The Origins of Brazil: A Focus on Two Religions - Judaism and Candomblé

By Geiger, Pedro P. | Comparative Civilizations Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Origins of Brazil: A Focus on Two Religions - Judaism and Candomblé


Geiger, Pedro P., Comparative Civilizations Review


Introduction

This paper will present insights about two particular religions, Judaism and Candomblé, an indigenous Brazilian religion. Despite media attention to science, religion is still alive and well and affects today's human cultures. The paper deals with the fundamental elements of Judaism and Candomblé, with the evolution of these religions and their influence in Brazil's formation.

Religions have two faces: internal and external. The external is the public face, the aspects exposed to the world. This paper explores the more internal faces, looking for the unique essences of each of these two religions. It will also explore the similarities and common roles played by each of these religions in building the social life and identity of different human groups.

In each of the two religions discussed, the two faces are interrelated and interact with all other practices of the society. We will explore these religions' histories, encounters, and conflicts.

All religions share the same existential role: to explain the workings of the supernatural and to provide moral codes for their respective communities. Religion is a profoundly human institution, both adjusting to changes of society and maintaining a core of eternal, unchanging belief. The two religions discussed in this paper are very different from each other, but although both are practiced by a small fraction of humanity, one of them has had universal importance. Judaism has been the core faith from which all monotheistic religions derive, and a basic element of Central Civilization (see David Wilkinson). Candomblé has not has such universal influence, but has played a particularly important role in Brazilian history. Judaism has also played such a role.

By the end of the 15th century, when Brazil was discovered and settled by the Portuguese, Jews counted for about 10% of Portugal's population. A large part of this Jewish-Portuguese population took part in Brazilian colonization. They came as newly converted Catholics, and exerted a major influence on Brazilian culture. These converts practiced Christianity, but adhered privately to their ancestral faith. The introduction of African slavery to Brazil gave rise to a number of African-type religions, one of which was Candomblé, thus becoming a meeting place of three religions - African, Christian, and Jewish.

Candomblé developed initially among the lower classes of the population, but today has found followers even in the Brazilian upper classes. We will comment on three things: the present social and political conditions promoting religious resurgence; the nature and historic world presence of Judaism, and finally, an analysis of Candomblé itself. We will look at the roles of both religions on the historic development of Brazil itself. Finally, the author will present some personal judgments about the social-political role of religion in theour postmodern times.

Religion still flourishes

Since the Renaissance, scientific theories conflicted with religious narratives. Geocentric theory was contradicted by astronomy's finding of heliocentrism; Darwin's theory of Evolution conflicted with belief in divine creation; germ theory replaced the belief in disease as God's punishment. Increasingly, among large sectors of the educated, religion seemed to be enter in a continuous decline reaching a point of irrelevance. Science would replace religion as me basis for understanding the essence of the universe. Modernization brought with it new secular education, ethics, codes and laws - changing with changing conditions, unlike the timely codes of religion. Modernization also responded to the needs of urbanization, industrialization, and the Nation State. (See Henri Lefebre: The Right to the City: equal rights for all social classes to have an access to urban services and environment.

Modernity also saw the development of social sciences included the applicability of reason to the origins of religion. …

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