Garry Sparks

Garry Sparks

Garry Sparks

Director of Undergraduate Programs

Associate Professor

Study of Christianities; Religions of Latin America; Theories of Religion; Native American Religions

Garry Sparks holds a BA from Austin College (Sherman, Texas) in Philosophy and Spanish, an MA in Latin American Studies (Anthropology and History) from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MDiv and PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago where he also taught in the College and the Writing Program. Prior to George Mason University, he taught Humanities and Theology in the Honors College at Valparaiso University (Indiana), and then was Assistant Professor of Humanities and Global Study of Christianity at the University of Louisville (Kentucky).

His research and teaching interests focus on anthropological (socio-cultural and linguistic) and ethnohistorical understandings of theological production in the Americas, particularly among Indigenous peoples. His areas include critical histories of Christian thought, theories of religion and of culture, religions of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and religion in Latin America. He specifically attends to the periods of first contact between Iberian mendicant missionaries and Native Mesoamericans as well as current religious movements like liberation theologies, “Indian” theology (teología india), Latin American Protestantism, and the revitalization of Indigenous traditionalism (such as Maya Spirituality or kojb’al). Since 1995 he has done human rights work with and conducted fieldwork and language study among the K'iche' and Kaqchikel Maya of Guatemala.

Current Research

His previous publications include two books: The Americas' First Theologies (Oxford University Press, 2017) and Rewriting Maya Religion (University Press of Colorado, 2019). His third book project, in collaboration with Dr. Frauke Sachse (Dumbarton Oaks), will be a critical edition of the Kislak 1015 manuscript tentatively titled "Pastoral Fieldnotes: Edition and Commentary of a Sixteenth-century Missionary Handbook from the Maya Highlands," supported by the Library of Congress, Jay I. Kislak Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. See, for example, Humanities (Winter 2018); and Library of Congress "Pic of the Week" (March 2018).

He is also currently coordinating in a multi-year collaborative project to produce the first critical translations into English and Spanish of the entire Theologia Indorum ("Theology for/of the Indians") from K'iche'an manuscripts with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Academy of Religion as well as support from the American Philosophical Society. For more on this project, see: University of Bonn, Dept. of Ancient American Studies; "News at Mason" (May 2018); Mason Spirit (Nov. 2018); DAMALS and Archaeologie-Online (Dec. 2018).

He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Latin American Religions and on the advisory committee for The Maya Book Project.

Selected Publications


Rewriting Maya Religion: Domingo de Vico, K'iche' Intellectuals, and the Theologia Indorum (University Press of Colorado, 2019). Reviewed in the International Journal of Latin American Religions (Nov. 2020), Latin American Antiquity (March 2021), The Americas (April 2021), Hispanic American History Review (Feb. 2022), and Religious Studies Review (March 2022).

The Americas' First Theologies: Early Sources of Post-Contact Indigenous Religion (Oxford University Press, 2017). Reviewed in Reading Religion of the American Academy of Religion (Jan. 2018), The Americas (Oct. 2018), Rivista di storia del christianeismo (Jan. 2019), Anthropos (2019), and Religious Studies Review (Dec. 2019).

Book Projects

Pastoral Fieldnotes: Edition and Commentary of a Sixteenth-century Missionary Handbook from the Maya Highlands, with Frauke Sachse (University Press of Colorado and Library of Congress Press, in process).

Recent Articles and Chapters

“Books and/as Idols: Affective Discourse in Early Colonial Dominican and Maya Writings.” The Transatlantic Bartolomé de las Casas: Lascasian Heritage, Indigenous Cultures, Scholastic Thought, and Historical Reception. Edited by Rady Roldán-Figueroa and David Thomas Orique (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2023), 113-147.

“Shifts in Semantic Souls, Transmigration of Meanings: From a Mendicant toward a Maya Theory of Translation.” Time, Space, Matter in Translation. Edited by Pamela Beattie, Simona Bertacco, Tatjana Soldat-Jaffe (New York: Routledge, 2022), 91-103.

“Chapter 88: Modes of Interpretation of Indigenous Religious Ethics (of the Americas).” In The Encyclopedia of Religious Ethics, Vol. II. Edited by William Schweiker, Maria Antonaccio, Elizabeth Bucar, and David Clairmont (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2022), 759-768.

Expanded Publication List

Earlier Articles and Chapters

“Mendicants and Mesoamericans.” Encyclopedia of Global Middle Ages (Bloomsbury/Arc-Humanities Press, 2021).

“Maya Moral and Ritual Discourse: Dialogical Groundings for Consuetudinary Law.” In Journal of Religious Ethics 46, no. 1 (March 2018): 88-123.

“A Sixteenth-Century Priest’s Fieldnotes among Highland Maya: Proto-Theologia as Vade mecum.” With Frauke Sachse. In Words and Worlds Turned Around: Indigenous Christianities in Latin America. Edited by David Tavárez (University Press of Colorado, 2017), 102-123. Reviewed in the American Academy of Religion's Reading Religion (March 2018), the International Journal of Latin American Religions (June 2018), Choice (June 2018), Latin American Antiquity (Sept. 2019), Ethnohistory (Jan. 2020), and the Journal of Latin American Theology (2021).

“Proemio.” In La Theologia Indorum en BnF Manuscrit Américain 10 por Fray Domingo de Vico, Tomo I: Paleografía y traducción K'iche'-español. Edited by Saqijix Candelaria López Ixcoy (Guatemala City: Instituto de Investigación y Proyección sobre Diversidad Sociocultural e Interculturalidad, Universidad Rafael Landívar, 2017), ix-xxxi.

“How 'Bout Them Sapotes? Mendicant Translations and Maya Corrections in Early Indigenous Theologies.” In CR: The New Centennial Review (issue on translation in the global humanities) 16, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 213-244.

“Primeros folios, folios primeros: Una breve aclaración acerca de la Theologia Indorum y su relación intertexual con el Popol Wuj.” In Voces: Revista semestral del Instituto de Lingüística e Interculturalidad 9, no. 2 (July-December 2014): 91-142.

“The Use of Mayan 'Scripture' in the Americas’ First Christian Theology.” In Numen (International Review for the History of Religions) 61, no. 4 (August 2014): 396-429.

“Constructing Hyperlocal Theologies: Ethnohistorical Contextualization of ‘Indian Theology’ and jTatik Samuel’s Legacy.” In Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology 19, no. 1 (November 2013): 33-53.

“Fill in the Middle Ground: Intertextuality and Interreligious Dialogue in 16th-Century Guatemala.” In Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue 5, no. 2 (February 2011).

“Nuevas campañas de extirpación de idolatría.” In Movimientos sociales y teología en América Latina (La Paz, Bolivia: Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología, 2010), 116-123.

“Rumbo a una nueva Teología de la Liberación.” In Movimientos sociales y teología en América Latina (La Paz, Bolivia: Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología, 2010), 209-212.

Book Reviews

Mondloch, James, and Robert Carmack. Popol Wuj: Nueva traducción y comentarios. Guatemala City: Universidad Mesoamericana, 2018. In Latin American Antiquity 30, no. 2 (May 2019).

MacKenzie, C. James. Indigenous Bodies, Maya Minds: Religion and Modernity in a Transnational K'iche' Community. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 2016. In Ethnohistory 65, no. 2 (April 2018): 332-333.

Prieto, Andres I. Missionary Scientists: Jesuit Science in the Spanish South America, 1570-1810. Vanderbilt, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011. In History of Religions 53, no. 1 (August 2013): 107-110.

Westhelle, Vítor. After Heresy: Colonial Practices and Post-Colonial Theologies. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2010. In The Journal of Religion 91, no. 1 (January 2012): 141-143.

Molesky-Poz, Jean. Contemporary Maya Spirituality: The Ancient Ways are Not Lost. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2006. In The Journal of Religion 87, no. 4 (October 2007): 663-664.


Margarito's Forest / El bosque de don Margarito by Andy Carter, with Allison Havens (Illustrator). New York: Hard Ball Press, 2016. (English-Spanish bilingual edition, with lesson guide)

El bosque de don Margarito / Ri uk'iche'laj ri tat Margarito by Andy Carter, with Allison Havens (Illustrator). Guatemala, 2016. (Spanish-K'iche' bilingual edition, with lesson guide)

El bosque de don Margarito / Tpintze mo tchik'ul tat Lito by Andy Carter, with Allison Havens (Illustrator). Guatemala, 2021. (Spanish-Mam bilingual edition, with lesson guide)

Grants and Fellowships

Career Development Faculty Research Development Award (2021)

American Academy of Religion, Collaborative International Research Grant (2020)

National Endowment for the Humanities, Scholarly Translations Grant (2016-2019)

Mathy Junior Faculty Research Award (2016-2017)

National Endowment for the Humanities, Summer Stipend (2016)

Courses Taught

HNRS 130 Self, Other(s), Identity (Religious Autobiographies)

RELI 100 Religion and the Human Experience

RELI 235 Religion and Literature (Native Mesoamerican Religious Stories)

RELI 236 Religion and Film (Beyond Christ-types and "Reel Religion" Puns)

RELI 333 Spiritual Autobiography (Ideas of "Self" and "Religion")

RELI 345 Introduction to Catholicism (A Case of Christianity and Cultures)

RELI 369 Religion and Revolution in Latin America (Introduction to Liberation Theology)

RELI 385 Modern Christian Thought and Critics (From the Enlightenment to L.A. Gangs)

RELI 420 The Invention of "Indians" and "Religion" (Capstone Seminar)

RELI 425 Directed Readings: Lukumí (and other African-inspired religions in the Americas)

RELI 634 Topics in American Religion

2023 Summer Workshop: Missionary Manuscripts in Mesoamerican Languages


PhD in Religious Studies, The University of Chicago (2011)

MDiv in Religious Studies, The University of Chicago (2004)

MA in Latin American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin (1996)

BA in Philosophy and Spanish, Austin College, Sherman, Texas (1993)

Recent Presentations

“Dialogic (Re)Emergence of an Indigenous Religion (Including Native Christianities).” Princeton University, January 2022.

“Tracing a Legacy of Fr. Domingo de Vico’s ‘Theology of the Indians’: A Summa Americana.” Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., August 2021.

“Deity Droppings: Tracking Maya and Christian Doctrines of Divinity.” Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago, May 2021.