In the tumultuous decades following Mexico's independence from Spain, religion provided a unifying force among the Mexican people, who otherwise varied greatly in ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Accordingly, religion and the popular cultures surrounding it form the lens through which Terry Rugeley focuses this cultural history of southeast Mexico from independence (1821) to the rise of the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1876.
Drawing on a wealth of previously unused archival material, Rugeley vividly reconstructs the folklore, beliefs, attitudes, and cultural practices of the Maya and Hispanic peoples of the Yucatán. In engagingly written chapters, he explores folklore and folk wisdom, urban piety, iconography, and anticlericalism. Interspersed among the chapters are detailed portraits of individual people, places, and institutions, that, with the archival evidence, offer a full and fascinating history of the outlooks, entertainments, and daily lives of the inhabitants of southeast Mexico in the nineteenth century. Rugeley also links this rich local history with larger events to show how macro changes in Mexico affected ordinary people.