Completing the project’s first wave of events, on 1 November 2011 Professor Klaus Gallo, from the Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina, delivered a fascinating lecture on the rise of laicist and secularising agendas during Argentina’s first wave of liberal and republican reforms in the early nineteenth century. You can watch a recording of the lecture here. Having recently completed a biography of Bernardino Rivadavia (1780-1845), Professor Gallo focused his presentation on the era of Rivadavia’s reformist experiment in the province of Buenos Aires, when freedom of the press was expanded, universal male suffrage was introduced, the Universidad de Buenos Aires was founded, convents were closed, and other reforms were aimed towards reducing the political and social role of the Catholic Church.
In addition to summarising the heated debates that took place in the Buenos Aires press regarding secularisation, Gallo focused particular attention on the enigmatic figure of Juan Crisóstomo Lafinur (1797-1824), who pioneered a philosophy of teaching geared towards reducing the influence of the Catholic Church in university education and produced a series of controversial plays and performances at civic festivals that aimed to spread laicist and secularist messages to the broader public. In general, Gallo’s lecture indicated that the dramatic plays of the period are an under-researched resource for understanding how political debates were framed and how these debates engaged, or attempted to engage, broader public opinion. By exploring the case of Lafinur’s life and work in more detail, Gallo revealed the potential of theatrical performances to reveal the connections between political discourse and popular culture.
Along the way, we were introduced to the colourful character of Lafinur himself who seemed to have an uncanny knack for upsetting and antagonising clerical authorities and anti-reformist scholars at every turn. Lafinur’s departure from Buenos Aires for Mendoza, precisely at the point when Rivadavia – and the reformist agenda with which Lafinur had such affinity – came to power in Buenos Aires yielded a particularly amusing anecdote: Lafinur reportedly fell (even further) out of favour with the head of the School of Philosophy at the university, when he was discovered playing the guitar instead of teaching his scheduled class, and the resulting fall-out may help to account for his abrupt relocation to Mendoza. Unfortunately, Lafinur’s provocative antics were prematurely cut short when he died as a result of injuries incurred in a horseriding accident in his mid-twenties.
It would be interesting to hear about similar characters engaged in promoting secularist and laicist agendas in other regions and countries in the Americas. So please let us know in the comments section if you have any interesting examples of laicist mavericks like Lafinur? Equally, has any detailed work been done on the role of dramatic plays in extending political debates into popular culture in early republican Mexico, Peru, or other parts of the Americas? Are there other under-research media that could offer similar insights to those discussed by Professor Gallo? Let us know in the comments section!