The seven essays in this slim, but informative, volume deal with the complex relationship between Roman Catholicism and the variety of religious expressions which flourish among peasants and workers throughout Latin America. In the mid-1970s, when scholars met at McGill University of take up this question, a central concern to Catholic churchmen in the region was the institutions fastdeclining influence in spiritual and temporal affairs. Some observers hastily concluded that the then recently forged alliance between Catholicism and the continent’s oppressed was chiefly intended to shore up Peter’s sinking barque. By extension, the incipient and innovative ecclesial base communities were either lures to win back souls caught up in syncretic religious movements or retreading plants to gird “folk” Catholics and their outmoded devotionalism in postconciliar truths.
This excessively instrumentalist view infuses the collection, despite an otherwise correct call by Bruneau for multidisciplinary, “integrated” study of religion and religiosities. To that end, he and Mary Mooney in separate, comprehensive essays focus on Catholicism and politics in Brazil and Peru from the late ’60s on. That the church was under constant attack from the military regime in the former country, but nearly co-opted in the latter makes for interesting comparisons, even if they are only implicitly sketched here.
From sociological and anthropological perspectives, the five remaining authors directly target the lower classes and their religious beliefs and practices. Cornelia Butler Flora judges Colombian workers as less likely to join base communities than Pentecostal churches (which are examined in no other article). The late William E. Carter sees Andean syncretism as a bulwark against the institutional church, while Gerald F. Murray portrays Haitian “voodoo” as a depository of Catholic orthodoxy. Diana Brown and Chester E. Gabriel are not at all at odds: she depicts Afro-Brazilian Umbanda as societally “integrative,” and he concludes that spiritism in Manaos may win more adepts as “traditional” Catholicism wanes.
This volume—begun in 1974, published in 1984, and reviewed only now— points to the need for swifter delivery of scholarly production. In fact, the otherwise fine bibliography is already surpassed by Rubem Besar Fernandes’s “Religiões populares, ’ Uma visão parcial da literatura recente,” BIB—Boletim Informativo e Bibliográfico, 18 (2° semestre, 1984), pp. 3-26.