Across Borders: Latin Perspectives in the Americas Reshaping Religion, Theology, and Life

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When I began my own studies, this field was mostly concerned at least in the public sphere with issues of contraception and abortion, marriage and divorce, and family legislation. The long-standing concept of patria potestad , which affirms the authority of men in household and property, was still mostly unchallenged Htun , When I first arrived in Colombia, I was so naive that I asked a friend if there was civil divorce in the country. This was a strong social disincentive and many went out of the country to marry.

Across Borders: Latin Perspectives in the Americas Reshaping Religion, Theology, and Life

Older problems of sexuality and gender like contraception and abortion persist, but now they must share the public sphere with other, highly contested issues such as gender rights, gay rights, same-sex marriage known in Spanish as egalitarian marriage, or matrimonio igualitario and of course now with the avalanche of cases of clerical sex abuse and cover-up by high church officials e. In his many visits to the region, Pope Francis has led the way in bringing public attention and support to those involved in issues like migration, ecology, and inequality Levine b.

But on matters of sexuality and gender, and in particular on the need for transparency and accountability in cases of clerical sexual abuse, he has made numerous missteps. Within Latin America, the case of Chile has been particularly visible, with arrests, police raids on church archives, and the resignation of all the bishops of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has played a contradictory role.

One element that is notable in this case as in others, from the U. Police raid church archives, priests and bishops are indicted and arrestees: behaviors unthinkable fifty years ago Goodstein ; Robertson To be sure, the nineteenth century was filled with church—state conflicts, often involving violence and clerical expulsions, but those disputes were centered around classic issues of control over property and education.

The dynamics of the current disputes centered on sexuality, and clerical abuse are different.

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The process, the actors, and of course the context differ sharply from the past. This is a new world. This is clearly a process that has been building for a long time, impelled by groups from civil society, above all groups of victims along with associations of lawyers, doctors, and social workers and human rights groups. They have fought to make these issues central to the public agenda. The question for analysis is to understand why now, and why in this way.

Why has it been possible now to break through the cover of silence and indifference and demand accountability? The question is why has it been possible here and now to win access to the public sphere. To find an answer requires tracing the history of these groups and understanding how networks were built and sustained. Any study will have to work in many sites and with a great variety of data including analysis of social movements, of legal proceedings of legislation, combined with attention to the public discourse of churches and political leaders, and the transnational connections of movements.

Under the heading of spirituality and encounters with charismatic power, there are two points to bear in mind. This is not limited to Protestant churches new or old.

ltemcadisosig.tk The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is itself one of the fastest growing movements in the entire region Steigenga and Cleary ; Cleary The specific variants of Pentecostal experience run from intense personal and collective prayer, belief in divine healing, and public exorcisms often televised , visions and speaking in tongues glossalalia to brief in a health and wealth gospel according to which true believers will be showered with material goods.

The new centrality of Pentecostal practice is a prime example of multiple and simultaneous creation.

There was no single point of origin. Instead, initiatives popped up all across the region eventually making contact and consolidating. Contacts and news somehow flowed across borders and filtered down through social levels.

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I still recall one instance when I was working with a neighborhood group, a Christian base community in the city of Cali Colombia. How they knew about the movement was a mystery to me.

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This was all well before massive access to the internet or even to reliable mail or telephones. But somehow information makes it through. Studying phenomena of intense spirituality and encounters with charismatic power can be a challenge for many social scientists who are made uncomfortable by phenomena they cannot easily touch or measure with standard approaches.

There can also be personal or psychological problems in accepting the reality of this kind of encounter.

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But to understand the social power of what is happening in churches across the region, it may be necessary to take the risk of crossing that line that separates the observer from the actor, the believer from the student Harding The first step is to take these experiences seriously: not as some aberrant phenomenon, but rather as a key element of personal and collective experience, not to explain it away but to try to get inside and understand it as much as possible.

It will not be easy. I still recall the shock I gave to some colleagues when I told them that if my interviewees said that they had had a vision, well then, they had a vision. We need to work with it. To work with phenomena of this kind it is essential to be present, to be on the scene, to observe, to listen, to interview, to work with videos often easily available and occasional pamphlets which members are usually delighted to share. The power of these experiences is not limited to words, so it is also important to listen to music, to examine iconography to observe the emotional tone of meetings, and to look at the objects people touch and use.

Because many of the most successful Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches are new, it is of particular interest to understand how they were set up and how they grew, who the leaders are, what members are taught and how new leaders are trained, how the churches are structured, and what leadership styles are like. There is already good work on these issue Algranti ; Fonseca ; Freston ; Kramer ; Oro and Saman and more is needed.

Elsewhere I have written extensively on the changing relations between religion and violence in Latin America Levine , , a. So I will be brief here. Any discussion of violence benefits by being concrete and specific. My concern here is above all with coercive violence: the violence that forces itself on people, that wounds, tortures, and kills, that leaves widows and orphans, along with complex and lasting psychological, social, and economic suffering.

With the end of military rule and the resolution of civil wars across the region, the character and social location of violence has shifted. Massive state repression and open civil war have happily passed from the scene, but of course violence remains and in some cases takes an even greater toll Wilde Any current portrait of violence in Latin America must take account of new forms of violence including the impact of drugs and gangs, the violence that accompanies internal and transnational migration Frank-Vitale , the ordinary violence of mostly unaccountable police and so-called security forces, Brinks violence in the truly horrific prison systems Johnson , and of course the continuing presence of domestic and child abuse.

The transformation of violence and its more multiple and decentralized manifestations has been matched by the transformation of religion into a multiple and decentralized field. In the most recent era of military rule, religious leaders often led the resistance to state oppression most notably in cases like Chile, Brazil, or El Salvador, mobilizing option and providing support and resources to victims.

But now any action by the Catholic Church is matched and often exceeded by multiple actions undertaken by multiple churches and religiously inspired groups of all kinds Three good examples are work with gangs and gang members Brenneman , , work in jails and prisons, and assistance to those faced with coercion, robbery, rape, and abuse as they attempt to migrate. The phenomenon of gangs fueled by drug wars is present everywhere but most studied in Central America and Brazil.

Brenneman , ; Insight Crime references cited in Levine , , a. Alongside the conventional Catholic repertoire of official chaplains or truce negotiations brokered by bishops, a range of options have emerged from the new churches including direct work with gangs and gang members.

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Are you sure you want to delete this list? Christianity in America, Friend or Foe? Have you ever wondered about life after death? The focus of this article will be Hispanic religions from the midth century United States to the present. Chi ama i libri sceglie Kobo e inMondadori. As pointed out by the Argentine sociologist Fortunato Mallimaci , p.

Many gangs are notorious for punishing any effort to leave with killing, but exceptions are commonly made for those who claim to have found Jesus. Real believers are given a pass out although the gang checks up to make sure that conversion is lasting.

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For their part, churches welcome new members, provide tattoo removal clinics 14 and access to work in a supportive community. Pope Francis gave an impassioned homily in a mass at the U. On their way north, many hitch notoriously dangerous rides on the train known as la bestia , the beast where they are regularly victims of robbery, rape, and often murder. The little help that is offered food, water, shelter for the night, medical assistance comes from scattered initiatives by churches or local religious groups Levine a ; Frank-Vitale In all the areas mentioned here sexuality, gender and identity, spirituality and encounters with charismatic power, and violence action arises from numerous scattered local and regional groups, sometimes specifically religious, sometimes not.

The implication for research is that future students of the matter would do well to begin not by studying churches but rather by identifying sites of conflict and contestation, and then look to ways in which religion may be involved. A central thread in any effort to draw a history of the state of the art is the need to locate any specific study in a historical and structural context in ways that can shed light on how individual and collective experience are bound together. This is what Mills meant by focusing on the intersection of biography and history.

Structuring work in this way allows us to concentrate on lived experience, to understand how meaning is formed and acted upon, not in isolation but in some structured relation to other social levels. After all, religious experience itself is necessarily both personal and collective, both private and public.

Analysis has to recognize and value that complexity. There is a concrete social process in which people, material resources, ideas, and models of organization travel back and forth, linking the local and personal with larger networks and formal structures. In my own work, I have traced these connections in multiple ways: tracking the social history of a pamphlet or an audio cassette, asking who produced them and how they got to their destination.

It makes a difference who brings ideas to groups and communities and so I have also studied the careers of pastoral agents, and the history of group membership. All these processes are more complicated and multiple than they were half a century ago, but in the same measure they are also richer and more interesting. The question that preoccupies me here is what can we do to ensure that any future state of the art will yield better studies, more valid and reliable data, more insights into patterns and dynamics of change.

The task is at once theoretical and methodological. In theoretical terms, efforts at building grand theories to order and explain everything are likely to be less useful than work with mid-range theory that can generate concepts able to specify elements of a complex and multileveled reality, that can identify likely sites for innovation and conflict, point to channels of access, and leave substantial room for questions of meaning. To explain something, it is necessary to locate the general in the specific and particular, to construct a relation between otherwise isolated cases, and to show how and why they fit together in relations that can then be extended to other levels.

Having a clear theoretical focus is what allows us to take any study beyond simply accumulating instances of some phenomenon, naming them, and sorting them into categories. Collecting data and building typologies should always be subordinate to explanation. Without a theory, typologies lead to no conclusions of particular interest. This reflection brings me to a final autobiographical note.

During my time in London, I was privileged to attend lectures on the philosophy of science by Karl Popper. There was stunned silence in the auditorium: none of us knew what to say or do. Popper then drove home the point. Without a theory, it is impossible to know what may constitute a unit of analysis or how individual units may fit together into some organized whole. The theories that can open us to a better state of the art will be those that can provide us with tools to identify the origins and dynamics of socioreligious phenomena, give us an explanation of its power to convince, and to organize behavior.

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They should also be able to identify the new social forces and creative energies that carry it forward, and to recognize when they are successful and also when they fail, because many do fail. So we need theory, theory that makes a central place for continuous change, theory that will shed light on the relations between religion and politics, and for Latin America specifically, between religious pluralism and political alternatives, not to trace lines of separation, but rather in search of synthesis and mutual influence. In terms of method, I limit myself to noting a few essential points.

In the design of any study, it is important to build in a comparative dimension, with work in varied sites and social levels. Even if the data are based exclusively on field work within Latin America, or within any particular country, the available bibliography can enrich any study with comparative references. In my experience, it is useful to work with mixed methods, combining quantitative with qualitative data large and small surveys, depth interviews, observation, collections of documents and pamphlets, iconography and music, web sites and videos.

A mixed approach yields a denser and richer portrait of reality than can be derived from any single data source. The problem for many scholars today is that work of this kind is difficult, time-consuming, and on occasion dangerous. But I believe strongly that going into the field, observing, touching, talking, and listening make possible a much richer and more complete understanding of reality and what it means to the actors themselves.

It opens us to grasping more fully how actors see and value the world and how they organize themselves to act within it.