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Book: Thinking with J. Z. Smith

Chapter: 9. Multiple Magdalenas: Locative, Utopian, and Other Orientations in an Indigenous Community Divided by an International Border

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.39933


Seth Schermerhorn tests the adequacy and applicability of J. Z. Smith’s thoughts on locative and utopian spatial orientations as well as religion(s) of “here,” “there” and “anywhere” in the context of his ethnographic study of contemporary O’odham Catholics and their travels to Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico to visit Saint Francis. These pilgrimages seem to suggest that O’odham could be described as operating within the “locative” spatial orientation with a clearly defined “sacred” center. Things are, however, more complex. It is not only that there are no fewer than four rival destinations for O’odham to travel to in addition to, or in lieu of, traveling to Magdalena, each with its own Saint Francis, there is also a movable feast of Saint Francis that travels each year across the eleven districts of the nation. In a strong statement about the importance of the emic perspective, Schermerhorn points out that in their own thinking about the multiple Magdalenas, O’odham easily “alternate between ‘locative’ and ‘utopian’ orientations, variously emphasizing and deemphasizing place” suggesting both the limitations of Smith’s early and the usefulness of his later topographic thought.

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