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Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil

Stephen Selka

Publication Year: 2007

Brazilians of African descent draw upon both Christian and African diasporic religions to construct their racial identities in a variety of intriguing ways. Focusing on the Reconcavo region of northeastern Brazil--known for its rich Afro-Brazilian traditions and as a center of racial consciousness in the country--Stephen Selka provides a nuanced and sophisticated ethnography that examines what it means to be black in Brazil.

Selka examines how Evangelical Protestantism, Candomble (traditional Afro-Brazilian religion), and Catholicism--especially progressive Catholicism--are deployed in discursive struggles concerning racism and identity. In the process, he provides a model of wedding abstract theory with concrete details of everyday life.

Revealing the complexity and sometimes contradictory aspects of Afro-Brazilian religious practices and racial identity, Selka brings a balanced perspective to polarized discussions of Brazilian racial politics.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Series Information

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Title Page

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Front Matter


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Introductory Quote

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p. vii

List of Figures

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p. viii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to thank a number of people without whom this book would not have been possible. First and foremost, I thank my parents, whose dedication to scholarship and learning inspired my decision to become an anthropologist. Your moral and material support over these years will always be remembered. I could not have completed...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-8

Is a holy war raging in Brazil? By many accounts, evangelical Christians and practitioners of African-derived Candomblé are engaged in a battle for Brazilian souls. While I was living in Brazil between 2000 and 2002, for example, several reports of evangelical Christians attacking Candomblé terreiros (temples) circulated in the news. For some Afro-Brazilians, however, these attacks are more than just religious antagonisms...

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2. Religion and Race in Brazil

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pp. 9-47

For a nation often cited as the most Catholic country in the world, Brazil’s religious pluralism is particularly striking. While Catholicism still dominates as the nominal religion of the majority of Brazilians, a significant minority frequent Protestant churches...

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3. Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian Identity

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pp. 48-72

Founded in 1549, Salvador da Bahia was Brazil’s first major port and the capital of colonial Brazil for almost two hundred years. The surrounding region became one of the most productive areas in Brazil by the end of the sixteenth century. During the early colonial...

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4. Candomblé, Afro-Brazilian Culture, and Anti-Racism

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pp. 73-96

Salvador is home to the oldest and most famous Candomblé terreiros in Bahia, including Opô Afonjá, Casa Branca, and Gantois. Many of these terreiros, or their parent terreiros, were founded as early as the nineteenth century. As some of the most respected Afro-Brazilian institutions in the country, they enjoy a prestige in Salvador that...

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5. Alternative Identities, Emergent Politics

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pp. 97-119

It is clear that much discourse about Afro-Brazilian identity centers on Candomblé, even if Candomblé is not an evenly shared practice in Afro-Brazilian communities. The discourses of syncretism, double belonging, and anti-syncretism, for example, all turn on the relationship between Candomblé and Catholicism. Furthermore, relations...

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6. The Politics of Afro-Brazilian Identity

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pp. 120-152

Throughout this book I have highlighted the complex relationship between religion and Afro-Brazilian identity. I have shown that although Candomblé is often invoked as an emblem of Afro-Brazilian identity, the connection between Candomblé and blackness is far from simple or straightforward. Moreover, I have emphasized that Christian responses to questions of black identity are varied and often...


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pp. 153-156


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pp. 157-169


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pp. 170-175

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813039923
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813031712
Print-ISBN-10: 0813031710

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 8 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 746746869
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Brazil -- Religion.
  • Salvador (Brazil) -- Religion.
  • Religion and politics -- Brazil -- Salvador.
  • Ethnicity -- Brazil -- Salvador.
  • Ethnicity -- Religious aspects.
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