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The Winter of (Neo)Conservative Discontent

In an important recent interview on The Religious Studies Project website, Professor Jerry Espinoza Rivera of the University of Costa Rica provides a valuable analysis of the strange political trend sweeping not only Latin America but much of the world.

Professor Rivera rightly notes that this new conservatism is radically different from earlier forms of Latin American conservatism that more closely identified with traditionalist Roman Catholicism as well as various social dynamics and even rhetorical tactics of the ancien régime. This new, or what Professor Rivera identifies as “neo-” conservatism, however, employees the language of biology and pop psychology as well as the verbiage of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment liberalism. One of the key battles of the neoconservative movement that Professor Rivera treats is the battle over sexual morality in much of Latin American between progressive or leftist and neoconservative Latin American intellectuals.

Professor Rivera’s analysis further deserves the complement of a discussion of some of the historical background of the neoconservative movement, which I will herein provide in some small measure.

Neoconservatism must be most properly understood as a fundamentally North American phenomenon in as much as it has its origins in the United States and, moreover, in as much as it advocates a distinctly American agenda.  As is commonly known, the intellectual core of neoconservatism was built around Russian-Jewish emigres to the United States, such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, who while initially embracing Trotskyism, spurned the Soviet Union after Stalin and later Brezhnev’s anti-Semitic turn. These thinkers (and others) through media outlets such as Commentary Magazine and National Review,  helped to shape how the American right would confront the New Left during the searing culture wars that erupted in the United States in the late 1960s.

However, as much, or perhaps even more than the New Left, the neoconservatives waged war against the Old Right in America. If the Old Right was strongly Protestant Christian, the neoconservatives embraced what they termed “Judeo-Christian” values. While the old American right was ethnocentric and viewed America as fundamentally a white country composed primarily of ethnic Northern European people, the neoconservatives, while engaging in racialist “dog whistles”—Norman Podhoretz was the author of a 1963 Commentary essay, “My Negro Problem—and Ours”—primarily viewed America as a country into which all the people of the world could become a part as long as they assimilated to a vaguely defined “Western Civilization.” Perhaps most importantly, embolden by the slogan, “America First,” the Old American Right was protectionist in economic matters and isolationist in regard to foreign wars. The neoconservatives, however, although having to wait until 2003 for an American president to accept their agenda wholesale, advocated for “free markets” as well as the transformation of much of the world via American cultural capital and American military might.

In the late 1970s, as the impending Reagan Revolution gathered steam, the older generation of neoconservatives were joined by a number of Christian journalists, many of whom, such as Michael Novak and then Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus, had been leftwing activists involved in the Civil Rights movement as well as Vietnam War protests. Others, such as George Weigel, who boasts of his relationship with the older generation of neoconservatives in his 2017 memoir, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II, were up and coming Catholic theologians.

With a host of books and essays produced in the 1980s, these thinkers were tasked with what Neuhaus called in his 1984 watershed work The Naked Public Square, “the New Religious Right,” which contrary to the old ethnocentric, triumphalist, and anti-modern tendencies, of, ironically, both Fundamentalist Protestantism and traditionalist Roman Catholicism, would embrace much of modernity while retaining a loosely defined Christian creed combined with American patriotism and unconditional support of capitalism and American cultural and military expansion throughout the world.

The Catholic neoconservatives—Neuhaus would embrace the faith and become ordained a priest in the 1990s—saw much success in their work, as many Catholics did embrace the Republican Party and began to drift away from the left-leaning tenor of the American Catholic Church under the reign of the late Cardinal Bernardin during the 1980s as well as 1990s.

As a result, the Catholic neoconservatives turned their sights on liberation theology, a Latin American movement that utilized some concepts and language from various Marxist schools and which was making inroads not only in South and Central America. Michael Novak crafted two important books dedicated to combating liberation theology Will It Liberate? Questions about Liberation Theology (1986) as well as This Hemisphere of Liberty: A Philosophy of the Americas (1990). More than morality or even theology, these works dealt primarily with economics.

The United States had (and, to this day, has) treated Central and South America as well as the Caribbean as the US’s “backyard.” Thus, the incursion of anti-capitalist ideology into the diverse lands “south of the border” presented a clear and present danger, even after the end of the Cold War, to American influence in Latin America. By posing as benevolent theologians linked (at least on the surface) with the popular papacy of John Paul II, the Catholic neoconservatives hoped they could stop the spread of a theology that, more than it upset traditionalist or conservative Catholic theologians, threatened America economic and geopolitical interests in the region. With the late twentieth and early twenty-first century explosion of conservative Catholicism around the world as well as the lingering post-Cold War American hegemony that has lasted until recent years, the Catholic neoconservatives could consider their project complete.

Now, however, as the Catholic Church appears divided into increasingly polarized camps, consisting of traditionalists, on one hand, and progressives, on the other, the Catholic neoconservatives, who attempted to find a theological via media between the two camps, have found themselves increasingly isolated. Furthermore, in the realm of geopolitics, seemingly amorphous forms of populism appear to be gaining support among large swathes of the population from Brazil, to the United States, to Italy, and to even countries like Japan, thus threatening the neoconservative project of global liberal world order under American hegemonic rule.

While the future of religion, politics, and political theology remains wide open, the immediate past, including the influence of the Catholic neoconservatives throughout the Americas and the world, is coming into clearer focus.

Santa Muerte and the Interplay of Cultures on Dia de los Muertos

In Mexico, it may appear to outsiders that there is a trifecta of death. After all, there is the Day of the Dead, La Catrina and Santa Muerte. But these are distinct from one another, although often conflated by outsiders.

 

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd November. This is a time when Mexicans reminisce about their ancestors, honouring the deceased and in many ways keeping them alive through memories and altars that they build to commemorate them. The famous French sociologist and contemporary of Durkheim, [Robert] Hertz postulated that through mortuary rites, such as funerals, people come to accept the new status of the deceased as a departed member of society, someone who will no longer participate in the activities of the living; someone who no longer has any social effect. Still today in the Western world, when we lose a family or friend, the idea is to grieve and let go. For Westerners, the funeral is a mortuary rite of transition to accept this dramatic transformation in status. However, the Day of the Dead contradicts Hertz’s theory and attests to a starkly different stance in Mexico towards the deceased when compared to the Western attitude. 

 

The dearly departed in Mexico play an active part every year in the lives of the living on the Day of the Dead. Mexicans do not let go of the deceased but rather recall them. The dead, if not honoured correctly, according to some Mexicans, in particular in rural locales, may even pose a threat to the living by bringing them bad luck, potentially cursing them and their ventures. This belief substantiates the social force of the deceased in Mexico and the effect they continue to have on the living long past their demise. Time, money and energy is invested in the deceased, despite their lack of a physical presence. Indeed, a tangible manifestation appears that symbolises the dead when altars are fabricated for them. 

 

Altars constructed to honour the deceased are symbolic expressions or representations of the departed and the love that the living still have for them. They signify the undying bond between living and dead. These altars consist of a photo of the dead surrounded by their favourite objects which are given as ofrendas, offerings, to welcome them and show these souls that they have not been forgotten. Children typically receive toys, candy, sweet tamales, fruit, and other such victuals. Adults receive libations of their favourite alcoholic beverages, their preferred dishes and possibly cigarettes. Sugar skulls, known as calaveras de azúcar, also celebrate the dead. They are inscribed with the name of a deceased relative and placed on altars. A sweet bread is baked called pan de muerto which is gifted to the dead and also eaten by the living, particularly at gravesites where the dead are commemorated. 

 

 Children are honoured in processions and graveyards on November 1st on the Dia de los Innocentes, or Dia de los Angelitos, and adults on November 2nd. Albeit if young adults who would typically be honoured on November 1st died in a particularly violent fashion, and of unnatural causes they are often honoured on November 2nd, since in some ways their traumatised soul can no longer be deemed innocent. 

 

The Day of the Dead is a hybrid tradition that meshes Indigenous death worship and Catholic practice. Veneration of ancestors was at the fulcrum of many Indigenous people’s religious praxes, as was worship of death deities, and not only for the Aztec, as Dr. Chesnut points out in the interview. In my research, I have encountered a wide range of beliefs in death deities and rites of ancestor veneration amongst to name but a few the Maya, the Zapotec and the Mixtec.  For example, the Maya regularly held blood-letting rituals. The Mayan King, and other nobles would be bled, often by piercing their tongues or ears with a serrated stingray tail and other jagged objects. This loss of blood ensured possession by what was known as the serpents of vision. These serpents, depicted in iconography as gargantuan snakes, served as a gateway from the physical world to the realm of spirits, that is to say ancestors, who were called on for advice. Still today, Mexicans converse with the dead during commemorations and may ask for their blessings in their future endeavours.

 

Many Indigenous Mexican peoples had special days of the week or a month dedicated to death deities in the pre-Hispanic era, as Dr. Chesnut points out in reference to the Aztec. The Catholic Church sought to annihilate these Indigenous religious activities, but soon realised that they could not exscind them entirely thus instead focused on finding paths of accommodation, enforcing Church rites and beliefs where there was enough contiguity with Indigenous customs for Catholic conventions to be adopted zealously. One of these events was the Catholic holiday, All Saints Day, which rather than becoming simply assimilated, was re-mapped according to Indigenous choreography thus blooming into a syncretic rite of cultural concrescence. 

Santa Muerte also hails from the Mexican cultural tradition that relates to death deities and death worship. Some devotees, as Dr. Chesnut points out in the podcast, have linked her to Aztec death goddess Mictecacihuatl, nevertheless we must go beyond the obvious link with the Aztec, as I have stated, and consider the wider cultural importance of death veneration across many of the variegated Indigenous peoples of pre-Hispanic Mexico. Furthermore, although Santa Muerte has Indigenous origins, she is very much a modern death deity who once again must be understood in terms of her hybridity and as an example of the fact that faith is always in perpetuum mobile, altering to fit the zeitgeist, sine qua non it would not survive. 

 

Following on from [Fernand] Braudel, I believe that culture although continually being reinvented in new guises in line with l’air du temps, is characterised by the longue durée, and moreover, even if there is continuity there is also alteration. Thus religion, like most cultural phenomena, is marked by a dialectic of permanence and change as I argue in my forthcoming book ‘Daughters of Death: Female Followers of Santa Muerte’. Veneration to Santa Muerte must be seen through this optic. She is a symbolic complex and much as she hails in part from pre-Colombian mythic structures, she is also distinctly modern, or more aptly, post-modern given that she is amoral and there is no one single version of Santa Muerte. There is no single grand metanarrative that can explain the Bone Mother’s many facets, nor one answer that can elucidate the way in which she appeals to manifold groups of people, from narcos to lovesick housewives. 

 

In her cloaks of many colours, which Dr. Chesnut has described in the podcast, she may provide favours of all sorts to a wide demographic of devotees. In her black gown, she is known for bringing death to enemies, and in her red mantle she aids women with the return of an errant husband, whilst dressed in white, the Bony Lady brings peace and cleansing. Santa Muerte is even protean in her many iconographic depictions. There is sexy Santa Muerte, who dressed in a miniskirt, with a generous bust somehow seems at odds with her cadaverous qualities, incarnating the Hollywood-inspired male fantasies of narcos. Then there is Aztec Santa Muerte who with flamboyant feather headdress incorporates pastiche components from an imagined pre-Hispanic past that is neither spurious nor genuine, but an invention of the past, presupposing past symbolisms and creatively reinterpreting them in a dialectic of continuity and change.

Ultimately, we must understand Santa Muerte as a death saint who is the product of history and the interplay of cultures. She is the fruit of a multitude of relations and events that over time continue to this day to propel the incessant development of an ever-mushrooming group of devotees, which now stretches across the globe.

Lady Death and the Pluralization of Latin American Religion

In today’s podcast Professor R. Andrew Chesnut reflects on the broad changes in Latin America that show why Santa Muerte is one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world. By connecting Brazil’s colonial past to its pluralist present, Dr. Chesnut explains how folk saint culture connects the country’s diverse population of Catholic, Pentecostal, and Afro-Brazilian religious groups. Focusing on lived religious experiences, including Santa Muerte’s unofficial role in Day of the Dead in Mexico, this episode highlights the many different ways Lady Death operates for her devotees and reveals some of the ongoing challenges of studying the religion amid the rapidly changing religious landscape of the Global South today.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, sardines, popcorn, and more.


Lady Death and the Pluralisation of Latin American Religion

 

Podcast with R. Andrew Chesnut (31 October 2019).

Interviewed by David McConeghy

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at:

https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/lady-death-and-the-pluralisation-of-latin-american-religion/

PDF version of the transcript is available here.

David McConeghy (DMcC): Welcome. I am David McConeghy, and today I’m joined by Dr R. Andrew Chesnut, holder of the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. A Latin American specialist, Professor Chesnut is the author of numerous articles and five books, including his latest – Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint – which is the first and only academic study in English of the folk saint of death. Dr Chesnut is a regular commentator on news and religious affairs and writes a blog for Patheos, called The Global Catholic Review. Dr Chesnut, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s a real pleasure to speak with you.

  1. Andrew Chesnut (AC). Oh it’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for the invitation, Dr McConeghy.

DMcC. One of the things that I’m really excited about in your work is that you – especially for American audiences – really let us into an entire world that the Global South is participating in, and that is thriving in Latin America. I think here in the US, and perhaps in Europe – our two major audiences, the folks that listen to us – we need some orientation. We need some help, really understanding what’s going on in the areas that you study. So can you say a little bit about your research, and the kind of questions that really drive your focus in Latin America?

AC: Yes. I really started as a specialist in Pentecostalism in Latin America; more specifically, Brazil. My book, Born Again in Brazil, which was published in 1997, was the first book in English on the Pentecostal movement in Brazil. And over two decades later, it’s still very relevant as today, Brazil is home to the largest Pentecostal population on Earth – larger than even here, in the United States – and who were integral in electing Brazilian President Bolsonaro. After that I moved on. It was very obvious to me, as I was doing my field research in Brazil and the Amazonian city of Belém, that there was intense religious competition taking place among the three major religious groups of Brazil: Pentecostals, Catholics, and the Afro-Brazilian religious groups such as Umbanda and Candomblé – the two most important ones. So for my second book, Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy, I look at the religious competition taking place in Latin America, through the theoretical paradigm of religious economy – in which you kind-of look at faith institutions competing with each other, much in the same way that commercial enterprises do in the commercial economy. And so I focussed on those religious groups, who in the past century have had the most success in terms of attracting membership. And that would be the Pentecostals, and the Catholic Charismatic renewal – which is the Catholic Church’s own version of Pentecostalism – has been thriving in Latin America and the Global South, as its response to stiff Pentecostal competition. And again, looking at the religions of the African diaspora I also observed Haitian Vodou and Cuban Santería. And then I moved on. As you mentioned, my latest work is on what is now the fastest growing new religious movement in the entire West. Mexican folk saint, Santa Muerte, which translates in English both as Saint Death and Holy Death. Unfortunately, Pew Research hasn’t stepped in or Gallup poll, so we don’t have any hard numbers. But after a decade of research, I estimate some ten-to-twelve million Santa Muerte devotees, mostly concentrated in Mexico, Central America and here in United States. So, I don’t know, I’d say if there’s one major or two major connecting threads, in my two decades of research, first would be the paramountcy of faith healing. My main argument that the motor driving the Pentecostal boom in Brazil and Latin America is its emphasis on faith healing. I found that so many nominal Catholics had converted at the time of an acute health crisis, which they weren’t able to solve through the Catholic Church or through secular health care either. And so the Pentecostal Churches always kind of put faith healing: “Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, be baptised by the Holy Spirit and this will cure your affliction of poverty” (5:00). And so that, I really find to be kind-of the motor that’s been propelling the Pentecostal boom in Latin America and the Global South. And I was so surprised when I started my research on Santa Muerte in 2009, that also a key component of her appeal, both in Mexico and here in the United States, is her role as a curandera or faith healer. So many people come to her major shrines in Mexico, either giving thanks for a healing they believe that she performed for them or for a family member, or asking her for that. And so that was just one of the great surprises in my research. Who was going to imagine that this fierce looking death saint is also a potent healer as well? So this kind of thread of the great importance of faith healing has been a commonality in my two decades of research, as is my primary focus, really, that’s been on lived religion – religion as it’s played out in the grassroots, in terms of rites and rituals – and (I’ve been) much less interested in the written word, and dogma, and doctrine in my focus.

DMcC: This is a really interesting way to think about your work. One of the questions that I already had for you – and I’ve been engaging with your work, Born Again in Brazil, for some time – talking about the kind of charismatic exchanges between groups like the New Apostolic Reformation, and folks in Guatemala or Brazil. On those kinds of things, you really frame it as a solution to the health crisis of poverty. And it sounds as if, twenty years later – this is an amazing thing to say – twenty years later, you still think that’s true!

AC: Yes, I make the same argument. And especially, as I throw in, since prosperity theology has essentially become hegemonic theology among Pentecostals, and many Evangelicals across the Americas. And, as we see, it’s kind-of the unofficial theology of the Trump administration here.

DMcC: Right. Absolutely.

AC: So I’d throw in the element of prosperity, which wasn’t as prevalent when I initiated my research – what, twenty-five years ago? But yes, the health component is still, I’d say, the sine qua non of Pentecostalism’s appeal in Latin America and the Global South. And even here, in the United States. You know the great pioneering Pentecostal televangelist, Oral Roberts, who brought the message on TV for the first time in the United States: really the crux of his message was faith healing, as well. Benny Hinn, as well. So the whole prosperity element of it gets so much attention lately, but we can’t forget the other part of the equation.

DMcC: Do you think that part of this is sales pitch for the shift, maybe, from stronger Catholicism that was not charismatic, to the rising Pentecostals, and then Catholic competition in charismatic spaces? That that framework is really only exposed through the kind of lived experience stuff that you work on? You suggested that perhaps the written stuff is less crucial for the way that you think about things. But, when I think of the Pentecostal orientation to what’s important: “Show me the power”, right? “Show me a thing that will have results and that will connect me to the power of the Holy Spirit.” It will do that immediately. It will do it vibrantly. It will do it within my community. It will do it day in, day out. Is that part of the mix, there, that kind of “We’re making really strong claims about what the religious adoption of this can do for you”? And then, collectively, the power of that choice brings . . . the rising tide lifts all boats on that.

RAC: Yes, no doubt, at the macro level. Particularly that emphasis on access and demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit, needs to be physically manifest, right? And so thus the Pentecostal emphasis, particularly in Latin America, of constructing monumental temples, for being seen with presidents and governmental authorities (10:00). Such as I think is poignantly the case with billionaire Pentecostal Bishop Edir Macedo, who has become one of the most visible and prominent backers of the Brazilian president, Bolsonaro. And who recently had him attend one of his Sunday worship services in San Paolo and gave him a five minute blessing, which you can see on YouTube. It’s pretty extraordinary! So yes, at the macro level, there needs to be physical representations and manifestations of the power. And, particularly if we’re talking about the ascendant prosperity theology, you know, that Pentecostal pastors themselves need to be paragons of prosperity – so, the ostentatious display of their prosperity in terms of their choice of vehicles, and their houses, and the temples themselves. So yes, it’s not only at the grass roots, it’s not only lived religion, it’s also the institution. That just tends to be my focus less, but I’m not saying that it’s a less interesting or valid focus.

DMcC: So in the last two decades you kind-of highlighted that prosperity has really taken root. Can you talk a little bit more, for any of the Listeners that may not be familiar with the background, especially of Brazil? I know that many centuries of Catholic dominance there really started to shift mid-twentieth century, with the growth of Pentecostalism there. But then there’s also this backdrop of West African and syncretic kind of openness. And that configuration is so unique, not only in Brazil, but in each country in Latin America, and the way that they do it. Can you talk just little bit about that? The blending that they do so well?

AC: Yes. I think Brazil is particularly fascinating as a country of over two hundred million people, and such diversity! It’s kind-of the country that most mirrors the United States, and is most similar, really – the religious economy – to the United States. So yes, historically of course, like all Latin American countries, it’s a Catholic country. And at the end of the nineteenth century, you had the disestablishment of the Catholic Church from the Brazilian State. Which, of course, sets the legal foundation for . . . not for Afro-Brazilian religions, but the legal foundation for Protestants to start setting up their chapels. And indeed, at that time in the nineteenth Century, you have some of the major US-based mainline denominations going down to Brazil: Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc. They have very little success in converting Brazilian Catholics. But they do have success in setting up prep schools and universities and such. And then, building on this new legal foundation – at least for Protestants to set up shop – Pentecostals arrive in 1910-1911, and find really quick success in converting Brazilian Catholics. To the point that we already start to have a critical mass of converts by the mid-twentieth century, by the1950s. And Pentecostalism really starts to mushroom in the 1970s and really has been growing like wildfire for the past five decades or so. Talking about the Afro-Brazilian religions . . . and I should say I need to make this so clear. Of the twelve million African slaves who were forcibly brought to our Americas, forty-three percent go to Brazil. In comparison only three percent come here, to the United States. So anybody with any interest in matters of the African diaspora, be it religion or any other facet, by necessity has to take a look at Brazil, if not start with Brazil, because of the sheer numbers. And so it’s no surprise that Brazil is the place – maybe with the exception of Haiti – Brazil is the place where today we have the most vibrant religions of the African diaspora, which historically were repressed, suppressed by both Brazilian church and state, and really only are legalised in the late 1960s (15:00). And today, and again the two main ones are Umbanda and Candomblé. And today they’re thriving – however, they’re facing a new round of persecution by Pentecostals, particularly in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where Pentecostal gangsters raid their houses of worship and try to drive them out of their zones of influence. And so this is another kind of fascinating development. Never, twenty-five years ago, did I imagine that I’d be writing articles about armed Pentecostal gangsters in Rio de Janeiro, who are the agents of persecution and harassment of practitioners of Candomblé and Umbanda!

DMcC: When you tweeted out your latest post on that from Patheos, it exploded on my timeline! It got retweeted so much. Clearly, I think, the rest of us share that surprise – that this is one of the configurations that we’re seeing, right now.

AC: It’s surreal. We’re living in surreal times across the board, though!

DMcC: So if we can take that kind-of grass-roots activism that’s happening: one access point from your current research on that is really the broad appeal of Santa Muerte. Can you tell us a little bit about why it is that this really potent symbol is connected to health, and love, and money, and drugs, and crime and cartels?! How did we get from a folk saint to narco-cartels, Pentecostals attacking Afro-Brazilian religious groups? It’s such a stunning transformation!

AC: Yes. That’s a big question. Let me think about where I should start with that! So Santa Muerte goes back to Spanish colonial times, in Mexico, and really is the syncretism or fusion of the Spanish Grim Reapress. And I say Grim Reapress because in Mediterranean Europe, Spain, Portugal, Italy, more often than not it was a female representation. The Spanish Catholic Church puts over the figure of the Grim Reapress as a tool of evangelisation of the indigenous people, here in the Americas. Because of course, in the beginning, they have no idea who the indigenous people are. They’re not in the Bible. Are they humans are they animals? Do they have their own religion? So the Spanish Catholic Church brings in the Grim Reapress to represent death. And of course, for the Europeans, the Grim Reaper was a mere artistic representation or rendition of death that arises during the great death and dying of the Black Plague of the fourteenth century. Europeans did not venerate or worship the Grim Reaper, or repress and imbue him or her with any supernatural powers. And so it’s the case that the Grim Reapress comes over here, for example, as part of Holy Week processions, representing the good death, the holy death of Christ. And again, one of the English translations of Santa Muerte’s name is Holy Death, referring to the holy death of Christ. And so it’s the case that some of the indigenous groups in Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Paraguay – because there’s two other skeletal death saints which I’ll mention in a minute – interpret the Grim Reapress through their own pre-existing religious contexts, in which the Aztecs, and the Mayans, and the (audio unclear) in South America, had their own death deities, their own death gods and goddesses, such as the Aztec Mictēcacihuātl, which presided over what used to be the Aztec month of the dead – which, of course, the Spanish Catholic Church collapsed into the present two Days of the Dead. So anyway, she’s the syncretism of this indigenous belief in death deities and the Grim Reapress. She goes off the historical record in 1797, and only resurfaces a century-and-a-half later, in the 1940s, when American anthropologists report her for the first time on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, interestingly among Afro-Mexicans (20:00). And, from the 1940s to the 1980s, we have both American and Mexican anthropologists starting to find mostly females, Mexican females, dressed in black, venerating, Santa Muerte. By the time we get to the 1980s, across the Mexican Republic. But during this time, our anthropologist friends were reporting her working only one type of magic, and that is love magic. And so, at the mid-century, the only type of miracle that she is recorded performing is love sorcery – mostly for aggrieved Mexican women who believe their husbands or boyfriends are cheating on them. And so they petition Santa Muerte to take her over-sized scythe, and to cut out the other woman from their husband’s path and to bring that husband, that badly behaving man, back home – humbled at her feet, under the threat of Santa Muerte’s scythe, to never be adulterous once again.

DMcC: That’s a terrifying image!

AC: It is! And so her origins, at least in the twentieth century – and last time I checked and when I did the research for my book, Devoted to Death, her number one selling coloured votive candle was the red candle, not of blood and death, but of the heart: of love and passion. And indeed, still one of her premier roles is as love doctor, or love sorceress. At some point in the late eighties she starts to become associated with organised crime, to the point that today – you’ve probably seen some of my writing along with my colleague and research partner Dr Kate Kingsbury – where she’s been labelled a “narco-saint”. And, in fact, that was the catalyst of my own interest, is when the Filipe Calderón administration ordered the Mexican army, in March 2009, to go onto the border with California and Texas and to demolish some forty Santa Muerte shrines. When I saw that I thought . . . . I knew about Santa Muerte, because I’d been going to Mexico since the early 1980s, but I had no idea that she had been fingered as the religious enemy number one of the Mexican government, at that point. And so . . .

DMcC; Right. If the Mexican Government is issuing statements calling for disruption of roadside temples by bulldozer, you know you’ve really got something on your hands!

AC: Exactly. So we just published with Patheos yesterday about these narco-saints. And so, one of Santa Muerte’s roles is as protectress of cartel members, protecting them from harm, from rival cartel members, law enforcement. But obviously since she’s a folk saint and she’s amoral – she’s not a Catholic saint – they also ask her to eliminate or bring harm to their rivals, as well. And so that’s another important role that she plays – but one of many.

DMcC: Right. One of the things that struck me about it, and I work with far more American stuff, is the work on Saint Jude, for instance, where we really see the lived experience of the relationship of Catholics with their saint of choice as revealing all of the kind-of issues that really matter to a person, and really how it builds their whole world out from the saint, organising the perspectives about it. I think it’s really interesting if Santa Muerte starts off as love . . . the avenging angel for infidelity. We don’t have to work too hard, to draw a line to the cartels, mentally, if we think of the protection of secrecy, right? The protection of the sphere where cartel members are not wanting to talk about their activities, and then avenging those that break that silence, or that are working against them? It’s not a hard road: (25:00) the passion that the scythe brings to the unfaithful husband is the same passion that cartel members hope that she’ll bring to the enemies of the cartel. Is that the kind of way that we should think about it, or is something else going on, do you think?

AC: Right, I think so – particularly since most Catholic saints tend to specialise in one or two types of miracles, such as Saint Anthony will help you find your lost keys or cell phone. And so, very quickly, Santa Muerte morphs from this exclusive focus on love sorcery to, today, being a multi-tasking saint who does it all. So, yes, she covers all bases and that’s part of her appeal, as well. Not only that she covers . . . And going back to her coloured votive candles – which was the schema for the way I organised my book – she has a seven power rainbow coloured candle for those folks who are looking for a miracles on multiple fronts! Which are a lot of people, right?

DMcC: Yes, aren’t we all?

AC: And particularly, we can’t ignore the fact that devotion to Santa Muerte has mushroomed during a time of great death and dying – of bad death, juxtaposed to her name Holy Death – in Mexico. In the last decade, the only country that surpasses Mexico on violent death is another country where I have relatives, Syria. And so we’re well over two hundred thousand violent deaths in Mexico in the past ten years. And so, I’m not making that one-to-one correlation in the mushrooming rise. But there’s no doubt that this hyper-violence of the interminable drug war creates fertile soil. Because there’s a lot of folks who ask her for more life, for more grains of life in that hour glass that she holds, in addition, again, to narcos asking her to cut the life down from their rivals, as well. And so that a saint of death should become so popular in a Mexico of such bad death, in the past ten-to-fifteen years, is of little surprise.

DMcC: You’ve written about a lot of other folk saints as well, like the Our Lady of Oxum, the Black Madonna. Should we be – as Religious Studies observers of folk practice and lived experience – should we be paying far more attention to the kind of constellation of major figures? I think you rightly point that Santa Muerte’s rise reveals how hard it is sometimes for Religious Studies scholars to address the rapid rise of a new religious movement, a new religious emphasis, a new religious symbol. It takes us a long time to catch on to what’s on the ground, to do the research, to publish the research, to have the conversations that really kind-of unpack everything. And what I’ve been really pleased about, every time I see something coming across on Patheos, is how vibrant it all seems. Everything is new to me about this, being a non-specialist in the area. Do you feel like more of this is needed, that we need to pay attention to more of these things, in all the places that we can find them?

AC: Yes. I think what you’re pointing at is . . . . And I’m also a big fan of paying attention to macro trends. In fact, I was a lead academic consultant on the landmark Pew survey of the Latin American religious landscape that came out in 2014. So I paid attention to macro trends as well. So one of the great . . . the greatest trend in Latin America, on a religious landscape, in the past four or five decades is pluralisation. And whereas for four centuries one’s religious identity was inherited or bequeathed, Catholicism now, for many folks – as it is the United States – it’s elected, it’s chosen. And so, you know, there’s Mexicans who are finding Santa Muerte is far more appealing – far more, let’s say, efficacious than certain Catholic saints – and so they go that route. New Age beliefs are also very prevalent in Latin America. And so it’s a diversification, it’s a pluralisation. And indeed, just like in the United States, one of the fastest growing groups are the religious “nones”: those who have no institutional religious affiliation (30:00). The last Pew Survey shows that, here in the United States, the religious nones are up to twenty six percent, which means there are six percent more of them than there are Catholics, because Catholics are down to twenty percent in the United States. And in Latin America it’s about fifteen percent, and exceedingly higher among Latin American millennials and Generation Z as well. So Santa Muerte and all of these other folk saints I would just put under this big tent of pluralisation, of the kind of robust diversification and religious choices that we’ve had for a long time in our own country.

DMcC; It’s really interesting to think about that as a kind of great awakening that’s happening in Brazil, right? The voluntary-ism of America, that we tend to associate with the development of multiple Protestant denominations, really, in my mind, is the kind of language that I’m hearing you talk about with that, to hear the pluralisation of religious impulses there. But also, the nones really surprises me too. I heard a talk recently by one of Pew Forum’s head researchers and like you, he highlighted that the nones are growing basically, in the US, at about one percent per year. Catholics are down to twenty-one percent now. But he cited that globally, when you talk about that, that’s not what we’re seeing. I’m hearing a little pushback from you that Brazil, in its parallels with the US, is actually . . .

AC: Yes. I hate to contradict my associates at Pew, but I just saw the other day on Twitter, that in the Arab world we’re seeing significant rise over the last decade of religious nones as well. So there’s a hemispheric-wide trend from Canada, down to Argentina, and the United States. Western Europe, of course, was the one who really pioneered secularisation. In fact, all the sociological models of secularisation that arose in the seventies and the eighties were mostly based on the Western European experience. Peter and his associates. So, yeah, we have evidence that in other parts of the world –namely, lately, the Arab world – it’s happening as well. So it’s not only peculiar to our own Americas here.

DMcC: I don’t know that those are necessarily contradictory. I think what it tells us is that the situation is changing so rapidly right now, that data that’s even a few years old – if you’re thinking of data from 2010, right? We’re off by many percentage points now, in that data. And when you’re talking on a global scale you run into huge problems. I always tell my students, when we’re talking about China, that as far as I can tell and based on the work of other experts, the survey data that we have on religion in China is basically useless. When there’s a global survey about what religion is like in China, that billion people in China is not being reflected by that data very well at all. And I think we see that in sub-Saharan Africa, where we’re talking about the rise of Islam alongside the rise of Catholicism and Pentecostalism. And at the same time, if there’s a secular movement – it’s all happening all at once! I don’t know that the broadness of the data is there yet, and it may take us decades to sort this out. Which, I guess, I’m thankful for – because hopefully it will keep us all busy and in business, right?

AC: (Laughs) Right, right. Thanks to Pew in particular, right?

DMcC: Yeah. Absolutely. So we’ve been talking a little bit in the last few minutes about this meta approach. One of the things you said right at the start of our conversation today, was a comparison between President Bolsonaro and maybe some of the current American politics that are going on. In a recent interview with Bradley Onishi that I did, he said similar things to a Patheos post that you posted, with Dr Ana Keila Mosca Pinez, about how Brazilian Pentecostals are seeing President Bolsonaro as the Messiah, or as a messiah. (35:00) Can you talk a little bit more about the parallels between how Brazilian Pentecostals and Catholics are religiously relating to their leaders like Bolsonaro, and how, maybe for audiences in the US, that might be resembling the American evangelical relationship to Trump.

AC: Oh yes. There’s a really amazing parallel there. Again, just as white evangelicals are a major religious political constituency of president Trump, Pentecostals are that for Bolsonaro and Brazil. We know that overall about seventy percent of Brazilian evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro. I don’t think we have precise data specifically on Pentecostals. But one has to remember that about seventy-five percent of all Protestants in Brazil are specifically Pentecostals, so there’s no doubt that Bolsonaro would have received over eighty percent of the Pentecostal vote. And in the United States, actually sixty-one percent of white Catholics voted for Trump. I still think he has majority support, although I have seen it declining. Maybe fifty-one, fifty-two percent. And so we see that same convergence of more conservative Catholics allied with Pentecostals in Brazil, and supporting Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro recently was baptised by an Assembly of God pastor, in the River Jordan. And he definitely hangs around and kind-of identifies Evangelical. But historically he’s been a conservative Catholic. Anyway, so he has the support of many Brazilian conservative Catholics who very much oppose Pope Francis’s agenda on the Amazon, the Amazon Synod that’s taking place right now. So there’s just the Christian Zionism that I’ve written about, too, is just as important in Brazil for Pentecostals as it is for white Evangelicals. And so I think Brazil under Bolsonaro . . . . He’s also in the process of probably moving their embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well. Some of the major Pentecostal pastors in Brazil, such again as billionaire Edir Macedo, actually sometimes dress up in rabbinical vestments and cut rabbinical figures more than they do Protestant pastors! And so, yeah. There’s just a great kind-of parallel taking place politically and religiously between the two giants of the hemisphere these days – Brazil and the United States.

DMcC: Keeping on our kind of current timeliness issue: you said, before we began recording today, that with Halloween coming up – we’re recording in mid-October here, All Saints Day and especially Day of the Dead – that there are actually a lot of really interesting things going on right now, connecting a lot of these themes. The next few weeks are going to be pretty interesting. I heard you say that you were headed down to Mexico for the Day of the Dead. Can you tell us about that? And maybe what you’re hoping to do?

AC: Yes. My current research project focuses on Catholic death culture. So I’m looking at things like Day of the Dead, relics, some of the memento mori that you see in Europe. But specifically, since we’re on the eve of Day of the Dead, this is what I’m kind of most immediately working on. And it’s also related to my previous work on Santa Muerte, in that one of the major trends in Santa Muerte devotion of the past five years is for devotees to integrate the Mexican Death Saint into their commemorations of Day of the Dead. In fact it’s become so popular and so controversial that, annually, the Catholic Church in Mexico issues admonitions for parishioners not to do that, because Santa Muerte is satanic. Honouring your departed loved ones is one thing, but bringing in this heretical Death Saint is quite another. So please keep her out of your commemorations. But I should say, at his point, Santa Muerte has no official annual feast day. But if she ever does in the future, it probably will be November 2nd, the Day of the Dead. Because, again, before the Spanish conquest and colonisation (40:00), it was the Aztecs had this roughly “month of the dead”, roughly corresponding to our August, presided over by Aztec death goddess, Mictēcacihuātl – who many Mexican Santa Muerte devotees see Santa Muerte, really, as the latest kind of incarnation, or reincarnation of.

DMcC: That’s so interesting!

AC: And so it’s like I knew that, since I wrote the first academic book in English on Santa Muerte, that it would probably hard to move onto a new topic. And so here again, in Day of the Dead, we see that nexus with Santa Muerte as well: again, me having trouble moving beyond the Death Saint

DMcC: I don’t know that we should ever apologise when we find something . . . such a rich topic, that connects to so many issues in so many different ways: from immigration, to cartels, to love, to the kind of syncretism that we’re seeing, to politics, it’s such a multifaceted area.

AC: It is, yes. For example my research partner, Dr Kingsbury, is now focusing on her appeal to women and how she’s kind of a defender and protectress of vulnerable women. Because, I didn’t mention it, but, in addition to the narco-violence besetting Mexico, there’s also an epidemic of femicide as well. And so some of these women who are at risk, look to Santa Muerte as a fierce protectress, to protect them from the predatory men. So that’s a whole ‘nother angle that I didn’t really look into in Devotees of Death, that Dr Kingsbury is moving forward with.

DMcC: I can’t wait. I will reach out immediately, so that we can hear the second half of the new story here. One of the things that I’ve really been impressed by, is how collaborative your work is. And as we wrap up here, I’d love to hear about your thoughts about collaboration as a scholar, and what you see as the kind of challenges and benefits of doing that scholarship in a collaborative way. Because I really do think that you and Dr Kingsbury, together, have a special kind of public relationship that feeds off one another, and produces really interesting work. Can you share with us what that’s like?

AC: Yes. For me it’s been very strange because up until I recently started collaborating with her, I had mostly just flown solo. I can’t even think of any other co-authored . . . at least, academic journal articles that I have. All my books were my own, single-authored books. So, yeah, this has been new to me and has taken me by surprise, because our particular collaboration is so easy and seamless. And that, ironically, had been one of the reasons why maybe I had shied away from collaboration: imagining it being difficult, and time consuming, and everything. But yeah. We have great intellectual and academic chemistry, and so everything we do together is as easy as me writing on my own. And so I think both of us have just been fortunate with that. Because one can imagine that, you know, you’re not going to have that rapport with everybody to facilitate that. But it’s been wonderful, because with Patheos, I’ll just say, or she’ll say, “I’ll take this, and you take that” and it all comes together. And she’s British, so at first I was like “OK. So what do we do about our British vs American English?” But we just leave our respective versions of the English language alone and nobody seems to be bothered by that.

DMcC: We run into that frequently at the Religious Studies Project, too! When the emails come from our British founders, Chris and David. You know it’s all the‘s’s and when we’re replying back it’s all the ‘z’s. You just have to roll with it, right?

AC: Exactly. Well, the good thing for me is, she’s in Canada. So it’s kind of up to her to assimilate to our New World English, right?! (45:00)

DMcC: Right. You’re pulling the rug right out from under the English language there. It’s been so wonderful to talk to you, today. I really do appreciate your time, and I hope that all of our Listeners have enjoyed hearing about this really thriving area of research. And if they wanted to find you on Patheos, what’s the name of the Blog that they should head to?

AC: Yes. It’s the Global Catholic Review.

DMcC: Perfect.

AC: And in addition, I also run a Santa Muerte blog with my research partner, David Metcalfe. And it’s called the Skeleton Saint. And it’s like in its seventh year. And it’s the only impartial blog out there, that covers Santa Muerte news.

DMcC: And if folks wanted to find you on Twitter, where you are extremely active and always posting interesting things, what should they look for?

AC: I’m @AndrewChesnut1. Number 1.

DMcC: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for your time, and have a great day.

AC: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it, Dr McConeghy.

 

 

 

 

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Jesuits, Mormons, and American Religion in the World

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Dr. Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp has written extensively on the importance of space and geography in studying American religions. I interviewed her at the University of Notre Dame, Cushwa Center’s Seminar in American Religion. This session dealt with Dr. John McGreevy (History, Notre Dame)’s new book, “American Jesuits and the World.” Maffly-Kipp and Thomas Bender (History, NYU) gave remarks about the book; McGreevy responded; and two hours of Q&A with scholars and graduate students followed.

My conversation with Maffly-Kipp begins with McGreevy’s book, expands to include her work on Mormonism in contrast to Catholicism, and ends with a discussion of evangelical historian Mark Noll, in whose honor Notre Dame was originally going to host a conference, but was cancelled at the last minute. This free-ranging conversation nonetheless centers on Jesuits, Mormons, and transnational religious history.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Frankincense, and Myrh.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World

Podcast with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock

Audio and transcript available at: Maffly-Kipp_-_Jesuits,_Mormons_and_American_Religion_in_the_World_1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG): Dr Maffly-Kipp, welcome to the Religious Studies Project

Laurie Maffly-Kipp (LMK): Thank you.

DG: We’re here at the Morris Inn, at the University of Notre Dame. We just finished the Cushwa Centre’s Biannual Seminar in American Religion, discussing John McGreevy’s book on Jesuits in the World. So, you have been writing about space, and geography, and understanding religion for more than twenty years now, beginning with your essay in Thomas Tweed’s edited volume, Retelling US Religious History. I’d be curious to know how your views have evolved, and what you believe is the importance of space and geography in studying American religions.

LMK: That essay was my initial foray into the field and it was more of a thought piece, based on sort-of the hypothetical question of: what would you do if you didn’t narrate American religious history from the perspective of European movements from East to West – particularly British American movements. In a sense, it was also inspired by the work, in the 1930s, of Herbert Bolton – who was a historian of empires in the New World – and his basic observation that the Spanish Empire had been a part of North America and South America, long before the British ever came along. So, what would it do to sort-of retell the story of the growth of the US nation and religion in that sort-of setting, but come at it from the perspective of all theses different movements into North America, at various points in time? So that was, I think, a framework that I laid out. And since then I’ve been, I guess, exploring different avenues into that. Most recently, I’ve been spending time doing work on Mormon history and looking at Mormonism. But I think that that focus on space has then led me to think about Mormonism differently: how do I think about Mormonism as having a particular kind of centre in the United States, but also has having other areas in other parts of the world that are significant for particular purposes?

DG: So today, the book we’ve been talking about – American Jesuits in the World, by John McGreevy – it’s dealing with, well, somewhat missionary activity, but a little different from what you focus on. Because you’re often talking about American Mormons going outwards, whereas he’s talking about, at first, Europeans coming to missionise America. Can you talk a little bit about the differences you see between Mormons and Jesuits operating on the world stage?

LMK: Well, they’re very different. I mean, certainly, they’re different in terms of having a different focus on what they were doing with other people. So, for Jesuits: Jesuits are a particular Catholic order; their jobs revolve around educating peoples, administering the sacraments and keeping people in the faith. For Mormons, the goal tends to be to create habits of discipline and industry – much like those of the missionaries themselves. There’s sort-of a distinct separation between the kinds of spiritual practices that a Jesuit missionary undertakes, and what he’s trying to inculcate in other people. Whereas, for Mormon’s, they were sort-of one and the same thing. So that’s just one small difference. But, I think, on all kinds of different levels there are differences. But there are also similarities, because Mormons are also exiles – perhaps exiles in their own land. But they have a very – I guess, the best way to put it is – angular relationship to the US government in the 19th century, and often a very combative relationship. So, they aren’t sold on the idea of the nation state as necessarily an all-encompassing good, just as the Catholics are disaffected from the US Government in various ways.

DG: Well, certainly, one of the points that came up in the Q and A session, today, was that the Jesuits were roundly denounced as a secret society on the floor of Congress – one that should be banned. But there wasn’t widespread Catholic persecution in the 19th century, the way we saw against the Mormons.

LMK: I don’t know, I think you could argue with that: the burning of convents, riots in the streets . . .

DG: Well, that’s true.

LMK: . . . in Philadelphia and Boston. So, in some ways, I think that the tensions were manifest in more physical kinds of ways than they were for the Mormons. There were a few incidents with the Mormons. And the Mormons certainly fought back at various points. So I think, actually, a comparison of them is really helpful to see the ways that Protestant America was shaping the limits of its own toleration.

DG: I suppose, what I was thinking of more was that there was not state legislation against the Catholic Church in the way that there was, for instance, when the Governor of Missouri declared war on the Mormon people, saying: “Leave my state or I’m going to kill all of you!” (5:00) That is a difference.

LMK: Right! Yes. You’re right. That’s a difference. Although, I think one of the interesting things about John McGreevy’s book is the way he points out how assiduously Protestant Americans worked to create laws that would exclude Catholics in certain kinds of ways. So, from public education: there were certain rules put in place that made it obvious that the Catholics were not going to fall within the bounds of the law. I mean, their kind of education wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of public education. So, it seems to me that the very creating and shaping of laws is another way to put boundaries around religious toleration.

DG: Now, I’m curious also . . . You’ve obviously read the book – you’ve just delivered a short paper commenting on it. If you were writing a book about transnational religion in the 19th century – I mean, McGreevy is focussing on the ideas of nationhood and politics – what would be the factors that you’d want to pursue? What do you see as mattering the most?

LMK: Well, in fact, I am writing that kind of book right now.

DG: Well that’s fortuitous!

LMK: Yes. So, in fact, I am writing a book on transnational religion, in that I am writing a history of Mormonism that tries to take seriously Mormonism as a global religion and an international movement from the beginning, not simply since World War II. It’s certainly the case that there are now more Mormons outside the US than in, but even in the 1850s there were more Mormon’s in England than in the US.

DG: Oh certainly, they were very active with sending missionaries – also to Scandinavia as well as England.

LMK: Later, to Scandinavia. There were sort-of waves of migration, and missionisation and migration, starting with England and moving into Scandinavia by the 1860s and 1870s. And all of those – or many, many of those people – came over to the US, and really saved what had been a dying movement by the 1850s.

DG: Yes. I believe you mentioned, during the Q and A period, that most Mormons at the end of the 19th Century in America were foreign-born.

LMK: Either foreign-born or second generation at best. Because, yes, the bulk had been immigrants.

DG: That’s not a comment that the Church stresses very much any more!

LMK: No, but it’s also not a comment that other historians have noticed much.

DG: Certainly not.

LMK: I think the focus has been on Mormonism as a distinctly American religion, which is certainly true in terms of the influences on its founders. But it’s not true in terms of who joined the movement in the first half-century.

DG: Very interesting. I think the claims you’re making will certainly overhaul graduate reading lists round the country – including my own! So, the other thing . . . I’m thinking that at my University , the University of Rochester, the graduate . . .well, loosely defined, our graduate interests are supposed to be around “the world of goods, the world of nations and the world of ideas”. So, a nice way to integrate cultural and social history. Now, listening to the Q and A today, lo and behold! The comments wind up revolving around ideas, goods and nations. So the comments from, for instance, Thomas Bender – one of your co-panellists – saying that we should think of the Jesuits as a cosmopolitan religion; the discussion from Dr McGreevy that later Jesuits were embracing American nationalism, even though they weren’t necessarily OK with separation of church and state; and your discussion of the culture Jesuits were bringing from around the world. Now, I just recapped – for the listeners – a lot of material and I certainly threw a lot at you, but I’d be curious . . . . These concepts of the physical things and the more intangible things: what do you see of those as their place in American religion?

LMK: What do I see as the place of those in American religion?

DG: So, I suppose, is there an aspect: nationhood, ideology, material culture? Do you see one factor as being more important than another?

LMK: No. I think what I was trying to call for was not separating them – at least, disaggregating them in some way but not isolating any of them one from another. I think it’s easy. . . . We often get a little too free with our definitions of globalism, internationalism, transnationalism. . .

DG: Sure

LMK: . . . and I think, part of what my colleague was calling for was the use of the term cosmopolitan as sort-of an orientation towards the rest of the world. (10:00) What it seems to me, though, that using that term can do is to draw attention away from the way power flows in the movements: the power of states is one kind of power, economic power is another kind of power. I think that’s how I would break things down. Material goods are interesting to focus on, but there’s also, appending to that, the question of “Who’s paying for what?”

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: Right? And that determines the flow of those goods.

DG: So, if you were to say, simply, that “Oh, the Jesuits were cosmopolitan”, that may be obscuring who’s leading their operations.

LMK: Right. So, if you just notice that they’re bringing chalices over from Italy and putting them into chapels in North Dakota, it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the circumstances behind those movements. And so, you just don’t want to separate those two things out. I suppose that’s the simple point I’m trying to make.

DG: So, a lot of the conversation today dealt with the fact that the Jesuits do eventually, wind up launching outward from their bases in America to the Pacific Empire. And that really intersects with several of your books dealing with Pacific missionaries. Could you expand a bit on missionaries in the Pacific?

LMK: Yes. I think the 19th Century was the Pacific Century in that regard. If one could say that the 17th and 18th centuries sort-of focussed on Atlantic movements – with the slave trade, with European migrations to the new World – the Pacific Century is very much caught up, at least in terms of the relationship of the US to other nations, with: movements from various countries in Asia, eastward; the US becoming an imperial power, moving to places like Hawaii and later down to Central and South America. And those sorts of exchanges and contexts become focal points for interesting religious phenomena.

DG: Sure. And then the other thing, I’m thinking about, though, was – coming towards the end of the conversation – was that McGreevy’s book is mostly focussing on putting Jesuits into the international story, not so much on their interior life. I mean, he touches on that in the discussion with Father Bapst but it’s not the main point of the book. And we’re sitting here at the Cushwa Centre which has. . . the nature of spirituality and history has been a recurring topic for them. Do you think the book could have done more to consider the interior life of these priests?

LMK: By interior life, do you mean . . . ? I mean, he does consider things like the devotionalism, the increasing devotionalism in the 19th century – which is tied to interiority, I guess.

DG: I suppose I was thinking of the one gentleman’s comments which were about: “the book doesn’t really deal with the sort of spiritual exercises that Jesuits do”.

LMK: Yes. It ‘s certainly more focussed on the Jesuits as missionaries. And it struck me, as that conversation was going on, that Jesuits are not necessarily trying to inculcate the same disciplines in the people they are leading to the faith as they do in themselves. And, in a sense, those are almost two different tasks of a missionary. One question is: how do you inculcate discipline, education, bodily exercises or whatever into your subjects? But, as members of a Jesuit order, how do you try to maintain your own spiritual discipline, which might be a very different thing?

DG: Oh, certainly.

LMK: That’s certainly not where McGreevy’s interest lays.

DG: Well, it also brings up an interesting contrast with your work, for instance, studying Mormons – who take the Protestant idea of “every man his own priest” to an extreme, compared to the Catholic priest, saying: “There are certain things that are just for us and not for you.”

LMK: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So Mormons: they’re trying to replicate themselves and say, “This is how you live a Christian life – do as I do.” It’s a lay order, there isn’t a trained ministry, in that sense. So, I think , the tasks are really different. And what the Jesuits are trying to preserve for themselves in their own spiritual lives, can be – and in some situations is – very different from what they’re trying to get others to do.

DG: Another topic that comes up, involving America in the World in Dr McGreevy’s book, is the fact that Jesuits were becoming more politically liberal as the 20th century approached, but they had an interesting relationship to America as empire. For instance, they’re perfectly happy to sail on American ships to go into the Pacific. But on the other hand, they oppose, for instance, the war in the Philippines, in the early 1900s, because it’s a war against a Catholic nation. So, in the Mormon Church, did you find similar ambivalence about the imperial message?

LMK: Earlier on there was a lot of ambivalence about it. (15:00) When Mormons send off missionaries to the South Pacific in the mid-19th century, and later to places like New Zealand, the message is, “We’re also being oppressed by our government, just as you are being oppressed.” In other words, they’re an anti-colonialist movement spreading a message of joining common cause with the oppressed people’s in Utah. “And we will”, you know, “have more strength together”. So, yes, it’s sort-of an interesting thing. And, of course, by the 20th century they are certainly in line with American liberal values in a very different way. But there are other traditions that have a much more – I would say – a much more conflicted relationship to the US Government throughout. So, African American Christians, for example, also have some debates about how much to support the American imperial project, in various places: be it Haiti, where there’s a long tradition of African American missionaries in Haiti; or in Africa, because they have their own loyalties as they see it to people in Africa. So I think the whole issue of loyalties to religion and nation – aside from the Protestant mainstream one – have always been much more conflicted, and often more complicated, than we’ve realised.

DG: So we’ve spent a long time talking about comparative aspects of your work and Dr McGreevy’s work. But, I’m curious now. The role of the Catholic Church today in the United States is . . . . So, just to narrow in on Catholicism: the Catholic Church today is a large supporter of the United States Government, although it’s basically at odds with – sometimes at odds over – social issues. Do you think that trend is going to continue, of the Catholic Church having a liberal voice in American society? Because there certainly was a resurgence of conservatism under John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

LMK: Yes . . . . Historians, typically, aren’t very good prophets.

DG: Yes, so I caveat all of this with, “This may go wrong!”

LMK: Right! You know, I think there are potentially lots of counter-cultural elements in Catholicism . Even the social teachings of Catholicism – there is an anti-militarism which goes way back, that is combined, in ways different for Catholics, with their pro-life policies. So even though they might agree with evangelical Christians or other Protestants about questions of abortion, they’d part ways over the role of the American military and its work abroad. So it’s a complicated picture, I think. And as we’ve seen – and as a historian I suppose my take is – it’ll probably come around again. We will see more episodes of liberal . . . . I’m not a whiggish historian, so I don’t believe that we are in some inevitable march towards progress of all sorts, or enlightenment. And therefore it’s hard to predict what the next step would look like.

DG: Absolutely. The thing that’s been weighing on my mind – less so than recent political developments – is population shifts and demographics in the Catholic Church. I mean, certainly, with the rise of birth control – despite what bishops might want to know – the families are smaller now than they were in, say, the 1800s. And certainly, with the rise of secularity, I am curious to see the role of Catholicism in American public life. Dr McGreevy’s book deals with them taking on a larger role and now, I wonder, as the population shrinks, what’s going to happen?

LMK: That’s a great question. We have certainly seen revivals before in this country.

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: So it’s hard to predict. The demographic shifts are obviously significant, but exactly how they’ll play out, I think, is not easy to prognosticate. Just because there are people in the Southern Hemisphere who are becoming the voice of Christianity, it’s not clear to me what political pay-off that has, or what path that portends. In fact, if you look at something that I know a little more about, in Protestant missionary work, the kinds of Protestantism that are making in-roads in places like Africa and South America are some of the more conservative kinds of Protestantism: Pentecostalism . . .

DG: Which is a counter-narrative to the modern, growing secularism in America.

LMK: And now they’re sending missionaries back to the United States.

DG: Really?

LMK: Yes. There are reverse migratory flows of missionaries. One of the biggest churches in Western Europe right now is a church – and this may be out of date because it’s a few years ago someone told me this: that there’s a huge evangelical church that was founded by a Nigerian pastor that has grown by leaps and bounds in Europe. (20:00) Now who that’s growing among, in Europe, is an interesting question. But, of course, the make-up of Western Europe and the United States is changing, as well. So the demography may just follow back to the Northern Hemisphere.

DG: Sure. Well, this discussion of transnational Catholicism and which particular voice will win out, makes me think of the original intention for why we’re sitting here in Notre Dame. So, for our listeners, this conference was originally meant to be part of a much larger conference on the work of Mark Noll, the historian of American Christianity. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the conference had to be, mostly, scrapped. But I’m curious what you would think of this, to bring in Mr Noll as an evangelical historian and historian of evangelicalism. His recent work has been abandoning America Studies, to some extent, to talk about the world. His book, Clouds of Witnesses is about Africa and Asia. So, the work of Mark Noll: how, if at all, does that influence your research? Do you see his views about pluralism . . . do you think those are going to carry more weight, going forwards, in the academy?

LMK: In certain sections of the academy, absolutely. I mean, Mark has been a pioneer in that sort of field, looking at global Christianity, for a long time. And thinking about, well – he’s a historian with an eye to the future, and where the church is going. And that’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle that I think has trickled back into the academy, in all kinds of ways. So I don’t see that stopping, by any means. But the question of what globalism or increasing globalisation of any of these religious traditions actually means for piety, for spirituality, for institutional life is, I think, the next big question. We know what it means in terms of bodies moving from one place to another, but how that actually, then, plays out – in terms of building institutions and building structures – is anybody’s guess.

DG: Well, and you’ve also mentioned – on sort-of a final note – that you and the other panellists talk about how the Catholics have become, you know, comfortable with their place in American society. Whereas Mark Noll, in his works, is talking about how some evangelicals want to make the country an explicitly evangelical nation – and he rejects that, as an evangelical man. So do you see these fights in the academy at all, over how to define religion? Should there be an exclusively Protestant historical mould, or should we find news ways of thinking and defining religion – ways that aren’t just tied to Christianity?

LMK: So, are you thinking . . . ? Yes – I think the horse is out of barn on that one! I don’t see going back to any kind of narrow focus on either churches, or institutional life or Protestantism. But I think, in some ways, the study of religion in all of its dimensions can only enrich the future study of Protestantism, along with other traditions.

DG: Yes, I think pluralism is here to stay. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supporting, right?

LMK: Yes.

DG: And then, a genuinely final note, I’ll ask: some scholars consider Mormonism a Christian faith; others say it is a Christian inspired faith.Where do you stand on those issues?

LMK: It’s certainly inspired by Protestantism and that’s where, if you look at the first sort of members of the movement, they came by way of other Christian traditions. I don’t . . . . The theological question – of whether it is a Christian tradition – I don’t feel, as a scholar, is mine to answer. I guess, on one level, I take seriously the self-identification of Mormons who see themselves as Christians. I think it’s an interesting question to look at. I think there are other Mormons who don’t see themselves as Christian, so that’s also an interesting question: where are the fault lines, and when and where do these questions matter? As a cultural historian, I think those are the more interesting questions for me. But I am not a theologian and I am not a historian of a particular kind of church tradition, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

DG: Laurie Maffly-Kipp discussing bodies in space: what they think, what they say and what they do. Thank you very much.

LMK: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Citation Info: Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2017. “Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 29 May 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 22 May 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/jesuits-mormons-and-american-religion-in-the-world/

All transcriptions for THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

 

The Catholic Underground: Lithuanian Catholicism Under the Soviet Union

Professor of Sociology at Vytautas Magnus University, in Lithuania has changed during the counter-reformation, the First Republic after WWI, the Soviet Union, and finally after the Second Independence.

According to Dr. Alisauskiene, the Roman Catholic Church heavily dominated pre-Soviet Union Lithuania. Clergy and members of the Church were heavily involved in the politics of the country, often acting as officers of the state. Acting as agents in the public and political sphere, the clergy would make decisions on behalf of all religions, including the small minority of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Orthodox Church, Baptists, Muslims, Old Believers, and other groups, within the state. As sociologists of religion, we know that religion is embedded within culture and with the dominance of Roman Catholicism in Lithuania; it no doubt has influenced the cultural identity of the country.

During Soviet control, there was forced secularization and withdrawal of religion from the public sphere. However, the people of Lithuania were very much still connected to their religion, and often practiced their faith underground. Dr. Alisauskiene points out that the religious institutions at the time lost their property, and the religious clergy experienced destruction of their system of education and were highly persecuted and imprisoned. Religious minorities ar02were able to live their religious lives a little easier during the Soviet Union, but many still retreated to the underground community to practice their faith.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lithuania regained independence allowing Roman Catholicism to regain influence in the society. The number of people that identified as Roman Catholic pre-Soviet Union and post-Soviet Union remained about the same. The Church once again established a working relationship with the state. The new constitution acknowledges the “traditional” religious communities, and the state enumerates what is considered “traditional”.

With the resurgence of Roman Catholicism in Lithuania, Dr. Alisauskiene poses the question: “what does it mean to be Roman Catholic?” For Lithuanian Roman Catholics, much of that answer lies in the historical embeddedness of Roman Catholicism even under the oppression of the Soviet Union. As Alisauskiene states, after the fall of the Soviet Union, many of the countries took on a role of pluralism. However in the case of Lithuania, we see the citizens almost promoting a homogeneous set of beliefs and culture. This even comes from those in religious minorities. Instead of expressing a need for pluralism and to be recognized for the differences that their religion brings to the country, religious minorities push for the security of agreeing with the majority. This also creates an overall sense of security for the country. Alisauskiene attributes this to the proximity of Lithuania to Russia in comparison with countries like Poland. Interviewer, David G. Robertson poses the question of current-day migration issues in Lithuania. With the strong stance on homogeneous cultural identity, Alisauskiene states that Lithuania is not a strong proponent of immigration and have resettled very few refugees in the current European refugee crisis.

One of the more interesting parts of this podcast is the discussion of Roman Catholicism underar03 Soviet rule. As mentioned previously, religious institutions, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, lost land, buildings, and ways to educate their future clergy. As a way to show the oppression and spread the word about the treatment of the Church under Soviet control, priests and other clergy developed the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.

As was customary before the advent of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the popular means of disseminating materials and political propaganda was in the form of pamphlets and materials to be circulated among the masses. In order to show the political oppression of the Roman Catholic Church, their resilience and resistance, the clergy produced the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania in March 1972 (Dauknys 1985).  According to Rev. Pranas Dauknys in his 1985 article, “The Resistance of the Catholic Church in Lithuania Against Religious Persecution,” The Chronicle emerged out of the unanswered petitions to the Soviet government to stop the persecution of religion under Soviet control. In December of 1971, 17,054 Catholics signed a memorandum to the United Nation General Secretary outlining the religious persecution that was faced by the Lithuanian people (Dauknys 1985). The Chronicle was a series of publication that consisted of statements from Catholic practitioners and clergy of the court proceedings against members of the Church and documentation of the protests against religious discrimination. The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania remained in publication from spring 1972 until the 39th issue was released in the summer of 1979. The entire series of publications can be viewed online, here. Despite the oppression religion faced during Soviet control, Roman Catholicism remained an integral part of Lithuanian society. Believers and clergy proved to be an unstoppable force against religious persecution.

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All in all, Milda Alisauskiene gives a very interesting overview of religion in Lithuania with a glimpse of what religious life looked like under Soviet Union rule. Despite the persecution faced by clergy, limited resources and educational training for new clergy, as well as limitations on public displays of religion, many believers remained faithful. Religion still unites the people and continues to serve as a crucial institution in conceptions of Lithuanian cultural identity.

References

Dauknus, Pranas. 1985. “The Resistance of the Catholic Church in Lithuania Against Religious Persecution.” Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 31 (1)

 

 

 

Gender-as-Lived: Considerations in Ethnographic Methodology

virgin-mary-pics-1119

Virgin Mary

In the Religious Studies Project’s recent interview with Dr. Anna Fedele, Dr. Fedele and her interviewer discuss several aspects of interest related to the intersections of gender, religions, and power dynamics. Fedele’s book, Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality: Ethnographic Approaches (Routledge, 2013), is a collection of essays exploring the interaction of gender, gender norms, expressions of power, and those movements broadly identified as ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality’ (If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, it is an excellent set of essays and well worth the read). Fedele’s current research involves Catholic women in Portugal and the idea of ‘spiritual motherhood.’ ‘Spiritual motherhood,’ in this context, means women who have chosen to be stay-at-home-mothers, breastfeed longer than the average, give birth at home, and/or practice attachment parenting. Fedele looks at not only the experiences of the women as mothers, but their experiences as daughters and granddaughters. Fedele observes that it is very important to understand a woman’s history to know how she conceptualizes gender and motherhood.

Early in the interview Fedele offers an answer to the not-so-simple question of ‘what is gender?’ Her answer is based in both her study of classical theories of gender as well as her extensive experience as an ethnographer: ‘gender’ is what the research participants believe it to be, rather than what the researcher believes it to be. Fedele states that in her research, she tries to understand what ‘gender’ means for the people she studies, especially what gendered images they have received from their mothers and grandmothers. This relates to religion as well, because the women receive a whole set of values from their mothers, and the Catholicism in which they grew up (and still live) tells them that the mother is the center of the family, the mother must always be there for the child, as well as other notions that may not reflect the lives of the women Fedele studies.

Fedele’s approach of being guided by the women she studies resonates strongly with my perspective on studying ‘religion(s).’ The identities claimed by the individual(s) or community being researched must be acknowledged and respected by the researcher, and communicated to the audience (reader, students in a seminar, etc.) along with the researcher’s perspective and conclusions. Fedele further emphasizes this point when she observes that an academic researcher must acknowledge the power issues present in a researcher-interviewee relationship: the academic doesn’t know everything, nor is the participant ignorant. Fedele provides an example from her recent research on women, motherhood, and gendered roles conveyed via religion. The women she interviews are highly educated, intelligent, and have read extensively on pregnancy and motherhood. They are then struggling to reconcile the message of the Catholic Church (that a pregnant woman is in a state of grace, and the ideals of motherhood exemplified by the Virgin Mary) with their lived reality of physical pain and illness, sexuality, and spurts of emotions such as anger or impatience.

Sandro Botticelli - 'The Virgin and the Child' (Madonna of the Book)

Sandro Botticelli – ‘The Virgin and the Child’ (Madonna of the Book)

Fedele also cautions that scholars have an awareness of their own assumptions about the research topic. Some of Fedele’s colleagues had made a couple of highly inaccurate assumptions regarding the Portuguese women in Fedele’s study (for instance, the idea that because the women identify as religious they therefore follow all of the dictates of the Catholic Church, especially regarding abortion); the women must be anti-abortion because they value motherhood so highly, or so the assumption went. But Fedele’s research shows a much more nuanced, complicated picture: the women are not uniformly anti-abortion, owing to a distinct contrast between their Catholic upbringing, which taught that abortion is wrong, and what the women feel in their bodies and the agency they claim.

Later in the interview, Fedele emphasizes that it is crucial for scholars to have an awareness of how the religion is lived, in reality, by the people being studied. She further states that religion only exists in the lives of people and that while religion in texts can be studied, it is not alive. For example, in practice this means that she looks at living women and their stories, and shares her writing with them. She keeps an open mind regarding what they tell her and is careful to use non-judgmental language. Fedele notes that the women aren’t always interested in Fedele’s conclusions – some just read sections about themselves for accuracy or to make sure they aren’t identifiable – but some engage with the research as a whole.

These are valuable lessons for scholars of not only religion and gender, but are more broadly applicable to all scholars of religion. Whether a scholar is studying a living community, as Fedele does, or researching a text, we must be aware of the assumptions we carry with us as scholars. A person living a religion may appear different than a text would lead the researcher to believe and living communities of the same religion will differ based on location. (A point also noted by Jeff Wilson in his 2012 book, Dixie Dharma.) Fedele also leaves the listener contemplating a thorny problem related to the study of religion-as-lived (her preferred phrasing instead of ‘lived religion’): Fedele’s in-depth, ethnographic research is at odds with the pressure within departments for faculty to expediently finish research so that it can be published quickly. This hurried model of research and publication – and the constraints on conducting ethnographic research while teaching – is ultimately detrimental to the field. The trust between scholar and participant cannot be rushed or forced because the scholar is on a deadline. What valuable insights is the field missing by making it difficult for scholars to perform extensive studies on living communities?

References

Fedele, Anna and Kim E. Knibbe, eds. Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality: Ethnographic Approaches. Routledge Studies in Religion Series. New York & London: Routledge, 2013.

Fedele, Anna. Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Wilson, Jeff. Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. (Paperback released in 2014)

Religious Providence for Religious Action: Investigating Roger Allen Laporte’s French-Canadian Catholic Heritage

In the early morning hours of November 9th 1965, a 22 year old Catholic man from upstate New York named Roger Allen Laporte self-immolated in front of the United Nations in New York City as a strong political protest against the Vietnam War. Even 50 years after the event, Laporte still enflames debate in trying to understand his motivation and the overall meaning of such a drastic action: is it sacrifice or suicide. The key to this discussion, however, is that Laporte on his deathbed claimed it to be a religious act.

In a podcast interview for the Religious Studies Project, Francesca Cadeddu shares the insights of her postdoctoral research on Laporte looking at the psychological, social, and political dynamics at play in generating new forms and/or conceptualizations of martyrdom in the 20th century. Ultimately, Cadeddu seeks to understand the complexity of Laporte’s religious conviction. In this regard, I was struck by the idea of Laporte’s Francophone (or Franco-American) heritage. Though I must admit that it can only be inferred to what degree Laporte was influenced by the culture of French-Canadian/Franco-American Catholic identity,[1] it still remains an interesting aspect to explore as another layer of Laporte’s religious conviction.

In this brief response, I wish to deepen the discussion by investigating the discursive link and importance Catholic Ultramontanism played in constructing French-Canadian/Franco-American identity on both sides of the Canada/US border. I propose that exploring the 19th century construction of a racialized French-Canadian Catholic identity based on Christian Providence may shed further light into the depth of Laporte’s actions of religious martyrdom in the 20th century.[2]

French-Canadian Predestination

From c.1850 to 1950, Catholic culture was thoroughly dominated by an Ultramontanist discourse, which was an ecclesiastical effort to emphasize the importance of the Catholic Church in countering the perceived ill effects of modern society. For francophones in North America, Ultramontanist ideology became paramount to the socio-political and cultural construction of identity.[3] Their main concern was the survival of French language and culture against the hegemonic forces of a dominant Anglo-Protestant society both in Canada and the US.

In the same period, the province of Quebec was experiencing tremendous demographic and economic transformations. The population had drastically changed with the immigration of French Canadians to the burgeoning industries of New England.[4] Nive Voisine characterized it as “the march of misery and exile”[5] because French Canadians who sought employment abroad were leaving their lands without guarantee of returning. This caused a moral panic for the clergy. The architects of the Ultramontanist Church in Quebec therefore deployed a racialized and exclusivist identity framework along the lines of religion, language, land, occupation, and family. These socio-political ideals were tethered to the belief that ‘French-Canadians’ were predestined by God to be morally righteous missionaries in North America.

One of the most important ideologues for this identity programme was historian cleric Lionel Groulx (1878-1967).[6] In his mind, French-Canadian civilization[7] needed to perpetuate itself by means of a certain ethnic identification. Groulx formed a racial categorization of French Canadians in North America he called la race nouvelle (i.e. the new race)[8] as a projection of Catholic hegemony through (1) an assertion of French Canadian homogeneity, (2) an idealization of piety embodied in the parish and the family, and (3) the notion that patrimony equals land and that one needs to fight to assert his/her nationalism. Groulx saw the perfection of French Canadian identity represented as “service at the altar, service under arms, and the tilling of the soil.”[9] Groulx presented a heroic amalgam of priest and pioneer who were literally able to imbue the land and its people with an inherent Catholic morality. Therefore, the French-Canadian must take his/her place in the moral complex of the symbolic village—which was characterized by clerical guidance, independent and hard work, and the large Catholic family—in order to act in forging a better world. According to Groulx, this is the on-going mission field predestined by God to raise up the righteous Franco-North American civilization.

But the question remains: how does this inform the character of Roger Allen Laporte’s religious action? On one level, it is difficult to assume that it had any influence on his actions, especially in 1965 which saw the great transformation of the Catholic Church shedding the weighty tiara of Ultramontanist ideology. However, there is something important to be stated with the minority standing of the French-Catholic community in the US and especially in New England. In countering the struggles of social, cultural, linguistic, and religious assimilation, this racialized idealization acts to inflate one’s conviction and moral justification at the level of identity. By pointing to the need to perpetuate one’s French identity as an action of Christian Providence is a pretty lofty idea. One that could have had residual affects on a man like Laporte when it came to taking unambiguous political action.

Again, I cannot claim that the Ultramontanist ideals of French-Canadian identity were forefront in Laporte’s mind—a man who sought symbolic resources outside of his faith as a means to political protest. Yet the idea of struggle and action as being an inherently religious paradigm is relevant to Laporte’s case. It is not difficult to imagine that in your bones (i.e. the discursive genealogy of your ethno-cultural identity) lies the tools of moral justification and religious conviction to fight against insurmountable odds (that is, the saliency of a heritage of religious Providence that leads to religious action).

References

Bélanger, Claude. “Lionel Groulx – Histoire Du Québec.” L’Encyclopédie de L’histoire Du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia. Accessed May 5, 2015. http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/encyclopedia/LionelGroulxindex.htm.

Bélanger, Damien-Claude, and Claude Bélanger. “French Canadian Emigration to the United States, 1840-1930 – Readings – Quebec History.” Accessed May 5, 2015. http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/leaving.htm.

Bock, Michel. A Nation Beyond Borders: Lionel Groulx on French-Canadian Minorities. University of Ottawa Press, 2014.

Brault, Gerard J. The French-Canadian Heritage in New England. Canadian Electronic Library. Books Collection. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England ; Kingston Ont, 1986.

Buckner, Phillip A., and R. D. Francis. Canada and the British World Culture, Migration, and Identity. Canadian Electronic Library. Books Collection. Vancouver BC: UBC Press, 2006.

Desjardins, Bertrand. “Le Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique (The Research Program in Historical Demography) – PRDH-IGD.” Accessed May 5, 2015. http://www.genealogy.umontreal.ca/en/LePrdh.

Gagnon, Serge. Quebec and Its Historians: The Twentieth Century. Canadian Electronic Library. Books Collection. Montreal Harvest House, 1985.

Gareau, Paul L. “Le Providentialisme d’hier à Aujourd’hui : La Construction Idéologique Ultramontaine de L’identité Canadienne-Française dans le Développement de l’Armée de Marie.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 42, no. 3 (September 1, 2013): 346–63.

Groulx, Lionel. Notre Grande Aventure : L’empire Français en Amérique du Nord (1535-1760). Collection Fleur de lys. Montréal: Fides, 1958.

Lefebvre, Solange. “The Francophone Roman Catholic Church”. In Paul Bramadat and David Seljak (Eds.) Christianity and Ethnicity in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2008. 116-153.

Voisine, Nive. Histoire de l’Église Catholique au Québec (1608-1970). Montréal: Éditions Fides, 1971.

[1] It is interesting to note that Laporte is ranked 110th by the PRDH as a popular surname in Quebec. Cf. Desjardins, “Le Programme de Recherche En Démographie Historique (The Research Program in Historical Demography) – PRDH-IGD.”

[2] For a more in-depth discussion on the Ultramontanist construction of a moral geography in Quebec, cf. Gareau, “Le Providentialisme D’hier à Aujourd’hui : La Construction Idéologique Ultramontaine de L’identité Canadienne-Française dans le Développement de l’Armée de Marie.”

[3] Cf. Lefebvre, The Francophone Roman Catholic Church.

[4] This was a drastic demographic change that saw some 900,000 French Canadians immigrating to New England between 1840-1930. Cf. Bélanger and Bélanger, “French Canadian Emigration to the United States, 1840-1930”; Brault, The French-Canadian Heritage in New England; Buckner and Francis, Canada and the British World Culture, Migration, and Identity.

[5] “[La] marche de misère et de l’exile.” Voisine, Histoire de l’Église catholique au Québec (1608-1970), 55.

[6] Cf. for photo credit, Bélanger, “Lionel Groulx – Histoire Du Québec.”

[7] Groulx speaks not only of Quebec but in its broadest terms to include francophones of French-Canadian heritage who have left and are living in New England and all over Canada. For an in-depth analysis, cf. Bock, A Nation Beyond Borders.

[8] Cf. Groulx, Notre grande aventure.

[9] Gagnon, Quebec and Its Historians, 128.

Self-immolation as a religious act: The contested martyrdom of Roger Allen LaPorte, Catholic Worker

 

Millions of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. Almost 58,000 of the war’s victims were American citizens. While most of the physical and technical conflict took place overseas, political and ideological battles were waged within the United States.

Some of these Americans died, as it were, by their own hand. In 1965, Roger Allen LaPorte, a member of the Catholic Worker, self-immolated in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. While LaPorte himself described his act of protest as a specifically religious act, the validity of this description would soon be—and remain—contested, finding opposition among the Catholic hierarchy. The attention of U.S. media gave the contestation of martyrdom a public arena.

In this interview, postdoctoral researcher of U.S. Catholicism, Francesca Cadeddu, shares some of her reflections on LaPorte, whose contested martyrdom by self-immolation is the topic of her present postdoctoral project.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, pot noodles, very small trains, and more.

Francesca Cadeddu is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Institutional Sciences in Cagliari in Italy. She is also a fellow researcher at the Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the Jesuit priest and theologian John Courtney Murray, an important figure in U.S. Catholicism who featured prominently in the development of the the Second Vatican Council’s draft of Dignitatis Humanae (which the interviewer learned is pronounced “humaneh” rather than “hoomanay” shortly before the interview, hence the interviewer’s hesitation).

Having researched at two of the most prominent institutions for Catholic Studies in the U.S., Georgetown and Notre Dame, Cadeddu visited Notre Dame by means of a research grant from Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in the spring of 2015.

 

Podcasts

The Winter of (Neo)Conservative Discontent

In an important recent interview on The Religious Studies Project website, Professor Jerry Espinoza Rivera of the University of Costa Rica provides a valuable analysis of the strange political trend sweeping not only Latin America but much of the world.

Professor Rivera rightly notes that this new conservatism is radically different from earlier forms of Latin American conservatism that more closely identified with traditionalist Roman Catholicism as well as various social dynamics and even rhetorical tactics of the ancien régime. This new, or what Professor Rivera identifies as “neo-” conservatism, however, employees the language of biology and pop psychology as well as the verbiage of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment liberalism. One of the key battles of the neoconservative movement that Professor Rivera treats is the battle over sexual morality in much of Latin American between progressive or leftist and neoconservative Latin American intellectuals.

Professor Rivera’s analysis further deserves the complement of a discussion of some of the historical background of the neoconservative movement, which I will herein provide in some small measure.

Neoconservatism must be most properly understood as a fundamentally North American phenomenon in as much as it has its origins in the United States and, moreover, in as much as it advocates a distinctly American agenda.  As is commonly known, the intellectual core of neoconservatism was built around Russian-Jewish emigres to the United States, such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, who while initially embracing Trotskyism, spurned the Soviet Union after Stalin and later Brezhnev’s anti-Semitic turn. These thinkers (and others) through media outlets such as Commentary Magazine and National Review,  helped to shape how the American right would confront the New Left during the searing culture wars that erupted in the United States in the late 1960s.

However, as much, or perhaps even more than the New Left, the neoconservatives waged war against the Old Right in America. If the Old Right was strongly Protestant Christian, the neoconservatives embraced what they termed “Judeo-Christian” values. While the old American right was ethnocentric and viewed America as fundamentally a white country composed primarily of ethnic Northern European people, the neoconservatives, while engaging in racialist “dog whistles”—Norman Podhoretz was the author of a 1963 Commentary essay, “My Negro Problem—and Ours”—primarily viewed America as a country into which all the people of the world could become a part as long as they assimilated to a vaguely defined “Western Civilization.” Perhaps most importantly, embolden by the slogan, “America First,” the Old American Right was protectionist in economic matters and isolationist in regard to foreign wars. The neoconservatives, however, although having to wait until 2003 for an American president to accept their agenda wholesale, advocated for “free markets” as well as the transformation of much of the world via American cultural capital and American military might.

In the late 1970s, as the impending Reagan Revolution gathered steam, the older generation of neoconservatives were joined by a number of Christian journalists, many of whom, such as Michael Novak and then Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus, had been leftwing activists involved in the Civil Rights movement as well as Vietnam War protests. Others, such as George Weigel, who boasts of his relationship with the older generation of neoconservatives in his 2017 memoir, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II, were up and coming Catholic theologians.

With a host of books and essays produced in the 1980s, these thinkers were tasked with what Neuhaus called in his 1984 watershed work The Naked Public Square, “the New Religious Right,” which contrary to the old ethnocentric, triumphalist, and anti-modern tendencies, of, ironically, both Fundamentalist Protestantism and traditionalist Roman Catholicism, would embrace much of modernity while retaining a loosely defined Christian creed combined with American patriotism and unconditional support of capitalism and American cultural and military expansion throughout the world.

The Catholic neoconservatives—Neuhaus would embrace the faith and become ordained a priest in the 1990s—saw much success in their work, as many Catholics did embrace the Republican Party and began to drift away from the left-leaning tenor of the American Catholic Church under the reign of the late Cardinal Bernardin during the 1980s as well as 1990s.

As a result, the Catholic neoconservatives turned their sights on liberation theology, a Latin American movement that utilized some concepts and language from various Marxist schools and which was making inroads not only in South and Central America. Michael Novak crafted two important books dedicated to combating liberation theology Will It Liberate? Questions about Liberation Theology (1986) as well as This Hemisphere of Liberty: A Philosophy of the Americas (1990). More than morality or even theology, these works dealt primarily with economics.

The United States had (and, to this day, has) treated Central and South America as well as the Caribbean as the US’s “backyard.” Thus, the incursion of anti-capitalist ideology into the diverse lands “south of the border” presented a clear and present danger, even after the end of the Cold War, to American influence in Latin America. By posing as benevolent theologians linked (at least on the surface) with the popular papacy of John Paul II, the Catholic neoconservatives hoped they could stop the spread of a theology that, more than it upset traditionalist or conservative Catholic theologians, threatened America economic and geopolitical interests in the region. With the late twentieth and early twenty-first century explosion of conservative Catholicism around the world as well as the lingering post-Cold War American hegemony that has lasted until recent years, the Catholic neoconservatives could consider their project complete.

Now, however, as the Catholic Church appears divided into increasingly polarized camps, consisting of traditionalists, on one hand, and progressives, on the other, the Catholic neoconservatives, who attempted to find a theological via media between the two camps, have found themselves increasingly isolated. Furthermore, in the realm of geopolitics, seemingly amorphous forms of populism appear to be gaining support among large swathes of the population from Brazil, to the United States, to Italy, and to even countries like Japan, thus threatening the neoconservative project of global liberal world order under American hegemonic rule.

While the future of religion, politics, and political theology remains wide open, the immediate past, including the influence of the Catholic neoconservatives throughout the Americas and the world, is coming into clearer focus.

Santa Muerte and the Interplay of Cultures on Dia de los Muertos

In Mexico, it may appear to outsiders that there is a trifecta of death. After all, there is the Day of the Dead, La Catrina and Santa Muerte. But these are distinct from one another, although often conflated by outsiders.

 

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd November. This is a time when Mexicans reminisce about their ancestors, honouring the deceased and in many ways keeping them alive through memories and altars that they build to commemorate them. The famous French sociologist and contemporary of Durkheim, [Robert] Hertz postulated that through mortuary rites, such as funerals, people come to accept the new status of the deceased as a departed member of society, someone who will no longer participate in the activities of the living; someone who no longer has any social effect. Still today in the Western world, when we lose a family or friend, the idea is to grieve and let go. For Westerners, the funeral is a mortuary rite of transition to accept this dramatic transformation in status. However, the Day of the Dead contradicts Hertz’s theory and attests to a starkly different stance in Mexico towards the deceased when compared to the Western attitude. 

 

The dearly departed in Mexico play an active part every year in the lives of the living on the Day of the Dead. Mexicans do not let go of the deceased but rather recall them. The dead, if not honoured correctly, according to some Mexicans, in particular in rural locales, may even pose a threat to the living by bringing them bad luck, potentially cursing them and their ventures. This belief substantiates the social force of the deceased in Mexico and the effect they continue to have on the living long past their demise. Time, money and energy is invested in the deceased, despite their lack of a physical presence. Indeed, a tangible manifestation appears that symbolises the dead when altars are fabricated for them. 

 

Altars constructed to honour the deceased are symbolic expressions or representations of the departed and the love that the living still have for them. They signify the undying bond between living and dead. These altars consist of a photo of the dead surrounded by their favourite objects which are given as ofrendas, offerings, to welcome them and show these souls that they have not been forgotten. Children typically receive toys, candy, sweet tamales, fruit, and other such victuals. Adults receive libations of their favourite alcoholic beverages, their preferred dishes and possibly cigarettes. Sugar skulls, known as calaveras de azúcar, also celebrate the dead. They are inscribed with the name of a deceased relative and placed on altars. A sweet bread is baked called pan de muerto which is gifted to the dead and also eaten by the living, particularly at gravesites where the dead are commemorated. 

 

 Children are honoured in processions and graveyards on November 1st on the Dia de los Innocentes, or Dia de los Angelitos, and adults on November 2nd. Albeit if young adults who would typically be honoured on November 1st died in a particularly violent fashion, and of unnatural causes they are often honoured on November 2nd, since in some ways their traumatised soul can no longer be deemed innocent. 

 

The Day of the Dead is a hybrid tradition that meshes Indigenous death worship and Catholic practice. Veneration of ancestors was at the fulcrum of many Indigenous people’s religious praxes, as was worship of death deities, and not only for the Aztec, as Dr. Chesnut points out in the interview. In my research, I have encountered a wide range of beliefs in death deities and rites of ancestor veneration amongst to name but a few the Maya, the Zapotec and the Mixtec.  For example, the Maya regularly held blood-letting rituals. The Mayan King, and other nobles would be bled, often by piercing their tongues or ears with a serrated stingray tail and other jagged objects. This loss of blood ensured possession by what was known as the serpents of vision. These serpents, depicted in iconography as gargantuan snakes, served as a gateway from the physical world to the realm of spirits, that is to say ancestors, who were called on for advice. Still today, Mexicans converse with the dead during commemorations and may ask for their blessings in their future endeavours.

 

Many Indigenous Mexican peoples had special days of the week or a month dedicated to death deities in the pre-Hispanic era, as Dr. Chesnut points out in reference to the Aztec. The Catholic Church sought to annihilate these Indigenous religious activities, but soon realised that they could not exscind them entirely thus instead focused on finding paths of accommodation, enforcing Church rites and beliefs where there was enough contiguity with Indigenous customs for Catholic conventions to be adopted zealously. One of these events was the Catholic holiday, All Saints Day, which rather than becoming simply assimilated, was re-mapped according to Indigenous choreography thus blooming into a syncretic rite of cultural concrescence. 

Santa Muerte also hails from the Mexican cultural tradition that relates to death deities and death worship. Some devotees, as Dr. Chesnut points out in the podcast, have linked her to Aztec death goddess Mictecacihuatl, nevertheless we must go beyond the obvious link with the Aztec, as I have stated, and consider the wider cultural importance of death veneration across many of the variegated Indigenous peoples of pre-Hispanic Mexico. Furthermore, although Santa Muerte has Indigenous origins, she is very much a modern death deity who once again must be understood in terms of her hybridity and as an example of the fact that faith is always in perpetuum mobile, altering to fit the zeitgeist, sine qua non it would not survive. 

 

Following on from [Fernand] Braudel, I believe that culture although continually being reinvented in new guises in line with l’air du temps, is characterised by the longue durée, and moreover, even if there is continuity there is also alteration. Thus religion, like most cultural phenomena, is marked by a dialectic of permanence and change as I argue in my forthcoming book ‘Daughters of Death: Female Followers of Santa Muerte’. Veneration to Santa Muerte must be seen through this optic. She is a symbolic complex and much as she hails in part from pre-Colombian mythic structures, she is also distinctly modern, or more aptly, post-modern given that she is amoral and there is no one single version of Santa Muerte. There is no single grand metanarrative that can explain the Bone Mother’s many facets, nor one answer that can elucidate the way in which she appeals to manifold groups of people, from narcos to lovesick housewives. 

 

In her cloaks of many colours, which Dr. Chesnut has described in the podcast, she may provide favours of all sorts to a wide demographic of devotees. In her black gown, she is known for bringing death to enemies, and in her red mantle she aids women with the return of an errant husband, whilst dressed in white, the Bony Lady brings peace and cleansing. Santa Muerte is even protean in her many iconographic depictions. There is sexy Santa Muerte, who dressed in a miniskirt, with a generous bust somehow seems at odds with her cadaverous qualities, incarnating the Hollywood-inspired male fantasies of narcos. Then there is Aztec Santa Muerte who with flamboyant feather headdress incorporates pastiche components from an imagined pre-Hispanic past that is neither spurious nor genuine, but an invention of the past, presupposing past symbolisms and creatively reinterpreting them in a dialectic of continuity and change.

Ultimately, we must understand Santa Muerte as a death saint who is the product of history and the interplay of cultures. She is the fruit of a multitude of relations and events that over time continue to this day to propel the incessant development of an ever-mushrooming group of devotees, which now stretches across the globe.

Lady Death and the Pluralization of Latin American Religion

In today’s podcast Professor R. Andrew Chesnut reflects on the broad changes in Latin America that show why Santa Muerte is one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world. By connecting Brazil’s colonial past to its pluralist present, Dr. Chesnut explains how folk saint culture connects the country’s diverse population of Catholic, Pentecostal, and Afro-Brazilian religious groups. Focusing on lived religious experiences, including Santa Muerte’s unofficial role in Day of the Dead in Mexico, this episode highlights the many different ways Lady Death operates for her devotees and reveals some of the ongoing challenges of studying the religion amid the rapidly changing religious landscape of the Global South today.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, sardines, popcorn, and more.


Lady Death and the Pluralisation of Latin American Religion

 

Podcast with R. Andrew Chesnut (31 October 2019).

Interviewed by David McConeghy

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at:

https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/lady-death-and-the-pluralisation-of-latin-american-religion/

PDF version of the transcript is available here.

David McConeghy (DMcC): Welcome. I am David McConeghy, and today I’m joined by Dr R. Andrew Chesnut, holder of the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. A Latin American specialist, Professor Chesnut is the author of numerous articles and five books, including his latest – Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint – which is the first and only academic study in English of the folk saint of death. Dr Chesnut is a regular commentator on news and religious affairs and writes a blog for Patheos, called The Global Catholic Review. Dr Chesnut, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s a real pleasure to speak with you.

  1. Andrew Chesnut (AC). Oh it’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for the invitation, Dr McConeghy.

DMcC. One of the things that I’m really excited about in your work is that you – especially for American audiences – really let us into an entire world that the Global South is participating in, and that is thriving in Latin America. I think here in the US, and perhaps in Europe – our two major audiences, the folks that listen to us – we need some orientation. We need some help, really understanding what’s going on in the areas that you study. So can you say a little bit about your research, and the kind of questions that really drive your focus in Latin America?

AC: Yes. I really started as a specialist in Pentecostalism in Latin America; more specifically, Brazil. My book, Born Again in Brazil, which was published in 1997, was the first book in English on the Pentecostal movement in Brazil. And over two decades later, it’s still very relevant as today, Brazil is home to the largest Pentecostal population on Earth – larger than even here, in the United States – and who were integral in electing Brazilian President Bolsonaro. After that I moved on. It was very obvious to me, as I was doing my field research in Brazil and the Amazonian city of Belém, that there was intense religious competition taking place among the three major religious groups of Brazil: Pentecostals, Catholics, and the Afro-Brazilian religious groups such as Umbanda and Candomblé – the two most important ones. So for my second book, Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy, I look at the religious competition taking place in Latin America, through the theoretical paradigm of religious economy – in which you kind-of look at faith institutions competing with each other, much in the same way that commercial enterprises do in the commercial economy. And so I focussed on those religious groups, who in the past century have had the most success in terms of attracting membership. And that would be the Pentecostals, and the Catholic Charismatic renewal – which is the Catholic Church’s own version of Pentecostalism – has been thriving in Latin America and the Global South, as its response to stiff Pentecostal competition. And again, looking at the religions of the African diaspora I also observed Haitian Vodou and Cuban Santería. And then I moved on. As you mentioned, my latest work is on what is now the fastest growing new religious movement in the entire West. Mexican folk saint, Santa Muerte, which translates in English both as Saint Death and Holy Death. Unfortunately, Pew Research hasn’t stepped in or Gallup poll, so we don’t have any hard numbers. But after a decade of research, I estimate some ten-to-twelve million Santa Muerte devotees, mostly concentrated in Mexico, Central America and here in United States. So, I don’t know, I’d say if there’s one major or two major connecting threads, in my two decades of research, first would be the paramountcy of faith healing. My main argument that the motor driving the Pentecostal boom in Brazil and Latin America is its emphasis on faith healing. I found that so many nominal Catholics had converted at the time of an acute health crisis, which they weren’t able to solve through the Catholic Church or through secular health care either. And so the Pentecostal Churches always kind of put faith healing: “Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, be baptised by the Holy Spirit and this will cure your affliction of poverty” (5:00). And so that, I really find to be kind-of the motor that’s been propelling the Pentecostal boom in Latin America and the Global South. And I was so surprised when I started my research on Santa Muerte in 2009, that also a key component of her appeal, both in Mexico and here in the United States, is her role as a curandera or faith healer. So many people come to her major shrines in Mexico, either giving thanks for a healing they believe that she performed for them or for a family member, or asking her for that. And so that was just one of the great surprises in my research. Who was going to imagine that this fierce looking death saint is also a potent healer as well? So this kind of thread of the great importance of faith healing has been a commonality in my two decades of research, as is my primary focus, really, that’s been on lived religion – religion as it’s played out in the grassroots, in terms of rites and rituals – and (I’ve been) much less interested in the written word, and dogma, and doctrine in my focus.

DMcC: This is a really interesting way to think about your work. One of the questions that I already had for you – and I’ve been engaging with your work, Born Again in Brazil, for some time – talking about the kind of charismatic exchanges between groups like the New Apostolic Reformation, and folks in Guatemala or Brazil. On those kinds of things, you really frame it as a solution to the health crisis of poverty. And it sounds as if, twenty years later – this is an amazing thing to say – twenty years later, you still think that’s true!

AC: Yes, I make the same argument. And especially, as I throw in, since prosperity theology has essentially become hegemonic theology among Pentecostals, and many Evangelicals across the Americas. And, as we see, it’s kind-of the unofficial theology of the Trump administration here.

DMcC: Right. Absolutely.

AC: So I’d throw in the element of prosperity, which wasn’t as prevalent when I initiated my research – what, twenty-five years ago? But yes, the health component is still, I’d say, the sine qua non of Pentecostalism’s appeal in Latin America and the Global South. And even here, in the United States. You know the great pioneering Pentecostal televangelist, Oral Roberts, who brought the message on TV for the first time in the United States: really the crux of his message was faith healing, as well. Benny Hinn, as well. So the whole prosperity element of it gets so much attention lately, but we can’t forget the other part of the equation.

DMcC: Do you think that part of this is sales pitch for the shift, maybe, from stronger Catholicism that was not charismatic, to the rising Pentecostals, and then Catholic competition in charismatic spaces? That that framework is really only exposed through the kind of lived experience stuff that you work on? You suggested that perhaps the written stuff is less crucial for the way that you think about things. But, when I think of the Pentecostal orientation to what’s important: “Show me the power”, right? “Show me a thing that will have results and that will connect me to the power of the Holy Spirit.” It will do that immediately. It will do it vibrantly. It will do it within my community. It will do it day in, day out. Is that part of the mix, there, that kind of “We’re making really strong claims about what the religious adoption of this can do for you”? And then, collectively, the power of that choice brings . . . the rising tide lifts all boats on that.

RAC: Yes, no doubt, at the macro level. Particularly that emphasis on access and demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit, needs to be physically manifest, right? And so thus the Pentecostal emphasis, particularly in Latin America, of constructing monumental temples, for being seen with presidents and governmental authorities (10:00). Such as I think is poignantly the case with billionaire Pentecostal Bishop Edir Macedo, who has become one of the most visible and prominent backers of the Brazilian president, Bolsonaro. And who recently had him attend one of his Sunday worship services in San Paolo and gave him a five minute blessing, which you can see on YouTube. It’s pretty extraordinary! So yes, at the macro level, there needs to be physical representations and manifestations of the power. And, particularly if we’re talking about the ascendant prosperity theology, you know, that Pentecostal pastors themselves need to be paragons of prosperity – so, the ostentatious display of their prosperity in terms of their choice of vehicles, and their houses, and the temples themselves. So yes, it’s not only at the grass roots, it’s not only lived religion, it’s also the institution. That just tends to be my focus less, but I’m not saying that it’s a less interesting or valid focus.

DMcC: So in the last two decades you kind-of highlighted that prosperity has really taken root. Can you talk a little bit more, for any of the Listeners that may not be familiar with the background, especially of Brazil? I know that many centuries of Catholic dominance there really started to shift mid-twentieth century, with the growth of Pentecostalism there. But then there’s also this backdrop of West African and syncretic kind of openness. And that configuration is so unique, not only in Brazil, but in each country in Latin America, and the way that they do it. Can you talk just little bit about that? The blending that they do so well?

AC: Yes. I think Brazil is particularly fascinating as a country of over two hundred million people, and such diversity! It’s kind-of the country that most mirrors the United States, and is most similar, really – the religious economy – to the United States. So yes, historically of course, like all Latin American countries, it’s a Catholic country. And at the end of the nineteenth century, you had the disestablishment of the Catholic Church from the Brazilian State. Which, of course, sets the legal foundation for . . . not for Afro-Brazilian religions, but the legal foundation for Protestants to start setting up their chapels. And indeed, at that time in the nineteenth Century, you have some of the major US-based mainline denominations going down to Brazil: Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc. They have very little success in converting Brazilian Catholics. But they do have success in setting up prep schools and universities and such. And then, building on this new legal foundation – at least for Protestants to set up shop – Pentecostals arrive in 1910-1911, and find really quick success in converting Brazilian Catholics. To the point that we already start to have a critical mass of converts by the mid-twentieth century, by the1950s. And Pentecostalism really starts to mushroom in the 1970s and really has been growing like wildfire for the past five decades or so. Talking about the Afro-Brazilian religions . . . and I should say I need to make this so clear. Of the twelve million African slaves who were forcibly brought to our Americas, forty-three percent go to Brazil. In comparison only three percent come here, to the United States. So anybody with any interest in matters of the African diaspora, be it religion or any other facet, by necessity has to take a look at Brazil, if not start with Brazil, because of the sheer numbers. And so it’s no surprise that Brazil is the place – maybe with the exception of Haiti – Brazil is the place where today we have the most vibrant religions of the African diaspora, which historically were repressed, suppressed by both Brazilian church and state, and really only are legalised in the late 1960s (15:00). And today, and again the two main ones are Umbanda and Candomblé. And today they’re thriving – however, they’re facing a new round of persecution by Pentecostals, particularly in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where Pentecostal gangsters raid their houses of worship and try to drive them out of their zones of influence. And so this is another kind of fascinating development. Never, twenty-five years ago, did I imagine that I’d be writing articles about armed Pentecostal gangsters in Rio de Janeiro, who are the agents of persecution and harassment of practitioners of Candomblé and Umbanda!

DMcC: When you tweeted out your latest post on that from Patheos, it exploded on my timeline! It got retweeted so much. Clearly, I think, the rest of us share that surprise – that this is one of the configurations that we’re seeing, right now.

AC: It’s surreal. We’re living in surreal times across the board, though!

DMcC: So if we can take that kind-of grass-roots activism that’s happening: one access point from your current research on that is really the broad appeal of Santa Muerte. Can you tell us a little bit about why it is that this really potent symbol is connected to health, and love, and money, and drugs, and crime and cartels?! How did we get from a folk saint to narco-cartels, Pentecostals attacking Afro-Brazilian religious groups? It’s such a stunning transformation!

AC: Yes. That’s a big question. Let me think about where I should start with that! So Santa Muerte goes back to Spanish colonial times, in Mexico, and really is the syncretism or fusion of the Spanish Grim Reapress. And I say Grim Reapress because in Mediterranean Europe, Spain, Portugal, Italy, more often than not it was a female representation. The Spanish Catholic Church puts over the figure of the Grim Reapress as a tool of evangelisation of the indigenous people, here in the Americas. Because of course, in the beginning, they have no idea who the indigenous people are. They’re not in the Bible. Are they humans are they animals? Do they have their own religion? So the Spanish Catholic Church brings in the Grim Reapress to represent death. And of course, for the Europeans, the Grim Reaper was a mere artistic representation or rendition of death that arises during the great death and dying of the Black Plague of the fourteenth century. Europeans did not venerate or worship the Grim Reaper, or repress and imbue him or her with any supernatural powers. And so it’s the case that the Grim Reapress comes over here, for example, as part of Holy Week processions, representing the good death, the holy death of Christ. And again, one of the English translations of Santa Muerte’s name is Holy Death, referring to the holy death of Christ. And so it’s the case that some of the indigenous groups in Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Paraguay – because there’s two other skeletal death saints which I’ll mention in a minute – interpret the Grim Reapress through their own pre-existing religious contexts, in which the Aztecs, and the Mayans, and the (audio unclear) in South America, had their own death deities, their own death gods and goddesses, such as the Aztec Mictēcacihuātl, which presided over what used to be the Aztec month of the dead – which, of course, the Spanish Catholic Church collapsed into the present two Days of the Dead. So anyway, she’s the syncretism of this indigenous belief in death deities and the Grim Reapress. She goes off the historical record in 1797, and only resurfaces a century-and-a-half later, in the 1940s, when American anthropologists report her for the first time on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, interestingly among Afro-Mexicans (20:00). And, from the 1940s to the 1980s, we have both American and Mexican anthropologists starting to find mostly females, Mexican females, dressed in black, venerating, Santa Muerte. By the time we get to the 1980s, across the Mexican Republic. But during this time, our anthropologist friends were reporting her working only one type of magic, and that is love magic. And so, at the mid-century, the only type of miracle that she is recorded performing is love sorcery – mostly for aggrieved Mexican women who believe their husbands or boyfriends are cheating on them. And so they petition Santa Muerte to take her over-sized scythe, and to cut out the other woman from their husband’s path and to bring that husband, that badly behaving man, back home – humbled at her feet, under the threat of Santa Muerte’s scythe, to never be adulterous once again.

DMcC: That’s a terrifying image!

AC: It is! And so her origins, at least in the twentieth century – and last time I checked and when I did the research for my book, Devoted to Death, her number one selling coloured votive candle was the red candle, not of blood and death, but of the heart: of love and passion. And indeed, still one of her premier roles is as love doctor, or love sorceress. At some point in the late eighties she starts to become associated with organised crime, to the point that today – you’ve probably seen some of my writing along with my colleague and research partner Dr Kate Kingsbury – where she’s been labelled a “narco-saint”. And, in fact, that was the catalyst of my own interest, is when the Filipe Calderón administration ordered the Mexican army, in March 2009, to go onto the border with California and Texas and to demolish some forty Santa Muerte shrines. When I saw that I thought . . . . I knew about Santa Muerte, because I’d been going to Mexico since the early 1980s, but I had no idea that she had been fingered as the religious enemy number one of the Mexican government, at that point. And so . . .

DMcC; Right. If the Mexican Government is issuing statements calling for disruption of roadside temples by bulldozer, you know you’ve really got something on your hands!

AC: Exactly. So we just published with Patheos yesterday about these narco-saints. And so, one of Santa Muerte’s roles is as protectress of cartel members, protecting them from harm, from rival cartel members, law enforcement. But obviously since she’s a folk saint and she’s amoral – she’s not a Catholic saint – they also ask her to eliminate or bring harm to their rivals, as well. And so that’s another important role that she plays – but one of many.

DMcC: Right. One of the things that struck me about it, and I work with far more American stuff, is the work on Saint Jude, for instance, where we really see the lived experience of the relationship of Catholics with their saint of choice as revealing all of the kind-of issues that really matter to a person, and really how it builds their whole world out from the saint, organising the perspectives about it. I think it’s really interesting if Santa Muerte starts off as love . . . the avenging angel for infidelity. We don’t have to work too hard, to draw a line to the cartels, mentally, if we think of the protection of secrecy, right? The protection of the sphere where cartel members are not wanting to talk about their activities, and then avenging those that break that silence, or that are working against them? It’s not a hard road: (25:00) the passion that the scythe brings to the unfaithful husband is the same passion that cartel members hope that she’ll bring to the enemies of the cartel. Is that the kind of way that we should think about it, or is something else going on, do you think?

AC: Right, I think so – particularly since most Catholic saints tend to specialise in one or two types of miracles, such as Saint Anthony will help you find your lost keys or cell phone. And so, very quickly, Santa Muerte morphs from this exclusive focus on love sorcery to, today, being a multi-tasking saint who does it all. So, yes, she covers all bases and that’s part of her appeal, as well. Not only that she covers . . . And going back to her coloured votive candles – which was the schema for the way I organised my book – she has a seven power rainbow coloured candle for those folks who are looking for a miracles on multiple fronts! Which are a lot of people, right?

DMcC: Yes, aren’t we all?

AC: And particularly, we can’t ignore the fact that devotion to Santa Muerte has mushroomed during a time of great death and dying – of bad death, juxtaposed to her name Holy Death – in Mexico. In the last decade, the only country that surpasses Mexico on violent death is another country where I have relatives, Syria. And so we’re well over two hundred thousand violent deaths in Mexico in the past ten years. And so, I’m not making that one-to-one correlation in the mushrooming rise. But there’s no doubt that this hyper-violence of the interminable drug war creates fertile soil. Because there’s a lot of folks who ask her for more life, for more grains of life in that hour glass that she holds, in addition, again, to narcos asking her to cut the life down from their rivals, as well. And so that a saint of death should become so popular in a Mexico of such bad death, in the past ten-to-fifteen years, is of little surprise.

DMcC: You’ve written about a lot of other folk saints as well, like the Our Lady of Oxum, the Black Madonna. Should we be – as Religious Studies observers of folk practice and lived experience – should we be paying far more attention to the kind of constellation of major figures? I think you rightly point that Santa Muerte’s rise reveals how hard it is sometimes for Religious Studies scholars to address the rapid rise of a new religious movement, a new religious emphasis, a new religious symbol. It takes us a long time to catch on to what’s on the ground, to do the research, to publish the research, to have the conversations that really kind-of unpack everything. And what I’ve been really pleased about, every time I see something coming across on Patheos, is how vibrant it all seems. Everything is new to me about this, being a non-specialist in the area. Do you feel like more of this is needed, that we need to pay attention to more of these things, in all the places that we can find them?

AC: Yes. I think what you’re pointing at is . . . . And I’m also a big fan of paying attention to macro trends. In fact, I was a lead academic consultant on the landmark Pew survey of the Latin American religious landscape that came out in 2014. So I paid attention to macro trends as well. So one of the great . . . the greatest trend in Latin America, on a religious landscape, in the past four or five decades is pluralisation. And whereas for four centuries one’s religious identity was inherited or bequeathed, Catholicism now, for many folks – as it is the United States – it’s elected, it’s chosen. And so, you know, there’s Mexicans who are finding Santa Muerte is far more appealing – far more, let’s say, efficacious than certain Catholic saints – and so they go that route. New Age beliefs are also very prevalent in Latin America. And so it’s a diversification, it’s a pluralisation. And indeed, just like in the United States, one of the fastest growing groups are the religious “nones”: those who have no institutional religious affiliation (30:00). The last Pew Survey shows that, here in the United States, the religious nones are up to twenty six percent, which means there are six percent more of them than there are Catholics, because Catholics are down to twenty percent in the United States. And in Latin America it’s about fifteen percent, and exceedingly higher among Latin American millennials and Generation Z as well. So Santa Muerte and all of these other folk saints I would just put under this big tent of pluralisation, of the kind of robust diversification and religious choices that we’ve had for a long time in our own country.

DMcC; It’s really interesting to think about that as a kind of great awakening that’s happening in Brazil, right? The voluntary-ism of America, that we tend to associate with the development of multiple Protestant denominations, really, in my mind, is the kind of language that I’m hearing you talk about with that, to hear the pluralisation of religious impulses there. But also, the nones really surprises me too. I heard a talk recently by one of Pew Forum’s head researchers and like you, he highlighted that the nones are growing basically, in the US, at about one percent per year. Catholics are down to twenty-one percent now. But he cited that globally, when you talk about that, that’s not what we’re seeing. I’m hearing a little pushback from you that Brazil, in its parallels with the US, is actually . . .

AC: Yes. I hate to contradict my associates at Pew, but I just saw the other day on Twitter, that in the Arab world we’re seeing significant rise over the last decade of religious nones as well. So there’s a hemispheric-wide trend from Canada, down to Argentina, and the United States. Western Europe, of course, was the one who really pioneered secularisation. In fact, all the sociological models of secularisation that arose in the seventies and the eighties were mostly based on the Western European experience. Peter and his associates. So, yeah, we have evidence that in other parts of the world –namely, lately, the Arab world – it’s happening as well. So it’s not only peculiar to our own Americas here.

DMcC: I don’t know that those are necessarily contradictory. I think what it tells us is that the situation is changing so rapidly right now, that data that’s even a few years old – if you’re thinking of data from 2010, right? We’re off by many percentage points now, in that data. And when you’re talking on a global scale you run into huge problems. I always tell my students, when we’re talking about China, that as far as I can tell and based on the work of other experts, the survey data that we have on religion in China is basically useless. When there’s a global survey about what religion is like in China, that billion people in China is not being reflected by that data very well at all. And I think we see that in sub-Saharan Africa, where we’re talking about the rise of Islam alongside the rise of Catholicism and Pentecostalism. And at the same time, if there’s a secular movement – it’s all happening all at once! I don’t know that the broadness of the data is there yet, and it may take us decades to sort this out. Which, I guess, I’m thankful for – because hopefully it will keep us all busy and in business, right?

AC: (Laughs) Right, right. Thanks to Pew in particular, right?

DMcC: Yeah. Absolutely. So we’ve been talking a little bit in the last few minutes about this meta approach. One of the things you said right at the start of our conversation today, was a comparison between President Bolsonaro and maybe some of the current American politics that are going on. In a recent interview with Bradley Onishi that I did, he said similar things to a Patheos post that you posted, with Dr Ana Keila Mosca Pinez, about how Brazilian Pentecostals are seeing President Bolsonaro as the Messiah, or as a messiah. (35:00) Can you talk a little bit more about the parallels between how Brazilian Pentecostals and Catholics are religiously relating to their leaders like Bolsonaro, and how, maybe for audiences in the US, that might be resembling the American evangelical relationship to Trump.

AC: Oh yes. There’s a really amazing parallel there. Again, just as white evangelicals are a major religious political constituency of president Trump, Pentecostals are that for Bolsonaro and Brazil. We know that overall about seventy percent of Brazilian evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro. I don’t think we have precise data specifically on Pentecostals. But one has to remember that about seventy-five percent of all Protestants in Brazil are specifically Pentecostals, so there’s no doubt that Bolsonaro would have received over eighty percent of the Pentecostal vote. And in the United States, actually sixty-one percent of white Catholics voted for Trump. I still think he has majority support, although I have seen it declining. Maybe fifty-one, fifty-two percent. And so we see that same convergence of more conservative Catholics allied with Pentecostals in Brazil, and supporting Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro recently was baptised by an Assembly of God pastor, in the River Jordan. And he definitely hangs around and kind-of identifies Evangelical. But historically he’s been a conservative Catholic. Anyway, so he has the support of many Brazilian conservative Catholics who very much oppose Pope Francis’s agenda on the Amazon, the Amazon Synod that’s taking place right now. So there’s just the Christian Zionism that I’ve written about, too, is just as important in Brazil for Pentecostals as it is for white Evangelicals. And so I think Brazil under Bolsonaro . . . . He’s also in the process of probably moving their embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well. Some of the major Pentecostal pastors in Brazil, such again as billionaire Edir Macedo, actually sometimes dress up in rabbinical vestments and cut rabbinical figures more than they do Protestant pastors! And so, yeah. There’s just a great kind-of parallel taking place politically and religiously between the two giants of the hemisphere these days – Brazil and the United States.

DMcC: Keeping on our kind of current timeliness issue: you said, before we began recording today, that with Halloween coming up – we’re recording in mid-October here, All Saints Day and especially Day of the Dead – that there are actually a lot of really interesting things going on right now, connecting a lot of these themes. The next few weeks are going to be pretty interesting. I heard you say that you were headed down to Mexico for the Day of the Dead. Can you tell us about that? And maybe what you’re hoping to do?

AC: Yes. My current research project focuses on Catholic death culture. So I’m looking at things like Day of the Dead, relics, some of the memento mori that you see in Europe. But specifically, since we’re on the eve of Day of the Dead, this is what I’m kind of most immediately working on. And it’s also related to my previous work on Santa Muerte, in that one of the major trends in Santa Muerte devotion of the past five years is for devotees to integrate the Mexican Death Saint into their commemorations of Day of the Dead. In fact it’s become so popular and so controversial that, annually, the Catholic Church in Mexico issues admonitions for parishioners not to do that, because Santa Muerte is satanic. Honouring your departed loved ones is one thing, but bringing in this heretical Death Saint is quite another. So please keep her out of your commemorations. But I should say, at his point, Santa Muerte has no official annual feast day. But if she ever does in the future, it probably will be November 2nd, the Day of the Dead. Because, again, before the Spanish conquest and colonisation (40:00), it was the Aztecs had this roughly “month of the dead”, roughly corresponding to our August, presided over by Aztec death goddess, Mictēcacihuātl – who many Mexican Santa Muerte devotees see Santa Muerte, really, as the latest kind of incarnation, or reincarnation of.

DMcC: That’s so interesting!

AC: And so it’s like I knew that, since I wrote the first academic book in English on Santa Muerte, that it would probably hard to move onto a new topic. And so here again, in Day of the Dead, we see that nexus with Santa Muerte as well: again, me having trouble moving beyond the Death Saint

DMcC: I don’t know that we should ever apologise when we find something . . . such a rich topic, that connects to so many issues in so many different ways: from immigration, to cartels, to love, to the kind of syncretism that we’re seeing, to politics, it’s such a multifaceted area.

AC: It is, yes. For example my research partner, Dr Kingsbury, is now focusing on her appeal to women and how she’s kind of a defender and protectress of vulnerable women. Because, I didn’t mention it, but, in addition to the narco-violence besetting Mexico, there’s also an epidemic of femicide as well. And so some of these women who are at risk, look to Santa Muerte as a fierce protectress, to protect them from the predatory men. So that’s a whole ‘nother angle that I didn’t really look into in Devotees of Death, that Dr Kingsbury is moving forward with.

DMcC: I can’t wait. I will reach out immediately, so that we can hear the second half of the new story here. One of the things that I’ve really been impressed by, is how collaborative your work is. And as we wrap up here, I’d love to hear about your thoughts about collaboration as a scholar, and what you see as the kind of challenges and benefits of doing that scholarship in a collaborative way. Because I really do think that you and Dr Kingsbury, together, have a special kind of public relationship that feeds off one another, and produces really interesting work. Can you share with us what that’s like?

AC: Yes. For me it’s been very strange because up until I recently started collaborating with her, I had mostly just flown solo. I can’t even think of any other co-authored . . . at least, academic journal articles that I have. All my books were my own, single-authored books. So, yeah, this has been new to me and has taken me by surprise, because our particular collaboration is so easy and seamless. And that, ironically, had been one of the reasons why maybe I had shied away from collaboration: imagining it being difficult, and time consuming, and everything. But yeah. We have great intellectual and academic chemistry, and so everything we do together is as easy as me writing on my own. And so I think both of us have just been fortunate with that. Because one can imagine that, you know, you’re not going to have that rapport with everybody to facilitate that. But it’s been wonderful, because with Patheos, I’ll just say, or she’ll say, “I’ll take this, and you take that” and it all comes together. And she’s British, so at first I was like “OK. So what do we do about our British vs American English?” But we just leave our respective versions of the English language alone and nobody seems to be bothered by that.

DMcC: We run into that frequently at the Religious Studies Project, too! When the emails come from our British founders, Chris and David. You know it’s all the‘s’s and when we’re replying back it’s all the ‘z’s. You just have to roll with it, right?

AC: Exactly. Well, the good thing for me is, she’s in Canada. So it’s kind of up to her to assimilate to our New World English, right?! (45:00)

DMcC: Right. You’re pulling the rug right out from under the English language there. It’s been so wonderful to talk to you, today. I really do appreciate your time, and I hope that all of our Listeners have enjoyed hearing about this really thriving area of research. And if they wanted to find you on Patheos, what’s the name of the Blog that they should head to?

AC: Yes. It’s the Global Catholic Review.

DMcC: Perfect.

AC: And in addition, I also run a Santa Muerte blog with my research partner, David Metcalfe. And it’s called the Skeleton Saint. And it’s like in its seventh year. And it’s the only impartial blog out there, that covers Santa Muerte news.

DMcC: And if folks wanted to find you on Twitter, where you are extremely active and always posting interesting things, what should they look for?

AC: I’m @AndrewChesnut1. Number 1.

DMcC: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for your time, and have a great day.

AC: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it, Dr McConeghy.

 

 

 

 

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Jesuits, Mormons, and American Religion in the World

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Dr. Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp has written extensively on the importance of space and geography in studying American religions. I interviewed her at the University of Notre Dame, Cushwa Center’s Seminar in American Religion. This session dealt with Dr. John McGreevy (History, Notre Dame)’s new book, “American Jesuits and the World.” Maffly-Kipp and Thomas Bender (History, NYU) gave remarks about the book; McGreevy responded; and two hours of Q&A with scholars and graduate students followed.

My conversation with Maffly-Kipp begins with McGreevy’s book, expands to include her work on Mormonism in contrast to Catholicism, and ends with a discussion of evangelical historian Mark Noll, in whose honor Notre Dame was originally going to host a conference, but was cancelled at the last minute. This free-ranging conversation nonetheless centers on Jesuits, Mormons, and transnational religious history.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Frankincense, and Myrh.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World

Podcast with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock

Audio and transcript available at: Maffly-Kipp_-_Jesuits,_Mormons_and_American_Religion_in_the_World_1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG): Dr Maffly-Kipp, welcome to the Religious Studies Project

Laurie Maffly-Kipp (LMK): Thank you.

DG: We’re here at the Morris Inn, at the University of Notre Dame. We just finished the Cushwa Centre’s Biannual Seminar in American Religion, discussing John McGreevy’s book on Jesuits in the World. So, you have been writing about space, and geography, and understanding religion for more than twenty years now, beginning with your essay in Thomas Tweed’s edited volume, Retelling US Religious History. I’d be curious to know how your views have evolved, and what you believe is the importance of space and geography in studying American religions.

LMK: That essay was my initial foray into the field and it was more of a thought piece, based on sort-of the hypothetical question of: what would you do if you didn’t narrate American religious history from the perspective of European movements from East to West – particularly British American movements. In a sense, it was also inspired by the work, in the 1930s, of Herbert Bolton – who was a historian of empires in the New World – and his basic observation that the Spanish Empire had been a part of North America and South America, long before the British ever came along. So, what would it do to sort-of retell the story of the growth of the US nation and religion in that sort-of setting, but come at it from the perspective of all theses different movements into North America, at various points in time? So that was, I think, a framework that I laid out. And since then I’ve been, I guess, exploring different avenues into that. Most recently, I’ve been spending time doing work on Mormon history and looking at Mormonism. But I think that that focus on space has then led me to think about Mormonism differently: how do I think about Mormonism as having a particular kind of centre in the United States, but also has having other areas in other parts of the world that are significant for particular purposes?

DG: So today, the book we’ve been talking about – American Jesuits in the World, by John McGreevy – it’s dealing with, well, somewhat missionary activity, but a little different from what you focus on. Because you’re often talking about American Mormons going outwards, whereas he’s talking about, at first, Europeans coming to missionise America. Can you talk a little bit about the differences you see between Mormons and Jesuits operating on the world stage?

LMK: Well, they’re very different. I mean, certainly, they’re different in terms of having a different focus on what they were doing with other people. So, for Jesuits: Jesuits are a particular Catholic order; their jobs revolve around educating peoples, administering the sacraments and keeping people in the faith. For Mormons, the goal tends to be to create habits of discipline and industry – much like those of the missionaries themselves. There’s sort-of a distinct separation between the kinds of spiritual practices that a Jesuit missionary undertakes, and what he’s trying to inculcate in other people. Whereas, for Mormon’s, they were sort-of one and the same thing. So that’s just one small difference. But, I think, on all kinds of different levels there are differences. But there are also similarities, because Mormons are also exiles – perhaps exiles in their own land. But they have a very – I guess, the best way to put it is – angular relationship to the US government in the 19th century, and often a very combative relationship. So, they aren’t sold on the idea of the nation state as necessarily an all-encompassing good, just as the Catholics are disaffected from the US Government in various ways.

DG: Well, certainly, one of the points that came up in the Q and A session, today, was that the Jesuits were roundly denounced as a secret society on the floor of Congress – one that should be banned. But there wasn’t widespread Catholic persecution in the 19th century, the way we saw against the Mormons.

LMK: I don’t know, I think you could argue with that: the burning of convents, riots in the streets . . .

DG: Well, that’s true.

LMK: . . . in Philadelphia and Boston. So, in some ways, I think that the tensions were manifest in more physical kinds of ways than they were for the Mormons. There were a few incidents with the Mormons. And the Mormons certainly fought back at various points. So I think, actually, a comparison of them is really helpful to see the ways that Protestant America was shaping the limits of its own toleration.

DG: I suppose, what I was thinking of more was that there was not state legislation against the Catholic Church in the way that there was, for instance, when the Governor of Missouri declared war on the Mormon people, saying: “Leave my state or I’m going to kill all of you!” (5:00) That is a difference.

LMK: Right! Yes. You’re right. That’s a difference. Although, I think one of the interesting things about John McGreevy’s book is the way he points out how assiduously Protestant Americans worked to create laws that would exclude Catholics in certain kinds of ways. So, from public education: there were certain rules put in place that made it obvious that the Catholics were not going to fall within the bounds of the law. I mean, their kind of education wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of public education. So, it seems to me that the very creating and shaping of laws is another way to put boundaries around religious toleration.

DG: Now, I’m curious also . . . You’ve obviously read the book – you’ve just delivered a short paper commenting on it. If you were writing a book about transnational religion in the 19th century – I mean, McGreevy is focussing on the ideas of nationhood and politics – what would be the factors that you’d want to pursue? What do you see as mattering the most?

LMK: Well, in fact, I am writing that kind of book right now.

DG: Well that’s fortuitous!

LMK: Yes. So, in fact, I am writing a book on transnational religion, in that I am writing a history of Mormonism that tries to take seriously Mormonism as a global religion and an international movement from the beginning, not simply since World War II. It’s certainly the case that there are now more Mormons outside the US than in, but even in the 1850s there were more Mormon’s in England than in the US.

DG: Oh certainly, they were very active with sending missionaries – also to Scandinavia as well as England.

LMK: Later, to Scandinavia. There were sort-of waves of migration, and missionisation and migration, starting with England and moving into Scandinavia by the 1860s and 1870s. And all of those – or many, many of those people – came over to the US, and really saved what had been a dying movement by the 1850s.

DG: Yes. I believe you mentioned, during the Q and A period, that most Mormons at the end of the 19th Century in America were foreign-born.

LMK: Either foreign-born or second generation at best. Because, yes, the bulk had been immigrants.

DG: That’s not a comment that the Church stresses very much any more!

LMK: No, but it’s also not a comment that other historians have noticed much.

DG: Certainly not.

LMK: I think the focus has been on Mormonism as a distinctly American religion, which is certainly true in terms of the influences on its founders. But it’s not true in terms of who joined the movement in the first half-century.

DG: Very interesting. I think the claims you’re making will certainly overhaul graduate reading lists round the country – including my own! So, the other thing . . . I’m thinking that at my University , the University of Rochester, the graduate . . .well, loosely defined, our graduate interests are supposed to be around “the world of goods, the world of nations and the world of ideas”. So, a nice way to integrate cultural and social history. Now, listening to the Q and A today, lo and behold! The comments wind up revolving around ideas, goods and nations. So the comments from, for instance, Thomas Bender – one of your co-panellists – saying that we should think of the Jesuits as a cosmopolitan religion; the discussion from Dr McGreevy that later Jesuits were embracing American nationalism, even though they weren’t necessarily OK with separation of church and state; and your discussion of the culture Jesuits were bringing from around the world. Now, I just recapped – for the listeners – a lot of material and I certainly threw a lot at you, but I’d be curious . . . . These concepts of the physical things and the more intangible things: what do you see of those as their place in American religion?

LMK: What do I see as the place of those in American religion?

DG: So, I suppose, is there an aspect: nationhood, ideology, material culture? Do you see one factor as being more important than another?

LMK: No. I think what I was trying to call for was not separating them – at least, disaggregating them in some way but not isolating any of them one from another. I think it’s easy. . . . We often get a little too free with our definitions of globalism, internationalism, transnationalism. . .

DG: Sure

LMK: . . . and I think, part of what my colleague was calling for was the use of the term cosmopolitan as sort-of an orientation towards the rest of the world. (10:00) What it seems to me, though, that using that term can do is to draw attention away from the way power flows in the movements: the power of states is one kind of power, economic power is another kind of power. I think that’s how I would break things down. Material goods are interesting to focus on, but there’s also, appending to that, the question of “Who’s paying for what?”

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: Right? And that determines the flow of those goods.

DG: So, if you were to say, simply, that “Oh, the Jesuits were cosmopolitan”, that may be obscuring who’s leading their operations.

LMK: Right. So, if you just notice that they’re bringing chalices over from Italy and putting them into chapels in North Dakota, it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the circumstances behind those movements. And so, you just don’t want to separate those two things out. I suppose that’s the simple point I’m trying to make.

DG: So, a lot of the conversation today dealt with the fact that the Jesuits do eventually, wind up launching outward from their bases in America to the Pacific Empire. And that really intersects with several of your books dealing with Pacific missionaries. Could you expand a bit on missionaries in the Pacific?

LMK: Yes. I think the 19th Century was the Pacific Century in that regard. If one could say that the 17th and 18th centuries sort-of focussed on Atlantic movements – with the slave trade, with European migrations to the new World – the Pacific Century is very much caught up, at least in terms of the relationship of the US to other nations, with: movements from various countries in Asia, eastward; the US becoming an imperial power, moving to places like Hawaii and later down to Central and South America. And those sorts of exchanges and contexts become focal points for interesting religious phenomena.

DG: Sure. And then the other thing, I’m thinking about, though, was – coming towards the end of the conversation – was that McGreevy’s book is mostly focussing on putting Jesuits into the international story, not so much on their interior life. I mean, he touches on that in the discussion with Father Bapst but it’s not the main point of the book. And we’re sitting here at the Cushwa Centre which has. . . the nature of spirituality and history has been a recurring topic for them. Do you think the book could have done more to consider the interior life of these priests?

LMK: By interior life, do you mean . . . ? I mean, he does consider things like the devotionalism, the increasing devotionalism in the 19th century – which is tied to interiority, I guess.

DG: I suppose I was thinking of the one gentleman’s comments which were about: “the book doesn’t really deal with the sort of spiritual exercises that Jesuits do”.

LMK: Yes. It ‘s certainly more focussed on the Jesuits as missionaries. And it struck me, as that conversation was going on, that Jesuits are not necessarily trying to inculcate the same disciplines in the people they are leading to the faith as they do in themselves. And, in a sense, those are almost two different tasks of a missionary. One question is: how do you inculcate discipline, education, bodily exercises or whatever into your subjects? But, as members of a Jesuit order, how do you try to maintain your own spiritual discipline, which might be a very different thing?

DG: Oh, certainly.

LMK: That’s certainly not where McGreevy’s interest lays.

DG: Well, it also brings up an interesting contrast with your work, for instance, studying Mormons – who take the Protestant idea of “every man his own priest” to an extreme, compared to the Catholic priest, saying: “There are certain things that are just for us and not for you.”

LMK: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So Mormons: they’re trying to replicate themselves and say, “This is how you live a Christian life – do as I do.” It’s a lay order, there isn’t a trained ministry, in that sense. So, I think , the tasks are really different. And what the Jesuits are trying to preserve for themselves in their own spiritual lives, can be – and in some situations is – very different from what they’re trying to get others to do.

DG: Another topic that comes up, involving America in the World in Dr McGreevy’s book, is the fact that Jesuits were becoming more politically liberal as the 20th century approached, but they had an interesting relationship to America as empire. For instance, they’re perfectly happy to sail on American ships to go into the Pacific. But on the other hand, they oppose, for instance, the war in the Philippines, in the early 1900s, because it’s a war against a Catholic nation. So, in the Mormon Church, did you find similar ambivalence about the imperial message?

LMK: Earlier on there was a lot of ambivalence about it. (15:00) When Mormons send off missionaries to the South Pacific in the mid-19th century, and later to places like New Zealand, the message is, “We’re also being oppressed by our government, just as you are being oppressed.” In other words, they’re an anti-colonialist movement spreading a message of joining common cause with the oppressed people’s in Utah. “And we will”, you know, “have more strength together”. So, yes, it’s sort-of an interesting thing. And, of course, by the 20th century they are certainly in line with American liberal values in a very different way. But there are other traditions that have a much more – I would say – a much more conflicted relationship to the US Government throughout. So, African American Christians, for example, also have some debates about how much to support the American imperial project, in various places: be it Haiti, where there’s a long tradition of African American missionaries in Haiti; or in Africa, because they have their own loyalties as they see it to people in Africa. So I think the whole issue of loyalties to religion and nation – aside from the Protestant mainstream one – have always been much more conflicted, and often more complicated, than we’ve realised.

DG: So we’ve spent a long time talking about comparative aspects of your work and Dr McGreevy’s work. But, I’m curious now. The role of the Catholic Church today in the United States is . . . . So, just to narrow in on Catholicism: the Catholic Church today is a large supporter of the United States Government, although it’s basically at odds with – sometimes at odds over – social issues. Do you think that trend is going to continue, of the Catholic Church having a liberal voice in American society? Because there certainly was a resurgence of conservatism under John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

LMK: Yes . . . . Historians, typically, aren’t very good prophets.

DG: Yes, so I caveat all of this with, “This may go wrong!”

LMK: Right! You know, I think there are potentially lots of counter-cultural elements in Catholicism . Even the social teachings of Catholicism – there is an anti-militarism which goes way back, that is combined, in ways different for Catholics, with their pro-life policies. So even though they might agree with evangelical Christians or other Protestants about questions of abortion, they’d part ways over the role of the American military and its work abroad. So it’s a complicated picture, I think. And as we’ve seen – and as a historian I suppose my take is – it’ll probably come around again. We will see more episodes of liberal . . . . I’m not a whiggish historian, so I don’t believe that we are in some inevitable march towards progress of all sorts, or enlightenment. And therefore it’s hard to predict what the next step would look like.

DG: Absolutely. The thing that’s been weighing on my mind – less so than recent political developments – is population shifts and demographics in the Catholic Church. I mean, certainly, with the rise of birth control – despite what bishops might want to know – the families are smaller now than they were in, say, the 1800s. And certainly, with the rise of secularity, I am curious to see the role of Catholicism in American public life. Dr McGreevy’s book deals with them taking on a larger role and now, I wonder, as the population shrinks, what’s going to happen?

LMK: That’s a great question. We have certainly seen revivals before in this country.

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: So it’s hard to predict. The demographic shifts are obviously significant, but exactly how they’ll play out, I think, is not easy to prognosticate. Just because there are people in the Southern Hemisphere who are becoming the voice of Christianity, it’s not clear to me what political pay-off that has, or what path that portends. In fact, if you look at something that I know a little more about, in Protestant missionary work, the kinds of Protestantism that are making in-roads in places like Africa and South America are some of the more conservative kinds of Protestantism: Pentecostalism . . .

DG: Which is a counter-narrative to the modern, growing secularism in America.

LMK: And now they’re sending missionaries back to the United States.

DG: Really?

LMK: Yes. There are reverse migratory flows of missionaries. One of the biggest churches in Western Europe right now is a church – and this may be out of date because it’s a few years ago someone told me this: that there’s a huge evangelical church that was founded by a Nigerian pastor that has grown by leaps and bounds in Europe. (20:00) Now who that’s growing among, in Europe, is an interesting question. But, of course, the make-up of Western Europe and the United States is changing, as well. So the demography may just follow back to the Northern Hemisphere.

DG: Sure. Well, this discussion of transnational Catholicism and which particular voice will win out, makes me think of the original intention for why we’re sitting here in Notre Dame. So, for our listeners, this conference was originally meant to be part of a much larger conference on the work of Mark Noll, the historian of American Christianity. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the conference had to be, mostly, scrapped. But I’m curious what you would think of this, to bring in Mr Noll as an evangelical historian and historian of evangelicalism. His recent work has been abandoning America Studies, to some extent, to talk about the world. His book, Clouds of Witnesses is about Africa and Asia. So, the work of Mark Noll: how, if at all, does that influence your research? Do you see his views about pluralism . . . do you think those are going to carry more weight, going forwards, in the academy?

LMK: In certain sections of the academy, absolutely. I mean, Mark has been a pioneer in that sort of field, looking at global Christianity, for a long time. And thinking about, well – he’s a historian with an eye to the future, and where the church is going. And that’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle that I think has trickled back into the academy, in all kinds of ways. So I don’t see that stopping, by any means. But the question of what globalism or increasing globalisation of any of these religious traditions actually means for piety, for spirituality, for institutional life is, I think, the next big question. We know what it means in terms of bodies moving from one place to another, but how that actually, then, plays out – in terms of building institutions and building structures – is anybody’s guess.

DG: Well, and you’ve also mentioned – on sort-of a final note – that you and the other panellists talk about how the Catholics have become, you know, comfortable with their place in American society. Whereas Mark Noll, in his works, is talking about how some evangelicals want to make the country an explicitly evangelical nation – and he rejects that, as an evangelical man. So do you see these fights in the academy at all, over how to define religion? Should there be an exclusively Protestant historical mould, or should we find news ways of thinking and defining religion – ways that aren’t just tied to Christianity?

LMK: So, are you thinking . . . ? Yes – I think the horse is out of barn on that one! I don’t see going back to any kind of narrow focus on either churches, or institutional life or Protestantism. But I think, in some ways, the study of religion in all of its dimensions can only enrich the future study of Protestantism, along with other traditions.

DG: Yes, I think pluralism is here to stay. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supporting, right?

LMK: Yes.

DG: And then, a genuinely final note, I’ll ask: some scholars consider Mormonism a Christian faith; others say it is a Christian inspired faith.Where do you stand on those issues?

LMK: It’s certainly inspired by Protestantism and that’s where, if you look at the first sort of members of the movement, they came by way of other Christian traditions. I don’t . . . . The theological question – of whether it is a Christian tradition – I don’t feel, as a scholar, is mine to answer. I guess, on one level, I take seriously the self-identification of Mormons who see themselves as Christians. I think it’s an interesting question to look at. I think there are other Mormons who don’t see themselves as Christian, so that’s also an interesting question: where are the fault lines, and when and where do these questions matter? As a cultural historian, I think those are the more interesting questions for me. But I am not a theologian and I am not a historian of a particular kind of church tradition, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

DG: Laurie Maffly-Kipp discussing bodies in space: what they think, what they say and what they do. Thank you very much.

LMK: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Citation Info: Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2017. “Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 29 May 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 22 May 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/jesuits-mormons-and-american-religion-in-the-world/

All transcriptions for THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

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The Catholic Underground: Lithuanian Catholicism Under the Soviet Union

Professor of Sociology at Vytautas Magnus University, in Lithuania has changed during the counter-reformation, the First Republic after WWI, the Soviet Union, and finally after the Second Independence.

According to Dr. Alisauskiene, the Roman Catholic Church heavily dominated pre-Soviet Union Lithuania. Clergy and members of the Church were heavily involved in the politics of the country, often acting as officers of the state. Acting as agents in the public and political sphere, the clergy would make decisions on behalf of all religions, including the small minority of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Orthodox Church, Baptists, Muslims, Old Believers, and other groups, within the state. As sociologists of religion, we know that religion is embedded within culture and with the dominance of Roman Catholicism in Lithuania; it no doubt has influenced the cultural identity of the country.

During Soviet control, there was forced secularization and withdrawal of religion from the public sphere. However, the people of Lithuania were very much still connected to their religion, and often practiced their faith underground. Dr. Alisauskiene points out that the religious institutions at the time lost their property, and the religious clergy experienced destruction of their system of education and were highly persecuted and imprisoned. Religious minorities ar02were able to live their religious lives a little easier during the Soviet Union, but many still retreated to the underground community to practice their faith.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lithuania regained independence allowing Roman Catholicism to regain influence in the society. The number of people that identified as Roman Catholic pre-Soviet Union and post-Soviet Union remained about the same. The Church once again established a working relationship with the state. The new constitution acknowledges the “traditional” religious communities, and the state enumerates what is considered “traditional”.

With the resurgence of Roman Catholicism in Lithuania, Dr. Alisauskiene poses the question: “what does it mean to be Roman Catholic?” For Lithuanian Roman Catholics, much of that answer lies in the historical embeddedness of Roman Catholicism even under the oppression of the Soviet Union. As Alisauskiene states, after the fall of the Soviet Union, many of the countries took on a role of pluralism. However in the case of Lithuania, we see the citizens almost promoting a homogeneous set of beliefs and culture. This even comes from those in religious minorities. Instead of expressing a need for pluralism and to be recognized for the differences that their religion brings to the country, religious minorities push for the security of agreeing with the majority. This also creates an overall sense of security for the country. Alisauskiene attributes this to the proximity of Lithuania to Russia in comparison with countries like Poland. Interviewer, David G. Robertson poses the question of current-day migration issues in Lithuania. With the strong stance on homogeneous cultural identity, Alisauskiene states that Lithuania is not a strong proponent of immigration and have resettled very few refugees in the current European refugee crisis.

One of the more interesting parts of this podcast is the discussion of Roman Catholicism underar03 Soviet rule. As mentioned previously, religious institutions, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, lost land, buildings, and ways to educate their future clergy. As a way to show the oppression and spread the word about the treatment of the Church under Soviet control, priests and other clergy developed the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.

As was customary before the advent of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the popular means of disseminating materials and political propaganda was in the form of pamphlets and materials to be circulated among the masses. In order to show the political oppression of the Roman Catholic Church, their resilience and resistance, the clergy produced the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania in March 1972 (Dauknys 1985).  According to Rev. Pranas Dauknys in his 1985 article, “The Resistance of the Catholic Church in Lithuania Against Religious Persecution,” The Chronicle emerged out of the unanswered petitions to the Soviet government to stop the persecution of religion under Soviet control. In December of 1971, 17,054 Catholics signed a memorandum to the United Nation General Secretary outlining the religious persecution that was faced by the Lithuanian people (Dauknys 1985). The Chronicle was a series of publication that consisted of statements from Catholic practitioners and clergy of the court proceedings against members of the Church and documentation of the protests against religious discrimination. The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania remained in publication from spring 1972 until the 39th issue was released in the summer of 1979. The entire series of publications can be viewed online, here. Despite the oppression religion faced during Soviet control, Roman Catholicism remained an integral part of Lithuanian society. Believers and clergy proved to be an unstoppable force against religious persecution.

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All in all, Milda Alisauskiene gives a very interesting overview of religion in Lithuania with a glimpse of what religious life looked like under Soviet Union rule. Despite the persecution faced by clergy, limited resources and educational training for new clergy, as well as limitations on public displays of religion, many believers remained faithful. Religion still unites the people and continues to serve as a crucial institution in conceptions of Lithuanian cultural identity.

References

Dauknus, Pranas. 1985. “The Resistance of the Catholic Church in Lithuania Against Religious Persecution.” Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 31 (1)

 

 

 

Gender-as-Lived: Considerations in Ethnographic Methodology

virgin-mary-pics-1119

Virgin Mary

In the Religious Studies Project’s recent interview with Dr. Anna Fedele, Dr. Fedele and her interviewer discuss several aspects of interest related to the intersections of gender, religions, and power dynamics. Fedele’s book, Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality: Ethnographic Approaches (Routledge, 2013), is a collection of essays exploring the interaction of gender, gender norms, expressions of power, and those movements broadly identified as ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality’ (If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, it is an excellent set of essays and well worth the read). Fedele’s current research involves Catholic women in Portugal and the idea of ‘spiritual motherhood.’ ‘Spiritual motherhood,’ in this context, means women who have chosen to be stay-at-home-mothers, breastfeed longer than the average, give birth at home, and/or practice attachment parenting. Fedele looks at not only the experiences of the women as mothers, but their experiences as daughters and granddaughters. Fedele observes that it is very important to understand a woman’s history to know how she conceptualizes gender and motherhood.

Early in the interview Fedele offers an answer to the not-so-simple question of ‘what is gender?’ Her answer is based in both her study of classical theories of gender as well as her extensive experience as an ethnographer: ‘gender’ is what the research participants believe it to be, rather than what the researcher believes it to be. Fedele states that in her research, she tries to understand what ‘gender’ means for the people she studies, especially what gendered images they have received from their mothers and grandmothers. This relates to religion as well, because the women receive a whole set of values from their mothers, and the Catholicism in which they grew up (and still live) tells them that the mother is the center of the family, the mother must always be there for the child, as well as other notions that may not reflect the lives of the women Fedele studies.

Fedele’s approach of being guided by the women she studies resonates strongly with my perspective on studying ‘religion(s).’ The identities claimed by the individual(s) or community being researched must be acknowledged and respected by the researcher, and communicated to the audience (reader, students in a seminar, etc.) along with the researcher’s perspective and conclusions. Fedele further emphasizes this point when she observes that an academic researcher must acknowledge the power issues present in a researcher-interviewee relationship: the academic doesn’t know everything, nor is the participant ignorant. Fedele provides an example from her recent research on women, motherhood, and gendered roles conveyed via religion. The women she interviews are highly educated, intelligent, and have read extensively on pregnancy and motherhood. They are then struggling to reconcile the message of the Catholic Church (that a pregnant woman is in a state of grace, and the ideals of motherhood exemplified by the Virgin Mary) with their lived reality of physical pain and illness, sexuality, and spurts of emotions such as anger or impatience.

Sandro Botticelli - 'The Virgin and the Child' (Madonna of the Book)

Sandro Botticelli – ‘The Virgin and the Child’ (Madonna of the Book)

Fedele also cautions that scholars have an awareness of their own assumptions about the research topic. Some of Fedele’s colleagues had made a couple of highly inaccurate assumptions regarding the Portuguese women in Fedele’s study (for instance, the idea that because the women identify as religious they therefore follow all of the dictates of the Catholic Church, especially regarding abortion); the women must be anti-abortion because they value motherhood so highly, or so the assumption went. But Fedele’s research shows a much more nuanced, complicated picture: the women are not uniformly anti-abortion, owing to a distinct contrast between their Catholic upbringing, which taught that abortion is wrong, and what the women feel in their bodies and the agency they claim.

Later in the interview, Fedele emphasizes that it is crucial for scholars to have an awareness of how the religion is lived, in reality, by the people being studied. She further states that religion only exists in the lives of people and that while religion in texts can be studied, it is not alive. For example, in practice this means that she looks at living women and their stories, and shares her writing with them. She keeps an open mind regarding what they tell her and is careful to use non-judgmental language. Fedele notes that the women aren’t always interested in Fedele’s conclusions – some just read sections about themselves for accuracy or to make sure they aren’t identifiable – but some engage with the research as a whole.

These are valuable lessons for scholars of not only religion and gender, but are more broadly applicable to all scholars of religion. Whether a scholar is studying a living community, as Fedele does, or researching a text, we must be aware of the assumptions we carry with us as scholars. A person living a religion may appear different than a text would lead the researcher to believe and living communities of the same religion will differ based on location. (A point also noted by Jeff Wilson in his 2012 book, Dixie Dharma.) Fedele also leaves the listener contemplating a thorny problem related to the study of religion-as-lived (her preferred phrasing instead of ‘lived religion’): Fedele’s in-depth, ethnographic research is at odds with the pressure within departments for faculty to expediently finish research so that it can be published quickly. This hurried model of research and publication – and the constraints on conducting ethnographic research while teaching – is ultimately detrimental to the field. The trust between scholar and participant cannot be rushed or forced because the scholar is on a deadline. What valuable insights is the field missing by making it difficult for scholars to perform extensive studies on living communities?

References

Fedele, Anna and Kim E. Knibbe, eds. Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality: Ethnographic Approaches. Routledge Studies in Religion Series. New York & London: Routledge, 2013.

Fedele, Anna. Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Wilson, Jeff. Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. (Paperback released in 2014)

Religious Providence for Religious Action: Investigating Roger Allen Laporte’s French-Canadian Catholic Heritage

In the early morning hours of November 9th 1965, a 22 year old Catholic man from upstate New York named Roger Allen Laporte self-immolated in front of the United Nations in New York City as a strong political protest against the Vietnam War. Even 50 years after the event, Laporte still enflames debate in trying to understand his motivation and the overall meaning of such a drastic action: is it sacrifice or suicide. The key to this discussion, however, is that Laporte on his deathbed claimed it to be a religious act.

In a podcast interview for the Religious Studies Project, Francesca Cadeddu shares the insights of her postdoctoral research on Laporte looking at the psychological, social, and political dynamics at play in generating new forms and/or conceptualizations of martyrdom in the 20th century. Ultimately, Cadeddu seeks to understand the complexity of Laporte’s religious conviction. In this regard, I was struck by the idea of Laporte’s Francophone (or Franco-American) heritage. Though I must admit that it can only be inferred to what degree Laporte was influenced by the culture of French-Canadian/Franco-American Catholic identity,[1] it still remains an interesting aspect to explore as another layer of Laporte’s religious conviction.

In this brief response, I wish to deepen the discussion by investigating the discursive link and importance Catholic Ultramontanism played in constructing French-Canadian/Franco-American identity on both sides of the Canada/US border. I propose that exploring the 19th century construction of a racialized French-Canadian Catholic identity based on Christian Providence may shed further light into the depth of Laporte’s actions of religious martyrdom in the 20th century.[2]

French-Canadian Predestination

From c.1850 to 1950, Catholic culture was thoroughly dominated by an Ultramontanist discourse, which was an ecclesiastical effort to emphasize the importance of the Catholic Church in countering the perceived ill effects of modern society. For francophones in North America, Ultramontanist ideology became paramount to the socio-political and cultural construction of identity.[3] Their main concern was the survival of French language and culture against the hegemonic forces of a dominant Anglo-Protestant society both in Canada and the US.

In the same period, the province of Quebec was experiencing tremendous demographic and economic transformations. The population had drastically changed with the immigration of French Canadians to the burgeoning industries of New England.[4] Nive Voisine characterized it as “the march of misery and exile”[5] because French Canadians who sought employment abroad were leaving their lands without guarantee of returning. This caused a moral panic for the clergy. The architects of the Ultramontanist Church in Quebec therefore deployed a racialized and exclusivist identity framework along the lines of religion, language, land, occupation, and family. These socio-political ideals were tethered to the belief that ‘French-Canadians’ were predestined by God to be morally righteous missionaries in North America.

One of the most important ideologues for this identity programme was historian cleric Lionel Groulx (1878-1967).[6] In his mind, French-Canadian civilization[7] needed to perpetuate itself by means of a certain ethnic identification. Groulx formed a racial categorization of French Canadians in North America he called la race nouvelle (i.e. the new race)[8] as a projection of Catholic hegemony through (1) an assertion of French Canadian homogeneity, (2) an idealization of piety embodied in the parish and the family, and (3) the notion that patrimony equals land and that one needs to fight to assert his/her nationalism. Groulx saw the perfection of French Canadian identity represented as “service at the altar, service under arms, and the tilling of the soil.”[9] Groulx presented a heroic amalgam of priest and pioneer who were literally able to imbue the land and its people with an inherent Catholic morality. Therefore, the French-Canadian must take his/her place in the moral complex of the symbolic village—which was characterized by clerical guidance, independent and hard work, and the large Catholic family—in order to act in forging a better world. According to Groulx, this is the on-going mission field predestined by God to raise up the righteous Franco-North American civilization.

But the question remains: how does this inform the character of Roger Allen Laporte’s religious action? On one level, it is difficult to assume that it had any influence on his actions, especially in 1965 which saw the great transformation of the Catholic Church shedding the weighty tiara of Ultramontanist ideology. However, there is something important to be stated with the minority standing of the French-Catholic community in the US and especially in New England. In countering the struggles of social, cultural, linguistic, and religious assimilation, this racialized idealization acts to inflate one’s conviction and moral justification at the level of identity. By pointing to the need to perpetuate one’s French identity as an action of Christian Providence is a pretty lofty idea. One that could have had residual affects on a man like Laporte when it came to taking unambiguous political action.

Again, I cannot claim that the Ultramontanist ideals of French-Canadian identity were forefront in Laporte’s mind—a man who sought symbolic resources outside of his faith as a means to political protest. Yet the idea of struggle and action as being an inherently religious paradigm is relevant to Laporte’s case. It is not difficult to imagine that in your bones (i.e. the discursive genealogy of your ethno-cultural identity) lies the tools of moral justification and religious conviction to fight against insurmountable odds (that is, the saliency of a heritage of religious Providence that leads to religious action).

References

Bélanger, Claude. “Lionel Groulx – Histoire Du Québec.” L’Encyclopédie de L’histoire Du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia. Accessed May 5, 2015. http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/encyclopedia/LionelGroulxindex.htm.

Bélanger, Damien-Claude, and Claude Bélanger. “French Canadian Emigration to the United States, 1840-1930 – Readings – Quebec History.” Accessed May 5, 2015. http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/leaving.htm.

Bock, Michel. A Nation Beyond Borders: Lionel Groulx on French-Canadian Minorities. University of Ottawa Press, 2014.

Brault, Gerard J. The French-Canadian Heritage in New England. Canadian Electronic Library. Books Collection. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England ; Kingston Ont, 1986.

Buckner, Phillip A., and R. D. Francis. Canada and the British World Culture, Migration, and Identity. Canadian Electronic Library. Books Collection. Vancouver BC: UBC Press, 2006.

Desjardins, Bertrand. “Le Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique (The Research Program in Historical Demography) – PRDH-IGD.” Accessed May 5, 2015. http://www.genealogy.umontreal.ca/en/LePrdh.

Gagnon, Serge. Quebec and Its Historians: The Twentieth Century. Canadian Electronic Library. Books Collection. Montreal Harvest House, 1985.

Gareau, Paul L. “Le Providentialisme d’hier à Aujourd’hui : La Construction Idéologique Ultramontaine de L’identité Canadienne-Française dans le Développement de l’Armée de Marie.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 42, no. 3 (September 1, 2013): 346–63.

Groulx, Lionel. Notre Grande Aventure : L’empire Français en Amérique du Nord (1535-1760). Collection Fleur de lys. Montréal: Fides, 1958.

Lefebvre, Solange. “The Francophone Roman Catholic Church”. In Paul Bramadat and David Seljak (Eds.) Christianity and Ethnicity in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2008. 116-153.

Voisine, Nive. Histoire de l’Église Catholique au Québec (1608-1970). Montréal: Éditions Fides, 1971.

[1] It is interesting to note that Laporte is ranked 110th by the PRDH as a popular surname in Quebec. Cf. Desjardins, “Le Programme de Recherche En Démographie Historique (The Research Program in Historical Demography) – PRDH-IGD.”

[2] For a more in-depth discussion on the Ultramontanist construction of a moral geography in Quebec, cf. Gareau, “Le Providentialisme D’hier à Aujourd’hui : La Construction Idéologique Ultramontaine de L’identité Canadienne-Française dans le Développement de l’Armée de Marie.”

[3] Cf. Lefebvre, The Francophone Roman Catholic Church.

[4] This was a drastic demographic change that saw some 900,000 French Canadians immigrating to New England between 1840-1930. Cf. Bélanger and Bélanger, “French Canadian Emigration to the United States, 1840-1930”; Brault, The French-Canadian Heritage in New England; Buckner and Francis, Canada and the British World Culture, Migration, and Identity.

[5] “[La] marche de misère et de l’exile.” Voisine, Histoire de l’Église catholique au Québec (1608-1970), 55.

[6] Cf. for photo credit, Bélanger, “Lionel Groulx – Histoire Du Québec.”

[7] Groulx speaks not only of Quebec but in its broadest terms to include francophones of French-Canadian heritage who have left and are living in New England and all over Canada. For an in-depth analysis, cf. Bock, A Nation Beyond Borders.

[8] Cf. Groulx, Notre grande aventure.

[9] Gagnon, Quebec and Its Historians, 128.

Self-immolation as a religious act: The contested martyrdom of Roger Allen LaPorte, Catholic Worker

 

Millions of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. Almost 58,000 of the war’s victims were American citizens. While most of the physical and technical conflict took place overseas, political and ideological battles were waged within the United States.

Some of these Americans died, as it were, by their own hand. In 1965, Roger Allen LaPorte, a member of the Catholic Worker, self-immolated in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. While LaPorte himself described his act of protest as a specifically religious act, the validity of this description would soon be—and remain—contested, finding opposition among the Catholic hierarchy. The attention of U.S. media gave the contestation of martyrdom a public arena.

In this interview, postdoctoral researcher of U.S. Catholicism, Francesca Cadeddu, shares some of her reflections on LaPorte, whose contested martyrdom by self-immolation is the topic of her present postdoctoral project.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, pot noodles, very small trains, and more.

Francesca Cadeddu is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Institutional Sciences in Cagliari in Italy. She is also a fellow researcher at the Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the Jesuit priest and theologian John Courtney Murray, an important figure in U.S. Catholicism who featured prominently in the development of the the Second Vatican Council’s draft of Dignitatis Humanae (which the interviewer learned is pronounced “humaneh” rather than “hoomanay” shortly before the interview, hence the interviewer’s hesitation).

Having researched at two of the most prominent institutions for Catholic Studies in the U.S., Georgetown and Notre Dame, Cadeddu visited Notre Dame by means of a research grant from Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in the spring of 2015.