Mayan culture, religion explored in BYU forum



    Researchers are learning more about the Mayan culture and the religion they practiced, said Stephen Houston, professor of anthropology, in a forum at the Herald R. Clark Building Wednesday.

    Wednesday’s forum is part of the International Forum series sponsored by the Kennedy Center for international studies which invites guest speakers weekly.

    Many of Houston’s remarks were about the conclusions made in a conference dedicated to the discussion of Mayan religious themes and beliefs conducted by BYU this spring.

    BYU promotes a lot of activity on this subject partly because of the religious interest in Central and South America, Houston said.

    “This is perhaps the world’s top place for Meso-American studies,” he said.

    The conference proved to be intellectually and theologically broad insofar as it addressed some very broad topics on Mayan beliefs, Houston said.

    Mayan faith revolves around the belief of a single divine principle that is responsible for the creation of the cosmos and is labeled as Teotlism, Houston said.

    According to conclusions from the conference this spring the Mayans do not separate the existence of individuals and the concept of time. They saw time passing as part of their own existence therefore in their art and architecture they depicted time as a separate person.

    The rituals and dances of the Mayans were not always performed by the most righteous person and the spiritual ability of the performer was not emphasized over the perfect performance of the ritual, Houston said.

    The Mayan concept of sin is that a disorder has occurred in the person’s life, Houston said. Correction of that disorder is by a perfectly ordered and structured ritual.

    The Mayans also felt they were related to the Earth and even believed they were made out of maize, their art often depicted people in the form of corn, he said.

    Houston has been involved in the excavation of Piedras Negras, a Mayan city on the border of Mexico and Guatemala, for a year and has returned to BYU to continue teaching.

    He plans to return this spring to continue his work with graduate students as well as professors from many other colleges including Yale and Harvard.

    “Hopefully in 10 years a single day in conference on classic Mayan religion will be undoable. Our data will be so rich and our lines of argument so dense and subtle that only a week will suffice for discussing this precious legacy of ancient mind,” Houston said.

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