Introduction: Religion and Politics in Latin America

By Berntzen, Elinar; Bjune, Maren Christensen | Ibero-americana, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Religion and Politics in Latin America


Berntzen, Elinar, Bjune, Maren Christensen, Ibero-americana


Recent developments in Latin America have shown that religion can definitely not be dismissed as a significant agent/factor in politics and society. The role of liberation theology and the explosive growth of Latin American Pentecostalism have together marked the resurrection of religion as a viable political determinant. The explosive growth of Latin American Pentecostalism during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly from the 1980s onwards, has been instrumental in capturing the attention of academics from various disciplines, leading to a boom in academic research exploring the cultural, social and political impact of Pentecostalism in the region. A central question in this regard is whether the political impact of the cultural, religious and ideological elements of Latin American Pentecostalism is one of retaining the socio-economic and political status quo or a harbinger of change. The Latin American Pentecostal presence is also having a major impact upon other religious expressions across Latin America.

During the recent decade the relation between religion and politics has also manifested itself in a certain tendency towards religious populism. A growing number of Latin American politicians seem to be embracing religion. Many analysts see a growing political manipulation of religious fervour in the region, alongside a greater church influence in state affairs. In few countries is the church pulling its weight more visibly than in Nicaragua. In November 2006, Daniel Ortega won the presidential elections by dropping his earlier Marxist rhetoric and running as a religious Catholic. During the 2006 electoral campaign, Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo threw his backing behind his once arch-rival Ortega, who reciprocated by backing the church-supported law banning therapeutic abortions. In Ecuador, conservative banana industry magnate Alvaro Noboa won the first round of the presidential election in October 2006 by posing as El mensajero de Dios (God's messenger). He was later defeated in the November runoff election by leftist populist Rafael Correa, who in the final leg of the campaign presented himself as a fervent Catholic. Last but not least, in Paraguay, ex- 'bishop of the poor' Fernando Lugo won the presidential elections in April 2008, and assumed the presidency in August 2008 after being granted laicization by the Pope.

This thematic section explores some of the diversity of relationships between religion, politics and society in Latin America. The articles address the complex interdisciplinary interplay between the religious and the political and social spheres in the region. The articles cover various sub-themes, such as 'prosperity theology', charismatic renewal, religion and multiculturalism, religion and ethnic identity, religion and political elites and the relationship between religious and political elites; political parties and religious affiliation and values, and religious actors as providers of welfare and security. Most of the articles in this thematic section were first presented as drafts in the session "Religion, politics and society" at the 6th Nolan Conference, held at the Institute of Latin American Studies, Stockholm University, in April 2012. The authors of the articles represent the fields of history, religious studies, theology, political science, social anthropology and comparative politics.

Modern Pentecostalism is predominantly a Protestant phenomenon, and Neo-Pentecostalism, as implied by its name, is a variety of Pentecostalism having its origins in the charismatic movement. NeoPentecostalism differs from 'traditional' Pentecostalism primarily in its emphasis on the temporal world. The Neo-Pentecostal doctrine of the socalled 'theology of prosperity', the belief that God miraculously bestows material blessings on the faithful, is one of the most dynamic movements in Latin American Neo-Pentecostalism today. In her article "NeoPentecostalism and Prosperity Theology in Latin America: A Religion for Late Capitalist Society" Virginia Garrard-Burnett, professor of History and Religious Studies, explores the expansion of 'prosperity theology' in Latin America as an aspect of global Pentecostalism. …

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