David Carrasco

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Davíd L. Carrasco (born 1944)[1] is a Mexican-American academic historian of religion, anthropologist, and Mesoamericanist scholar. As of 2001 he holds the inaugural appointment as Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of Latin America Studies at the Harvard Divinity School, in a joint appointment with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. Carrasco previously taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Princeton University and is known for his research and extensive publications on Mesoamerican religion and history, his public speaking as well as wider contributions within Latin American studies[2] and Latino/a studies. He has made powerful critical statements about Latino contributions to US democracy in public dialogues with Cornel West[3], Toni Morrison, and Samuel P. Huntington[4][5]. His work is known primarily for his illuminating writings on the ways human societies orient themselves with sacred place.

Noted as "one of the foremost scholars of Mesoamerican religions and cultures"[6] Carrasco has contributed particularly to the study of history, religion and symbolism of the Aztec and Teotihuacan cultures. Several of his publications have received awards, and he is a recipient (2004) of the Order of the Aztec Eagle,[7] the highest decoration awarded by the Mexican government to foreigners. In 2006, Carrasco received the Mircea Eliade Jubilee medal, presented in absentia by the President of Romania, Traian Basescu. The Mircea Eliade award, named for the preeminent Romanian-born interpreter of world religions, was given as a sign of appreciation for contributions in the study of history of religion. In 2014 Carrasco was chosen as the Alumnus of the Year at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

When Davíd Carrasco received the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca (Order of the Aztec Eagle) he was described as "a man of our time, a man of enormous vitality and value," by Carlos de Icaza, the Ambassador of Mexico. [8] This award was the result of Carrasco’s writings on Mesoamerican cities and religions, his teachings on the history of religions and Mexican American cultures and his work at the Aztec Templo Mayor in Mexico City. In 2003 he was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His co-edited (with Nicholas Cull) 2004 book, Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Film, Music and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants, was named a Southwest Book of the Year by the Tucson-Pima County Public Library. Also in 2011, he was unanimously voted a Corresponding Member of the Academia Mexicana de la Historia (Mexican Academy of History), joining other historians, artists, writers, and intellectuals who have distinguished themselves, by their contributions and knowledge, to the culture, education, and love of Mexico.

Carrasco descends from several generations of El Paso, Texas educators. His grandfather Miguel Carrasco founded and directed the Smelter Vocational School in El Paso Texas,[9] and his father was the first Mexican American to serve as the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at a major U.S. university, American University. His father also founded and directed the El Paso Job Corps Center in El Paso, Texas now named the David L. Carrasco Job Corps Center. The younger Carrasco was educated at Western Maryland College with a major in English Literature and the University of Chicago, where he earned three degrees in nine years: a Master of Theology, Master of Arts in History of Religions, and a Ph.D. in the History of Religions. His first book publication, Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire: Mythos and Prophecies in the Aztec Tradition (University of Chicago Press), won the Chancellor's Book Prize at the University of Colorado and, according to H.B. Nicholson "This book, rich in ideas, constituting a novel approach... Recommended to all serious students of the New World's most advanced indigenous civilization."[citation needed]

In 1978, Carrasco was invited by the Mexican archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma to participate in the interpretation of the astonishing discoveries made at the excavation of the Great Aztec Temple in Mexico City. One general result of the friendship and collaborations between Matos and Carrasco is the more then three decades of seminars and over 30 book publications on Mesoamerican history and religion which have emerged from the Moses Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project. These publications include Carrasco's best selling academic title Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers and City of Sacrifice, which the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes praised as "a brilliant, timely, provocative, and eternal book." With the crucial assistance of Scott Sessions, the Archive produced the multiple award-winning Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures that became the most significant reference work on Mesoamerica since the Handbook of Middle American Indians. Carrasco’s encyclopedia won 3 publication awards. Among the most distinguished members of the Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project are Doris Heyden, John D. Hoag, H.B. Nicholson, Alfredo López Austin, Anthony Aveni, Elizabeth H. Boone, Charles H. Long, Leonardo López Luján, William L. Fash, Saburo Sugiyama, Lindsay Jones, and Scott Sessions.

While at Harvard, Carrasco became associated with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and was introduced to the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan #2 through the generosity of the Mexican philanthropist Angeles Espinosa Yglesias. Carrasco organized a 15 person scholarly team in a 5 year analysis of this early 16th century codex/mapa resulting in the award winning book, co-edited with Scott Sessions, Cave, City and Eagle’s Nest: An Interpretive Journey Through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan #2 which was translated into Spanish in 2010.

Carrasco's classroom teaching has resulted in recognition by the University of Colorado where he was chosen Presidential Teaching Scholar, 1991-93, and at Harvard University where he was awarded the Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011 in the Harvard Extension School.[citation needed]

Published works[edit]

  • The Oxford encyclopedia of Mesoamerican cultures: the civilizations of Mexico and Central America (general editor)
  • Moctezuma's Mexico: visions of the Aztec world (written with Eduardo Matos Moctezuma)
  • Daily life of the Aztecs: people of the sun and earth (written with Scott Sessions)
  • Arqueología e historia del Centro de México. Homenaje a Eduardo Matos Moctezuma (edited with Leonardo López Luján and Lourdes Cué)
  • Quetzalcoatl and the irony of empire: myths and prophecies in the Aztec tradition.
  • Mesoamerica's classic heritage: from Teotihuacan to the Aztecs (edited with Lindsay Jones and Scott Sessions)
  • Waiting for the dawn: Mircea Eliade in perspective
  • To change place: Aztec ceremonial landscapes (editor)
  • Cave, city, and eagle's nest: an interpretive journey through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan (edited with Scott Sessions)
  • Breaking through Mexico's past: digging the Aztecs with Eduardo Matos Moctezuma (written with Leonardo López Luján)
  • The history of the conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo (editor)
  • Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants (edited with Nicholas J. Cull)
  • Religions of Mesoamerica
  • City of sacrifice


  1. ^ Espín 2007:202
  2. ^ Harvard University Gazette 2001:10
  3. ^ [1], Video on YouTube of an event at Harvard University
  4. ^ [2], Article in The Crimson, November 2004
  5. ^ [3], Article in The Crimson, October 2004
  6. ^ Espín 2007:202
  7. ^ Harvard University Gazette 2004:15
  8. ^ Harvard University Gazette 2004
  9. ^ Perales 2010


Beasley, Johnathan (May 2008). "Spirituality and Physical Space: An Interview With Davíd Carrasco". News and Events: Article Archive. Harvard Divinity School. Retrieved 2014-08-20. 
Espín, Orlando (2007). "Carrasco, David (1949—)". In Orlando O. Espín and James B. Nickoloff (eds). An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-8146-5856-7. OCLC 162145884. 
Harvard Magazine staff (January–February 2002). "David Carrasco" (online reproduction). Harvard Magazine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Magazine Inc. 104 (3): 61. ISSN 0095-2427. 
Harvard University Gazette (16 August 2001). "Carrasco to join Divinity School: Renowned history of religions scholar emigrates from New Jersey" (online reproduction). Harvard Gazette Archives. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
Harvard University Gazette (16 December 2004). "Mexico honors Carrasco as 'a man of our time': 'Order of the Aztec Eagle' awarded to HDS professor" (online reproduction). Harvard Gazette Archives. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
McDowell, Wendy S. (March 2004). "Carrasco Organizes International Team of Scholars to Decipher Sixteenth-Century Mesoamerican Codex". News and Events: Article Archive. Harvard Divinity School. Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
Perales, Monica. (13 September 2010). Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community Paperback. University of North Carolina Press. 
Valle, Victor (29 November 1987). "In Search of the Aztecs: David Carrasco Set Out to Reveal the Secrets of Mexico's Greatest Archeological Find, El Templo Mayor. Along the Way, He Discovered His Own Roots" (online reproduction). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 

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