When tragedy strikes in the dry hinterlands (sertão) of rural Northeast Brazil and human life hangs in the balance, afflicted people petition saints to intercede on their behalf, promising them something tangible in return. The promise affirms an oft-heard cliché in the sertão: “A vida é uma troca” (Life is an exchange). Yet whereas the currencies of secular exchange between patrons and clients consist of votes, favors, and access to state services, the spiritual currency by which one repays a saint takes the form of a homemade effigy, or milagre (miracle).

Lindsey King's Spiritual Currency in Northeast Brazil offers ethnographic insight into the material culture of folk Catholicism by exploring the social life of the milagres and the pilgrims who deliver them to the famous shrine to St. Francis of Assisi, located in the town of Canindé, Ceará, about three...

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