Brill in 2012. His latest book “Popularizing Antisemitism in Early Modern Spain and its Empire. The Centinela contra Judios of Fray Francisco de Torrejoncillo (1674)”, was published by Brill earlier this year.