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Conversion of a Continent

Contemporary Religious Change in Latin America

Edited by Timothy J. Steigenga and Edward L. Cleary

Publication Year: 2007

A massive religious transformation has unfolded over the past forty years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a region where the Catholic Church could once claim a near monopoly of adherents, religious pluralism has fundamentally altered the social and religious landscape. Conversion of a Continent brings together twelve original essays that document and explore competing explanations for how and why conversion has occurred. Contributors draw on various insights from social movement theory to religious studies to help outline its impact on national attitudes and activities, gender relations, identity politics, and reverse waves of missions from Latin America aimed at the American immigrant community. Unlike other studies on religious conversion, this volume pays close attention to who converts, under what circumstances, the meaning of conversion to the individual, and how the change affects converts’ beliefs and actions. The thematic focus makes this volume important to students and scholars in both religious studies and Latin American studies.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

The editors would like to express our deepest thanks to our contributors and all those who read various drafts of this book. The impetus for this publishing project was provided by Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh through their mentorship of the Yale-Edinburgh Conference on World Christianity. Their framing of the issue of conversion for one of the annual conferences ...


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1: Understanding Conversion in the Americas

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pp. 3-32

When two noted anthropologists canvassed colonization projects in Bolivia’s lowlands, they reached the last house on the newly constructed dirt road. The owner heard them coming and ran out of the house yelling as they approached, “Soy católico. Nunca van a convertirme” (I’m Catholic. You’re never going to convert me). As they soon discovered, he was the last Catholic ...

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2: Analyzing Conversion in Latin America

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pp. 33-51

Over the past decade, religious conversion has been the subject of significant debate in the Southern Cone of South America. In Brazil, where a long tradition of sociological and anthropological studies of religion has produced provocative theories and a rich body of data, scholars are somewhat skeptical about the utility of the concept of “conversion” and have preferred ...

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3: Conversion Careers in Latin America

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pp. 52-71

This chapter applies the concept of the conversion career to Latin America by analyzing how people’s involvement in churches is likely to evolve in the course of their lifetime.1 The conversion career includes all episodes of higher or lower participation in one or more religious organizations during a person’s life. The posited levels of religious participation ...

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4: Specialized Spirits

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pp. 72-92

This chapter employs the theoretical tool of religious economy to explain the recent growth of Pentecostalism, Charismatic Catholicism, and African diasporan religions in Latin America. While these three religious traditions are united by their common products of faith healing and pneumacentrism, they each produce and offer specialized goods and services that allow for ...

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5: Relational Analysis of Religious Conversion and Social Change

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pp. 93-111

Relational approaches to the study of religious practice and change can be thought of simply as micro-level versions of supply-side approaches, such as the rational-choice approach or “religious economy” (see Andrew Chesnut and Virginia Garrard-Burnett in this volume). Supply-side approaches hold religious interest or “demand” constant and do not, therefore, focus on the ...


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6: Conversion from Afro-Brazilian Religions to Neo-Pentecostalism

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pp. 115-132

Over the last fifteen years, a broad swathe of people in Brazil has converted to Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches. Their unprecedented rate of expansion has meant these groups have rapidly become a religious movement of undeniable importance in the country, displaying a significant presence in culture, politics, and the media. In this chapter, my aim is to ...

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7: Conversion to Afro-Brazilian Religions in Buenos Aires

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pp. 133-152

A number of studies carried out in diverse settings and denominations around the world have established a positive correlation between the development and maintenance of conversion, on the one hand, and the frequency of participation in a religious group, on the other. In this chapter I will analyze conversion processes in a particularly successful temple of ...

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8: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal

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pp. 153-173

When Nicholas D’Antonio, the bishop of Olancho, Honduras, was thinking of joining the Catholic Charismatic movement, he wondered if he was betraying his commitment to change in the Catholic Church. He had painfully reshaped his own views on the church and society during the 1960s era of Vatican Council II and its Latin American follow-up, the Medellin ...

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9: Conversion to Native Spirituality in the Andes

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pp. 174-195

In 1991 I was interviewing “Pablo,” an indigenous man from highland Ecuador who had grown up poor and illiterate, took night classes with Catholic nuns to learn to read and write, had converted to Evangelical Christianity, and was now a father of two and sold traditional weavings and farmed. Pablo allowed me to record his life history; he taught me some Quichua and told ...


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10: Indigenous Conversion to Catholicism

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pp. 199-217

This chapter focuses on the much-overlooked conversion from Traditionalism to Catholicism among the Mayas of highland Chiapas, their own understandings of the meaning of conversion, and its impact on their lives. This volume points out the complexities of conversion, emphasizing that conversion is not a sudden and dramatic change in belief, but an ongoing process. ...

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11: Stop Suffering?

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pp. 218-238

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, or, as it is more generally known in the United States, the Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios (IURD), is one of the most rapidly growing denominations in the early twenty-first century. Like most of the other two hundred fast-growing mega-church denominations in the United States, the IURD is neo-Pentecostal in its beliefs and ...

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12: Healing the Nation

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pp. 239-255

In the past twenty years, Bolivia has undergone a drastic shift away from the type of society it had become after the 1952 National Revolution. Beginning in the mid-1980s a series of economic and political reforms, generally classified under the rubric of neoliberal reform, were enacted. These reforms are popularly conceived of as having triggered an economic crisis that still ...

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13: The Politics of Pentecostalized Religion

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pp. 256-279

As we have argued throughout this volume, the definition and processes of conversion have been underspecified in much of the literature on religious change in Latin America. Given this shortcoming, it should come as no surprise that the political effects of conversion have also been frequently over-generalized. After all, if conversion is to be understood as a ...


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pp. 281-283


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pp. 285-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780813544021
E-ISBN-10: 0813544025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813542010
Print-ISBN-10: 0813542014

Page Count: 298
Publication Year: 2007