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Jesus and the Gang

By Jon Wolseth

Publication Year: 2011

In urban Honduras, gun violence and assault form the pulsing backdrop of everyday life. This book examines the ways that young men and women in working-class neighborhoods of El Progreso, Honduras, understand and respond to gang and gun violence in their communities. Because residents rely on gangs and Catholic and Evangelical Protestant churches to mediate violence in their neighborhoods, these institutions form the fabric of society.

While only a small fraction of youths in a neighborhood are active members of a gang, most young men must learn the styles, ways of communicating, and local geography of gangs in order to survive. Due to the absence of gang prevention programs sponsored by the government or outside non-governmental organizations, Catholic and Pentecostal churches have developed their own ways to confront gang violence in their communities. Youths who participate in church organizations do so not only to alter and improve their communities but also to gain emotional and institutional support.

Offering firsthand accounts of these youths and how they make use of religious discourse, narrative practices, or the inscription of tattooed images and words on the body to navigate dangerous social settings, Jesus and the Gang is an unflinching look at how these young men turn away from perpetuating the cycle of violence and how Christianity serves a society where belonging is surviving.

This book will appeal to readers with an interest in Latin American studies, urban anthropology, and youth studies. With its focus on the lives of young men and women, it’s also a compelling read for anyone interested in the plight of urban youth trying to escape the gang life.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xiii

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1. Youth and the Politics of Violence in Honduras: The Murder of El T

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pp. 1-26

Fieldnotes, September 29, 2001. I felt defeated, tired and worn out from the day and it was only two o’clock in the afternoon. All morning long, I had waited in that cramped, airless room at the municipal building in the hopes of talking to someone, anyone, about the city’s youth policy. Instead, I came to understand...

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2. Contesting Neighborhood Space in Colonia Bel

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pp. 27-49

Just like people, places have reputations. The bridge over the ravine that bisects Colonia Bel

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3. Thick as Blood: Street Ties, Gang Tattoos, and Graffiti

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pp. 50-71

Few sights are sadder than an unkempt cemetery. I stood just inside the entrance to El Progreso’s municipal cemetery with Manuel and Lucas, staring in disbelief at the disorder in front of us. When I had asked my two perennially out-of-work young friends to help me count headstones, looking for some way to gauge the youth death rate in the municipality...

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4. The Making of Community and the Work of Faith

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pp. 72-101

Doña Eugenia is a frail-looking, spindle-thin woman, but spying her through the open door of her humble house, roughly kneading dough for flour tortillas, I didn’t doubt her strength. It was the inaugural meeting of Colonia Belén’s Catholic comunidad de base (base ecclesiastical community, or CEB)...

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5. Finding Sanctuary: Youth Violence and Pentecostalism

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pp. 102-128

It was unbearably muggy that Sunday, even for a June evening. I was thankful that the God Is Love Pentecostal Church had moved from its tiny storefront, badly ventilated and with broken fans, to the new, more spacious building. “Building” might be an exaggeration. The steel beams and supports had been raised and the corrugated tin roof placed...

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Conclusion: Taking on Violence

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pp. 129-138

José Luis was a fanatic about his muscles and self-conscious about his slight stature. Not a bulky young man, he was “ripped” and undeniably strong. This didn’t stop him from crying to Sergio and myself, “I need to put some weight on. Look how scrawny I am.” In the yard across from his parents’ house...

Appendix of Names

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pp. 139-142


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pp. 143-144


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pp. 145-152


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pp. 153-156

E-ISBN-13: 9780816501243
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816529087

Publication Year: 2011