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  • Religion in the Americas


    © Simon A. Eugster

Religion in the Americas

© Universität Bielefeld

The Americas, and Latin America in particular, have long been our geographic research focus. Accordingly, at Bielefeld University we work closely with the Center for InterAmerican Studies (CIAS) and the Center for Advanced Latin American Studies (CALAS). In this area of work, the focus lies on empirical research on the emergence and dynamics of religious movements and on the relationship between religious praxis and politics. We do not only work with the instruments of HabitusAnalysis. We also address theoretical questions such as transnational entanglements as well as laicism and secularism.

Religious movements

Our empirical research on religious movements started with several years of fieldwork by HW Schäfer during the 1980s in the Central American wars as well as in the United States. Between 1994 and 2003, a series of smaller research projects and close collaborations with Latin American religious actors followed during a period of teaching and research activities throughout Latin America with a base in Costa Rica. A large-scale follow-up project on the religious fields in Guatemala and Nicaragua was conducted at Bielefeld University between 2011 and 2014. Smaller-scale fieldwork was realized in Mexico and Brazil. The focus of this work is on the emergence of specific religious demand from social living conditions and the dynamics of religious competition in the societal context. Initially, the Pentecostal movement was the focus of interest, but later the view was broadened to include the entire religious field. A subproject with field research in a neighborhood of Mexico City applied HabitusAnalysis to the religious resources of individuation (the "Religious [Re]Sources of the Self"), thus focusing on the role of cultural determinants instead of socio-economic factors.


Selected publications

Studies from the 1980s:

Transnational entanglements

The study of Protestantism in Latin America must necessarily keep transnational relations with the USA in mind. These are by no means one-sided and cannot be fully understood in the conventional terms of colonial or missionary history. Rather, they are characterized by strong transnational activity on the part of religious actors in the south – especially the socially privileged, such as many neo-Pentecostals – and thus by complex interdependent relationships. This perspective has increasingly informed our research on religious praxis in the Americas.


Selected publications

Political religion and secularism

In the U.S. and Latin America, one can observe a growing importance of Protestant actors in the field of politics. This development is remarkable not least because many countries in the double continent have more or less secular constitutions – and where this is not the case, Catholicism is officially favored. A closer look reveals that it is not the sheer number of Protestant believers that causes their political presence. Rather, it is elites – religious experts, often also very well positioned socially – who seek to generate political capital out of the growing number of Protestant churchgoers. This development makes it imperative to study the politically relevant practices of these experts in the context of different religious legislations and social compositions of different nations.


Selected publications

  • A close examination of the political strategies of Protestant experts of various political camps. The U.S., Guatemala, Brazil, and Mexico are examined in detail; an overview of various arenas of political struggle – secularism policies, peace processes, socio-moral issues, indigenous peoples, etc. – looks at the situation of different other countries. The study is framed by reflections on the relationship between possessive individualist economics and religiosity: Die Taufe des Levithan (The baptism of Leviathan, 2021). HW Schäfer.
  • An abridged version of Leviathan's key observations with respect to their relevance to the German government's international cultural cooperation: Friedenspotenzial von Freikirchen in den USA und Lateinamerika (The potential for peace of free churches in the U.S. and Latin America (2019). In Spanish. HW Schäfer.
  • A journal article on religious identity politics, secularism, and political power. In German. In Spanish. HW Schäfer.

Research archive

An archive of materials from various field researchs in Latin America is under construction. It includes, among others:

  • about 200 habitus interviews and 100 recorded sermons from Guatemala and Nicaragua in 1985 and 1986;
  • gray literature of various kinds from the 1980s from Central America and the USA;
  • 300 habitus interviews from Guatemala and Nicaragua in 2012 and 2013;
  • Material from various projects in Mexico, Nicaragua and Brazil.
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