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Conversion of a Continent

Conversion of a Continent: Contemporary Religious Change in Latin America

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Conversion of a Continent
    Book Description:

    A massive religious transformation has unfolded over the past forty years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a region where the Catholic Church could once claim a near monopoly of adherents, religious pluralism has fundamentally altered the social and religious landscape.Conversion of a Continent brings together twelve original essays that document and explore competing explanations for how and why conversion has occurred. Contributors draw on various insights from social movement theory to religious studies to help outline its impact on national attitudes and activities, gender relations, identity politics, and reverse waves of missions from Latin America aimed at the American immigrant community.Unlike other studies on religious conversion, this volume pays close attention to who converts, under what circumstances, the meaning of conversion to the individual, and how the change affects converts' beliefs and actions. The thematic focus makes this volume important to students and scholars in both religious studies and Latin American studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4402-1
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. PART ONE Approaches to Conversion

    • 1 Understanding Conversion in the Americas
      (pp. 3-32)

      When two noted anthropologists canvassed colonization projects in Bolivia’s lowlands, they reached the last house on the newly constructed dirt road. The owner heard them coming and ran out of the house yelling as they approached, “Soy católico. Nunca van a convertirme” (I’m Catholic. You’re never going to convert me). As they soon discovered, he was the last Catholic left in the project.

      Although this story represents the extreme case, it reflects a larger social reality in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a region that was nearly all Catholic just forty years ago, evangelical Protestants now represent approximately 15...

    • 2 Analyzing Conversion in Latin America: Theoretical Questions, Methodological Dilemmas, and Comparative Data from Argentina and Brazil
      (pp. 33-51)

      Over the past decade, religious conversion has been the subject of significant debate in the Southern Cone of South America. In Brazil, where a long tradition of sociological and anthropological studies of religion has produced provocative theories and a rich body of data, scholars are somewhat skeptical about the utility of the concept of “conversion” and have preferred the use of the terms “passages” (passagens) or “multiple membership” (pertença multíplice) as more adequately explaining the religious dynamics in their country. In Argentina, where the term has been more thoughtfully evaluated by means of an integrated review of North American studies...

    • 3 Conversion Careers in Latin America: Entering and Leaving Church among Pentecostals, Catholics, and Mormons
      (pp. 52-71)

      This chapter applies the concept of theconversion careerto Latin America by analyzing how people’s involvement in churches is likely to evolve in the course of their lifetime.¹ The conversion career includes all episodes of higher or lower participation in one or more religious organizations during a person’s life. The posited levels of religious participation include pre-affiliation, affiliation, conversion, confession, and disaffiliation. The central question framing the conversion career approach here is, What are the crucial factors that may cause people in Latin America to become religiously active at a certain stage of their lives?

      During each individual’s life,...

    • 4 Specialized Spirits: Conversion and the Products of Pneumacentric Religion in Latin Americaʹs Free Market of Faith
      (pp. 72-92)

      This chapter employs the theoretical tool of religious economy to explain the recent growth of Pentecostalism, Charismatic Catholicism, and African diasporan religions in Latin America. While these three religious traditions are united by their common products of faith healing and pneumacentrism, they each produce and offer specialized goods and services that allow for differentiation in the increasingly crowded Latin American market of faith. Conversion is Pentecostalism’s premier specialized product and holds great appeal to tens of millions of Latin Americans seeking to change their lives for the better. The role of the Virgin in Charismatic Catholicism and the amorality of...

    • 5 Relational Analysis of Religious Conversion and Social Change: Networks and Publics in Latin American Evangelicalism
      (pp. 93-112)

      Relational approaches to the study of religious practice and change can be thought of simply as micro-level versions of supply-side approaches, such as the rational-choice approach or “religious economy” (see Andrew Chesnut and Virginia Garrard-Burnett in this volume). Supply-side approaches hold religious interest or “demand” constant and do not, therefore, focus on the nature of religious products so much as the structural conditions facilitating or impeding growth as well as the range of competitors in a given “religious market.” Network approaches do the same but at a more micro-social level. The most fundamental idea is simply that people convert to...

  5. PART TWO Conversion to What?

    • 6 Conversion from Afro-Brazilian Religions to Neo-Pentecostalism: Opening New Horizons of the Possible
      (pp. 115-132)

      Over the last fifteen years, a broad swathe of people in Brazil has converted to Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches. Their unprecedented rate of expansion has meant these groups have rapidly become a religious movement of undeniable importance in the country, displaying a significant presence in culture, politics, and the media. In this chapter, my aim is to show that the phenomenal growth of these churches is due in large part to changes within Pentecostalism itself, caused by the emergence of the neo-Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) and its theological and ritual innovations.¹ The IURD has reinterpreted...

    • 7 Conversion to Afro-Brazilian Religions in Buenos Aires: Convincing Interactions
      (pp. 133-152)

      A number of studies carried out in diverse settings and denominations around the world have established a positive correlation between the development and maintenance of conversion, on the one hand, and the frequency of participation in a religious group, on the other. In this chapter I will analyze conversion processes in a particularly successful temple of Afro-Brazilian religions in Buenos Aires in order to determine the characteristics of group interaction that facilitate this process. The group does not perform overt proselytizing activities but offers magical services to the general population.

      This research attempts to make a contribution to two bodies...

    • 8 The Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Revitalization Movements and Conversion
      (pp. 153-173)

      When Nicholas D’Antonio, the bishop of Olancho, Honduras, was thinking of joining the Catholic Charismatic movement, he wondered if he was betraying his commitment to change in the Catholic Church. He had painfully reshaped his own views on the church and society during the 1960s era of Vatican Council II and its Latin American follow-up, the Medellin Conference. During this period, he changed his view of the church from being hierarchical to participatory, from concentrating on devotions and rituals to encouraging activity to make better the world in which the people of Olancho lived. For Bishop D’Antonio to be drawn...

    • 9 Conversion to Native Spirituality in the Andes: From Corpus Christi to Inti Raymi
      (pp. 174-196)

      In 1991 I was interviewing “Pablo,” an indigenous man from highland Ecuador who had grown up poor and illiterate, took night classes with Catholic nuns to learn to read and write, had converted to Evangelical Christianity, and was now a father of two and sold traditional weavings and farmed. Pablo allowed me to record his life history; he taught me some Quichua and told me about how shamans cure people and how believing in God and not being fearful can protect one from the phantoms that lurk in abandoned places. In return I introduced Pablo to “Diego,” a man from...

  6. PART THREE The Implications of Conversion

    • 10 Indigenous Conversion to Catholicism: Change of Heart in Chiapas, Mexico
      (pp. 199-217)

      This chapter focuses on the much-overlooked conversion from Traditionalism to Catholicism among the Mayas of highland Chiapas, their own understandings of the meaning of conversion, and its impact on their lives. This volume points out the complexities of conversion, emphasizing that conversion is not a sudden and dramatic change in belief, but an ongoing process. The editors call for attention to the agency of converts rather than assuming that people passively join and absorb a new religion. In order to emphasize the agency of indigenous Catholics this chapter explores how religion is practiced in acts of everyday life. Mayan Catholics...

    • 11 Stop Suffering? The Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios in the United States
      (pp. 218-238)

      The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, or, as it is more generally known in the United States, the Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios (IURD), is one of the most rapidly growing denominations in the early twenty-first century. Like most of the other two hundred fast-growing mega-church denominations in the United States, the IURD is neo-Pentecostal in its beliefs and practice and innovative in its liturgy, utilizing contemporary praise music and highly participatory worship; and it aggressively incorporates modern marketing techniques in evangelization. Like the other emerging megachurches, the IURD, which was founded during the mid-1970s, is part...

    • 12 Healing the Nation: Pentecostal Identity and Social Change in Bolivia
      (pp. 239-255)

      In the past twenty years, Bolivia has undergone a drastic shift away from the type of society it had become after the 1952 National Revolution. Beginning in the mid-1980s a series of economic and political reforms, generally classified under the rubric of neoliberal reform, were enacted. These reforms are popularly conceived of as having triggered an economic crisis that still plagues the nation and having caused immense suffering among Bolivia’s impoverished majority and increasingly volatile middle-class as they struggle to provide for themselves and their families. In light of recent widespread public protest in Bolivia against these neoliberal policies (culminating...

    • 13 The Politics of Pentecostalized Religion: Conversion as Pentecostalization in Guatemala
      (pp. 256-280)

      As we have argued throughout this volume, the definition and processes of conversion have been underspecified in much of the literature on religious change in Latin America. Given this shortcoming, it should come as no surprise that the political effects of conversion have also been frequently over-generalized. After all, if conversion is to be understood as a continuum and/or career taking place in an increasingly fluid and competitive religious market, we should automatically be skeptical about sweeping claims that attempt to reify the links between simple religious affiliation and various forms of democratic or anti-democratic politics in the region. Based...

    (pp. 281-284)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 285-290)