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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Christianity, Social Change, and Globalization in the Americas edited by Anna L. Peterson, Manual A. Vasquez, and Philip J. Williams (Rutgers University Press) resulted from a collaborative research project into responses of Protestant and Catholic religious communities in the Americas to the challenges of globalization. Contributors from the fields of religion, anthropology, political science, and sociology draw on fieldwork in Peru, El Salvador, and the United States to show the interplay of economic globalization, migration, and growing religious pluralism in Latin America.

Organized around three central themes-family, youth, and community; democratization, citizenship, and political participation; and immigration and transnationalism-the book argues that, at the local level, religion helps people, especially women and youths, solidify their identities and confront the challenges of the modern world. Religious communities are seen as both peaceful venues for people to articulate their needs and forums for building participatory democracies in the Americas. Finally, the contributors examine how religion enfranchises poor women, youths, and people displaced by war or economic change and, at the same time, drives social movements that seek to strengthen family and community bonds disrupted by migration and political violence.

Excerpt:  Christianity wears many faces in Latin America and U.S. Latino com­munities today: Pentecostal preachers in central plazas and black-robed priests in cavernous cathedrals, peasants leading "celebrations of the word," and teenagers singing rock-and-roll anthems to Christ. Amidst this diversity, certain common themes are evident. First, religion is changing but not disappearing. Greater religious pluralism has not led to secularization or religion's retreat from public life. If anything, religion has become more central to struggles around collective and individual identity and to the rearticulation of damaged civil societies. Second, while pluralism has challenged established religious in­stitutions and elites, especially in the Catholic Church, it has also provided ad­ditional resources that help people manage severe crises in personal identity, in family stability, in neighborhood well-being, and in national civic life. Many of these crises are sparked or exacerbated by globalizing processes in econom­ics, politics, and culture. As these pressures are felt in everyday life, people often turn to an increasingly diverse religious sphere. This book explores some of the complex links between religion and contemporary cultural, economic, and political changes in the Americas.

Recent History of Religion and Social Change in the Americas The roots of our study of religion in Pan-American perspective lie in the transformation of Catholicism in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the follow-up meeting of the Latin American Bishops'

The Structure of the Book

The book is divided into three parts, beginning with "Women, Fam­ily, and Community." In chapter 1, Anna Peterson explores the complex rela­tionship between religion and women's lives through oral histories from women in CEBs, the CCR, and Pentecostal and Lutheran congregations in San Salva­dor. On the basis of these data, she draws several conclusions. First, in El Sal­vador, as elsewhere in the Americas, women are the majority of members and perform most of the maintenance tasks, despite the fact that few churches ever address women's gender-specific concerns explicitly. Second, despite theologi­cal, pastoral, and organizational differences, in all instances religion plays a central role to the women's identity as women and citizens. Further, despite the general lack of attention to explicitly feminist issues in their churches, women find in their religious participation moral support, intellectual stimula­tion, and practical assistance that help them both in their personal lives and in their concern for women's social position more generally. Religion, then, is dou­bly embedded in everyday life for women: they perform the everyday work of the churches, and the churches enter into and transform their everyday lives in turn.

In chapter 2, Rosa Castro Aguilar explores the relationship between reli­gious faith and new forms of family life among Peruvian Catholics. Drawing from the oral histories of Catholics in both urban and rural parishes, Castro highlights the growing pressures on the institution of marriage and the in­creased educational and employment opportunities for women. She also points to the growing gap between the values embedded in family life, especially soli­darity and dialogue, and the consumerism and individualism reinforced by an increasingly globalized Peruvian society. Within this new landscape, Castro examines the ways that Catholicism contributes to new perceptions of self and the development of new values and styles of family life.

In chapter 3, Philip Williams outlines the ways that religion has contributed to the literal as well as metaphorical reconstruction of community in Yungay, an Andean town rebuilt in the wake of a devastating earthquake and avalanche in 1970. Prior to 1970, global forces of change had barely affected the tradi­tional social relations and patterns of authority in Yungay. However, post­disaster reconstruction opened the way to a period of major social and religious transformation. Williams shows how the accelerated process of rural-urban migration, the agrarian reform program in the countryside, and the influx of foreign priests and religious all stimulated new pastoral initiatives that often conflicted with traditional approaches. In the context of these dramatic changes, local expressions of popular religion took on new and different forms, some­times complicating the local church's efforts at community-building. Williams's exploration of the distinct pastoral approaches and expressions of popular re­ligiosity that emerged during the reconstruction of Yungay highlights both the diversity within traditions and the interdenominational and sometimes inter­national character of certain trends.

Part 2, which focuses on citizenship and political participation, begins with chapter 4, in which Hortensia Munoz discusses the mobilization of Pentecos­tals for the founding of a barrio popular in Huaycan, Peru. Munoz shows how social action is closely intertwined with the articulation of collective and indi­vidual identity among evangelicals, challenging the distinction made earlier between "new," identity-based actors and old, class-based ones. The construc­tion of the new community in Huaycan drew evangelicals into the political arena and forced them to define themselves in relation to Catholics. As evangelicals made their presence felt, they challenged the automatic identification of Catholi­cism as the lingua franca in the public sphere, thus making religious difference an important variable in forging a unified neighborhood movement. Evangeli­cals also found that the exercise of citizenship-negotiations among compet­ing projects and interests, including those of the left-wing municipal administration and of the Shining Path, in order to advance communal inter­ests-was not always fully compatible with their religious identity.

Catholic theology and organizational style may have more affinities for so­cial activism. This is suggested by Rosa Castro Aguilar in chapter 5, which docu­ments how Peruvian Catholics in both urban and rural settings developed an expanded notion of family that came to include their local community. For many, "being Christian" implied not only church involvement but also a commitment to work for social justice, which propelled them to become active participants in an array of community-based organizations. This participation takes place in the context of the neoliberal emphasis on individual rights and the corre­sponding marginalization of many poor Peruvians. Castro documents the trans­formation of political culture among Peruvian Catholics who increasingly demand equal treatment and opportunities from public and private institutions even as they sometimes question the very legitimacy of political institutions.

In former war zones in El Salvador, diverse churches have contributed to repairing the fabric of civil society torn apart by the war, as Ileana Gomez shows in chapter 6. Gomez examines the political dimensions and implications of re­ligious participation in Morazan province in eastern El Salvador, a major battle­ground in the civil war. Political repression during the late 1970s and 1980s virtually destroyed community life in Morazan, including the religious as well as economic and physical networks that had sustained rural life. Since the war's end, both Catholic and Pentecostal pastoral agents have been seeking, in dif­ferent ways, to rebuild these systems. While Catholics often emphasize col­lective solidarity and economic development, many Pentecostals stress personal discipline and faith as the solution to social problems. Despite their differences, both Catholic and Pentecostal churches help "fill the void left by the still weak mechanisms of local social representation and helped strengthen these in­stitutions, such as community directorates and peasant associations," Gomez concludes.

Part 3 focuses on globalization and transnationalism. In chapter 7, Larissa Ruiz Baia explores Peruvian Catholic lay brotherhoods (hermandades) in Pater­son, New Jersey. The brotherhoods exemplify the enduring vitality of pre­Vatican II Catholicism, with their strong emphasis on devotion, preserving traditions, and maintaining hierarchical religious and social arrangements. However, the challenges of organizing the festivities outside Peru have led the brotherhoods to modify some key ritual aspects, like allowing women to carry the image of the saint during the annual procession. This in turn has altered

the balance of power between men and women within the brotherhoods in North America and also in Peru as immigrants visit sister organizations in lima. Ruiz Baia examines the various relations, formal and informal, institutional and personal, involved in forging transnational linkages. However, most important is how she problematizes the concept of transnationalism by pointing to the interpenetration of transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and pan-ethnicity among Latino immigrants.

In chapter 8, Ileana Gomez and Manuel Vasquez examine the growth of transnational gangs, often associated with violence and organized crime, in El Salvador and in U.S. cities such as Washington. They interpret gangs as an attempt by young people to deal with the social dislocation produced by re­cent political and economic changes. More specifically, gangs enable young people to assert personal identity (through a subculture), locality (the neigh­borhood), and kinship (the extended family) over and against encroaching structural and systemic processes. The success of different churches in evan­gelizing gang members is predicated on their capacity to offer alternative ways for youth to negotiate the links between the personal, the local, and the glo­bal. These links are particularly tricky for young, second-generation Latinos, who are often "bifocal," as Roger Rouse (1991) puts it, dwelling simultaneously in two cultures.

Chapter 9 focuses on Catholic Charismatics in El Salvador and among Sal­vadorans in Washington, D.C. Manuel Vasquez and Anna Peterson see the CCR as incorporating several central features of Pentecostal Protestantism-includ­ing an emotive, intensely personal style of worship and the central role played by the Holy Spirit in healing and glossolalia--with a continuing, distinctive Catholic identity. The parallels to Pentecostalism may be especially strong in the United States, where Latino Catholics find themselves in an environment that sees success as issuing from a Protestant ethic. However, the CCR is not a mere copy of Pentecostalism. Most notably, Charismatics reject the dualism of much of Pentecostal theology. Rather than a sharp distinction between in­siders and outsiders, the saved and the damned, the CCR focuses, in typical Catholic fashion, on an ongoing progression toward fuller involvement and knowledge. This process offers the distinctive resources of both rupture and continuity to women, immigrants, and others struggling to negotiate the challenges of globalization.

Numerous challenges face scholars of religion and society as well. In the final chapter, we outline some of the ongoing questions that future research on religion in the Americas might address. Some of these issues arise when we consider the common themes that link our case studies. One of the most important of these issues concerns linkages among different spatial levels, such as the local and the global. We also explore some of the difficulties and sur­prises we encountered in our own fieldwork, including access and the role of researchers and the larger methodological issues that these raise.

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