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Bielefeld Graduate School

in History and Sociology

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Clara Buitrago

The Transnationalization of Guatemalan Pentecostal Churches in USA Abstract

My research project deals with transformations within Latin-American Christianity and the ways in which religion shapes and is shaped by globalization and immigration. I am particularly interested in the case of Guatemala, a country in which more than 40% of the population recognize themselves as Protestants according to the 2014 Pew Study "Religión en América Latina: Cambio generalizado en una región Históricamente católica". The study also showed that a very significant proportion came from the Pentecostal wing of Protestantism. This transformation in the Guatemalan religious field has emerged at the beginning of the 19th century, when the independence from the Spanish crown was accompanied by formal disestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is not until the second half of the 20th Century that evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism experienced years of rapid and steadily growth, thanks to US missionary work, which combined door-to-door evangelism with media campaigns, revivals and radio programming.

After these massive conversions, a growing nationalism of the Guatemalan churches emerged, as Guatemalan pastors trained by foreign missionaries began to form their own churches. In many cases, these new churches introduced local cultural dynamics that gave rise to national expressions of Pentecostalism. In this context of nationalization of Pentecostal churches many of them began to have active ministries abroad, especially in those regions with high numbers of Guatemalan migrants as well as migrants from other Latin-American countries. By the end of the 20th century, the dominant role of western missions is fading and younger churches with a Latin-American origin constitute a new force of world evangelization. In fact, recent studies show that migrants from Latin America are having a powerful effect on the religious field in the United States, particularly in the case of Guatemalan migrants.

People travel, and probably have always traveled, for many reasons, including trade, missionary work, forced migration and exile, military conquest and colonization, the thrill of exploration and discovery, and the search of better economical opportunities. As they travel, they often take their religious ideas and practices with them. My research focuses in the qualitative analysis of narratives of life of Guatemalan Pentecostal believers, who due to different reasons have travelled to the United States. My work focuses on the way their religious dispositions have configured their lives and opportunities in the context of Los Angeles/California. I have a special interest in the narratives of religious leaders who are founded and/or are very engaged in Guatemalan independent Pentecostal churches there. Some theoretical considerations for my study are transnational migration, Pentecostalism as social movements and some methodological operationalization of the concepts of habitus of P. Bourdieu, using the Praxiological Square developed by Heinrich Schäfer.

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