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The Mesoamerican Worldview and Intellectual Tradition

Organizers Heading link

Andrew Finegold, Art History
John Monaghan, Anthropology
Emmanuel Ortega, Art History
Cristián Roa, Latin American and Latino Studies

The goal of the group is to deepen our engagement of Mesoamerican philosophy in order to better understand the strength and endurance of this culture in the face of enormous social and cultural shifts.

March 8, 2021 from 4 - 6 PM

James Maffie, University of Maryland

“The Role of Hardship (Ihiyohuiliztli) in Mexica Ethics, Or Why Being Good Has to Hurt”

You can view this event on our Youtube page by clicking here.

Philosophers in major Western and Eastern ethical traditions (e.g. utilitarianism and Buddhism) commonly predicate their theories of morality and the good life upon the assumption that hardship (exhaustion, pain, suffering, etc.) is intrinsically bad. The good life, the morally upright life, and the life worth living for human beings contain as little hardship as possible. By contrast, Mexica ethics denies hardship has intrinsic value and so denies it is intrinsically bad. Instead, its badness and goodness are determined contextually. What’s more, Mexica ethics maintains that hardship plays an essential and hence indispensable role as well as a creative and positive role in morally upright human behavior and in the well-lived, good human life. In short: doing the right thing and being good have to hurt.

James Maffie is senior lecturer in the Department of American Studies and an affiliate of the Departments of Philosophy and History and Religious and Latin American Studies Programs. He is author of Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion (2014) and numerous articles examining various aspects of conquest-era Mexica (Aztec) philosophical thought. He argues that the conquest-era Mexica advanced a highly sophisticated and systematic philosophy worthy of consideration alongside other world philosophies. Maffie is currently writing a second book tentatively entitled Toltecayotl: An Aztec Understanding of the Well-Ordered Life that focuses on Mexica ethics and understanding of the good life. His work employs a broadly inter-disciplinary approach including philosophy, indigenous studies, linguistics, ethnography, religious studies, ritual studies, art history, archaeology, and history.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Feb 22, 2021 from 4 – 6 PM

Barbara E. Mundy, Fordham University

“Pen, paper, ink: the materiality of Nahua writing”

To view the recording of this event, click here.

Rather than being ancillary to the message, the materials that Nahua writers (tlaquiloque) used in creating books and documents were themselves charged with meaning. Recent work by conservators and materials scientists has shown the complexity of pigments; the origin of some colored pigments as flowers connects writing to the shared Mesoamerican ideal of the Flower World. Less attention has been given to black inks, but they were the byproduct of burning by fire, itself a transformative force. And paper substrates, made from the inner bark of the ficus tree, and thus a kind of skin, were no less important than the graphic marks that they carried. In focusing on the materials of writing, I will propose a anti-colonial practice of reading the Mesoamerican book.

Barbara E. Mundy is a Professor of Art History at Fordham University in New York. Her scholarship dwells in zones of contact between Native peoples and settler colonists as they forged new visual cultures in the Americas. She has been particularly interested in the social construction of space and its imaginary. Her most recent book, The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City (Texas, 2015), draws on Indigenous texts and representations to counter a colonialist historiography and to argue for the city’s nature as an Indigenous city through the sixteenth century. With Dana Leibsohn, she is the creator of Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820 (


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


February 11, 2020 from 4 - 6 PM

Edgar Garcia, University of Chicago

“Borderland Analepsis: Mesoamerican Unforgetting in Contemporary Migrations”

This lecture is about forgetting and unforgetting, especially that kind of unforgetting (anamnesis) that is a necessary leap across colonial erasure and its enforced amnesia. What are the poetics of such leaps across erasure? And what are the social implications of such poiesis of unforgetting? In my research of the massive geoglyphs outside of Blythe, CA—in the Sonoran desert on the border with Arizona—I encountered a stunning example of such anticolonial leaping in the daring work of the “guardian of the glyphs” Alfredo Acosta Figueroa. In this lecture, I discuss Alfredo Acosta Figueroa’s work while tangling with its illuminating entanglement in Mesoamerican spatial and temporal frameworks.

Edgar Garcia is a poet and scholar of the hemispheric cultures of the Americas, principally of the 20th and 21st centuries. He is the author of Skins of Columbus: A Dream Ethnography (Fence Books, 2019; winner of the Fence Modern Poets Series award and an award from the Illinois Arts Council) and Signs of the Americas: A Poetics of Pictography, Hieroglyphs, and Khipu (University of Chicago Press, 2020; article excerpt honorable mention for the William Riley Parker Prize from the Modern Language Association); and he co-edited American Literature in the World: An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler (Columbia University Press, 2016); and participated in a collaboration with visual artist Eamon Ore-Giron, published as Infinite Regress (Bom Dia Books, 2020). He is presently working on two books: one about divination and migration and the other on the Mayan story of creation, the Popol Vuh. He is Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago, where he also teaches in the department of Creative Writing.

March 10, 2020 from 4 - 6 PM

Reading and discussion of James Maffie’s Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion (University of Colorado Press, 2013).

Please read Introduction and Chapters 1–3
Reading available through the UIC Library as an ebook