God or Nature? Catastrophes and Modernity from Lisbon to Valparaíso.

November 2017 (VOL. 35, NO. 3)

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This article compares the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 with the Valparaíso earthquake of 1822. Connecting these two cases, I discuss how the decaying role of religious explanations for disaster is linked with increasing expectations for disaster response on the part of the state. This paradigm change started in both countries with the intellectual discussions following these two catastrophes. However, only in the case of Lisbon the debate was followed by an organized state response. In Chile, the government literally crumbled after the event. Nonetheless, the Valparaíso case shows that intellectual discussions about the origin of the earthquake were sufficient to explain a change of mentality and an incipient demand on the state for disaster response. Overall, this research shows that ideas do matter and that events such as catastrophes can deeply influence how ideas change.