Science and Religion in New Mexico Part 3 – Pre-Hispanic Social and Economic Development

Science and Religion in New Mexico Part 3 – Pre-Hispanic Social and Economic Development

Stephen FribergReligion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone![


1024px-Flag_of_New_MexicoMay 31, 2015

In my last two blogs on New Mexico, I briefly reviewed its history – and also Baha’i social and economic development  principles. The two blogs are here and here.  Here, I bring these two threads together.

New Mexico, in unique ways, has it all. The Clovis culture, which radiocarbon dating shows to be from 12,900 to 13,200 years ago, is often thought to be the ancestor of all indigenous north and south American culture. Historically, New Mexican tribes have played an outsized cultural role in the American west, developing pottery, agrarian, and sophisticated town cultures, engaging in turquoise mining, trading with central Mexico 1,600 miles away, and maintaining their independence and cultural strength.  That continues to this present day.

chaco canyonIn 1598, Spanish colonists settled in northern New Mexico, creating a uniquely New Mexican cultural outpost of the Spanish Empire with its own traditions, cuisines, and arts. When Mexico declared independence was in 1821, New Mexico switched focus from old Mexico to the United States. It was occupied by US troops in 1846, becoming a territory shortly after and a civil war battleground in 1862. Conflict – including the Navajo and Apache wars – continued until 1886, shortly after the railroads arrived. Mining booms, sprawling and outsized ranches, and gunfighter adventures characterized territorial days. Conflict of a different kind – nuclear and missile warfare – has played a central role in New Mexico beginning in World War II.

Although Santa Fe, Taos and other parts of the state are magnets for the rich and sophisticated, and although the percentage of PhDs in the population is the highest in the country, New Mexico has the 2nd worst poverty rate and the 2nd worst drug overdose rates in the union (see pages 12 and 6 respectively in Governing New Mexico, and here for drug abuse.)

Social and Economic Development Perspectives – Informed by a Baha’i Viewpoint – in New Mexico History

Social and economic development, according to Baha’i perspectives, ultimately requires unity – everybody working together.  It also means things like science and religion working together, engaging in capacity building, and large groups of people working together to learn in action. It is something “that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.” It is not outsiders implementing solutions they think best for the locals.

SocorroGiven my historical focus on New Mexico, especially Socorro, New Mexico, I will first go through a brief look at historical developments of New Mexico in light of this Baha’i perspective.  Then I will speculate on the future.

Pre-Hispanic New Mexico

Before the Spanish exploratory expeditions of Coronado in the 1540s, the Pueblo peoples and their ancestors had created a rich and flourishing culture based in New Mexico and the southwest based on pottery, basketry, roads, agriculture, hunting, and a deeply religious community life that emphasized the spiritual nature of all activities.

great puebloThe Great Pueblo era (900 – 1350), for example, saw the growth of large number of sometimes Pueblo village sites, some very grand. Immediately before the Spaniards arrived the Pueblo system was strong, but diminished in size. The changes, apparently, were due to period of several hundred years of climate change and lowered rainfall as well as pressure from the arrival of new native American peoples, including Numic-speaking peoples such as the Utes, Shoshones and Paiute people. In this period, Pueblo sites moved to rivers like the Rio Grande and the San Juan, including to Socorro in central New Mexico where there once was an extensive string of Pueblos belonging to the Piro.

What ancestral Pueblo history seems to show – and yes, there is a dearth of information and continuing debates – is that the Pueblo and ancestral Pueblo peoples had powerful technologies – basketry, pottery, desert agriculture (corn, squash, beans), building – strong governance institutions, and that they probably had once maintained a strong unity between diverse settlements, including the extraordinary cultural centers between areas. Trade extended to central Mexico. And they had very strong spiritual traditions that bound them together and worked with their technologies.

So, a very rough analysis inspired by a Baha’i social and economic development framework shows high marks. Unity – at least at times – was very strong.  Science – or in this case, technology – worked very closely with religion (see, for example, the prayer for rain in the corn dance). Governance traditions were strong and capable people were trained for leadership position. Wisdom acquired through experience was highly valued, and because of this effective governance – and probably, the kiva and kachina tradition – the wisdom was maintained – and with it cultural survival and an extraordinarily rich cultural tradition.

gran quiviraWhere there were failures seems to have been primarily when there was loss of unity i – and the consequent fracturing of society and vulnerability to outside threats that crops up constantly in Pueblo history from the arrival of the Spanish onwards. Sometimes, this was disunity of tribes with different languages and divergent cultures growing distant from each other, and then falling out. Often, it was the formation of temporary alliances against other tribes to the overall disadvantage of the people. Because they maintained agricultural surplus for future consumption, and later sheep and horses, raiding by less sedentary peoples – Navajo, Apache, Comanche, Utes, and others – presented constant dangers.The Piro towns and cultures of the Socorro area, for example completely disappeared by 1700, apparently a victim to constant raiding (see Piro People).

Speculating about the Future

ristraSpeculating about the future, and recognizing that the Navajo and Apache, the traditional enemies of the Pueblo, form a much larger population blocks than the Pueblos in New Mexico, what can we say from the Baha’i social and economic perspective we have embraced?

First of all, the way that individual states are structured in the United States allows New Mexico to formulate its solutions to its unique problems in its own unique ways. And the trend is slowly – but increasingly – toward valuing the Pueblo people’s spiritual and environmental perspectives. And the Pueblo ways are clearly visible in the pristine, untrammeled and strikingly clean geographical areas under Pueblo control, often immediately next to land that is an eyesore. What this seems to mean is that despite the large population in the state of families like mine that have moved into the state, the Pueblo peoples are increasingly an honored and highly respected part of the New Mexican culture.

What is lacking are governmental structures and social practices that can bring their perspectives to play in the state’s future, as well as the mechanisms to develop the capacity among people people to exercise a leadership capacity at a statewide level.  But, in the future – especially one with a significant Baha’i population – that well could change.

And, of course, the larger trend across the width and breadth of the Americas is for its indigenous people, usually downtrodden and oppressed, to take up again their leadership roles across the hemisphere.

Next Blog

In the next blog, we apply the Baha’i principles of science and religion and Baha’i experience in social and economic development to an evaluation of the Spanish presence in New Mexico.


The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.

Share    Send article as PDF   
Comments are closed.