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Sepharadim/conversos and premodern Global Hispanism

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Sepharadim participated in the Hispanic vernacular culture of the Iberian Peninsula. Even in the time of al-Andalus many spoke Hispano-Romance, and their Hebrew literature belies a deep familiarity with, and love of, their native Hispano-Romance languages. However, since the early sixteenth century, the vast majority of Sepharadim have never lived in the Hispanic world. Sepharadim lived not in Spanish colonies defined by Spanish conquest, but in a network of Mediterranean Jewish communities defined by diasporic values and institutions. By contrast, conversos, those Sepharadim who converted to Catholicism, whether in Spain or later in Portugal, Italy or the New World, lived mostly in Spanish imperial lands, were officially Catholic and spoke normative Castilian. Their connections, both real and imagined, with Sephardic cultural practice put them at risk of social marginalization, incarceration, even death. Some were devout Catholics whose heritage and family history doomed them to these outcomes. Not surprisingly, many Spanish and Portugese conversos sought refuge in lands outside of Spanish control where they might live openly as Jews. This exodus (in the 1600s) from the lands formerly known as Sefarad by a generation of conversos trained in Spanish universities led to a parallel Sephardic community of conversos who re-embraced Judaism in Amsterdam and Italy. The Sephardic/converso cultural complex exceeds the boundaries of Spanish imperial geography, confuses Spanish, Portuguese, Catholic and Jewish subjectivities and defies traditional categories practiced in Hispanic studies; it is a unique example of the Global Hispanophone.
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Keywords: Amsterdam; Conversos; Judeo-Spanish; Sephardic; ladino

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Romance Languages, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA

Publication date: April 3, 2019

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