The Intersecting Identity Politics of the Ecuadorian Evangelical Indians

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Is there a certain hierarchic order between ethnic and religious identification among ethnically defined peoples with specific religious beliefs? Is this imaginable hierarchy persistent, or does it change according to differing social and political contexts? In this study these questions will be problematized through the examination of Evangelical Indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian highlands in the midst of mobilization strategies and the politization of ethnic and religious identities.

All over the world the dialectical relationship between social cleavages and political party systems has been debated for several decades (e.g. Lipset and Rokkan 1967). However, in Latin America, the connection between class cleavages and political party identification has not been that clear as in Western Europe. Traditionally, the dominant Latin American parties have been characterized by populism, personalism, clientelism, corporatism and class heterogeneity catch-all parties). However, since the 1990s, scholars have paid more attention to the deepening connection between social cleavages and political parties, with the politization of ethnicity and the formation of ethnically defined political parties (Yashar 2005; Van Cott 2005, 2008).

This tendency indicates the initiation of a process toward a more multi-faceted cleavage structure behind the political party systems. However, many scholars have separated the social identities of ethnicity and class and not analyzed them as being integrated into one and the same political movement. With the recent and ongoing politicization of religious beliefs, particularly with the increasing presence of Evangelical movements in Ecuador and elsewhere, these relations are further complicated. At first glance, one may assume that a political party exclusively constructed for Evangelical Indians would appeal to these identity-based groups. However, such a clear-cut relationship is far more complex, as this study will show. Identity-politics in Ecuador and elsewhere embraces processes that depend on historical structures and particularities in political and organizational culture as well as transformations of the mere identities and geographical spaces over time.

The aim of this interdisciplinary study is to examine the Ecuadorian Evangelical Indigenous movement with a particular focus on the tensions between ethnicity and religion in political mobilization and alliancebuilding processes. The aspect of class will similarly be considered to a certain extent, since the study deals with traditionally excluded and impoverished citizen groups, particularly in rural areas. As the introductory questions of the article indicated, a central concern is to examine whether there is an identitarian hierarchy among Evangelical Indigenous peoples, and whether this order is constant. A hypothetical point of departure of the present study is that in political contexts, the ethnic identity seems to weigh heavier than that of religion, whereas in the private sphere religious identification may be generally superior.1

The geographical scope is the Chimborazo province in the central Ecuadorian highlands, particularly drawing on experiences observed in the municipalities of Colta, Guamote and the provincial capital Riobamba. With regard to the justification of the geographical focus, Chimborazo has been a traditional stronghold of both the Catholic Church and later of Evangelical churches, which makes the province exceptional and has triggered the formation of different political movements. Being at the same time among the most Indigenous of the Ecuadorian provinces - in terms of self-identification - makes Chimborazo a most suitable case since the three contrasting, albeit socially integrated identities - religion, ethnicity and class - can be discerned there among the Indigenous population. Since the 1990s the Indigenous political organizations have triumphed in subnational elections in Chimborazo (i. …