Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A History of Christianity in Brazil: An Interpretive Essay

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A History of Christianity in Brazil: An Interpretive Essay

Article excerpt

Before describing the historical events that have marked the history of Christianity in Brazil, it is important to understand and explain how and why Christianity established itself in this country and what are the configurations and limitations of its diverse manifestations. For reasons of space it will not be possible to delve into all the related themes, thus I will simply point out some general elements that will help us to understand the contours of the presence and practice of the Christian religion in Brazilian society. Although the historical events are important, a sociological analysis is essential to understanding the phenomenon.

The task of understanding and explaining the presence of a particular religion in a given culture presents us with a dilemma, especially when such a religion originated outside of, has been inserted into or superimposed on that culture. If we accept that religion is an original component of a culture and constitutes the primary basis of any theory of knowledge, how do we chose the starting point with which to explain the presence of Christian religion in a colonized region to which the colonizers or conquistadors came with all their religious baggage already packed? Is it the intruder's religion that brings the cultural framework inside of which a new culture will be formed, or does culture come wrapped in traits of secularized thoughts to which the intruder's religion just gives legitimacy? Except in simple, non-complex societies in which it is impossible to distinguish religion from day-to-day life, there is no way we can escape from the following question: is it the culture that develops religion, or is it the latter that, arising out of people's perplexity before the unknown, develops the instruments of control and of understanding reality? We can also admit a third possibility when dealing with this question: religion and culture are inseparable elements and any attempt to analyze them will raise doubts.

This discussion may appear irrelevant because apparently it has been overcome by the exhaustion of the paradigms that sustain it. However, it becomes relevant to our attempt to understand and explain the development of the Christian religion in Brazil and its present manifestation, especially in helping us to see its extra-Christian fundamentals as well as the motives that are at the roots of the present religious conflicts in Brazil.

Let us assume, for methodology's sake, that Christianity in Brazil can be studied as a sort of set of thoughts that at times are hegemonic, sometimes are in crisis, or that now and then are in conflict. Let us assume also that this set of thoughts have originated in previous cultural traits or are subjacent to them. We have to consider also that this set of thoughts, brought to Brazil by the Portuguese, kept the colours and the fragrance of medieval Christianity, despite the fact that the historical period was characterized by the beginning of the Modem Age in Europe, and remained so - in a secularized and politicized way - throughout the colonial period. In order to understand it, one must go back to the origins of these sets of thoughts as suggested by Karl Mannhein for whom "there are forms of thoughts that cannot be adequately understood as long as its social origins remain obscure."(1) The set of thoughts brought by the Portuguese would be joined, throughout three centuries of contact, by the African and indigenous cultures that have made a significant contribution for the development and configuration of religious thought in Brazil. Therefore, it is in the Iberian-European, African, and indigenous cultures that we will identify the forms of thoughts that underlie the more general religious configurations found in Brazilian society.

Brazil was at the same time a Portuguese discovery and an invaded and a colonized land. The Portuguese people were still coming out of the Middle Ages and entering the Modem Age at the time of the Great Discoveries but still saw the world in medieval terms. …

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