Competitive Spirits: Latin America's New Religious Economy / Edition 1

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For over four centuries the Catholic Church enjoyed a religious monopoly in Latin America in which potential rivals were repressed or outlawed. Latin Americans were born Catholic and the only real choice they had was whether to actively practice the faith. Taking advantage of the legal disestablishment of the Catholic Church between the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Pentecostals almost single-handedly built a new pluralist religious economy. By the 1950s, many Latin Americans were free to choose from among the hundreds of available religious "products," a dizzying array of religious options that range from the African-Brazilian religion of Umbanda to the New Age group known as the Vegetable Union.
R. Andrew Chesnut shows how the development of religious pluralism over the past half-century has radically transformed the "spiritual economy" of Latin America. In order to thrive in this new religious economy, says Chesnut, Latin American spiritual "firms" must develop an attractive product and know how to market it to popular consumers. Three religious groups, he demonstrates, have proven to be the most skilled competitors in the new unregulated religious economy. Protestant Pentecostalism, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and African diaspora religions such as Brazilian Candomble and Haitian Vodou have emerged as the most profitable religious producers. Chesnut explores the general effects of a free market, such as introduction of consumer taste and product specialization, and shows how they have played out in the Latin American context. He notes, for example, that women make up the majority of the religious consumer market, and explores how the three groups have developed to satisfy women's tastes and preferences. Moving beyond the Pentecostal boom and the rise and fall of liberation theology, Chesnut provides a fascinating portrait of the Latin American religious landscape.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This boldly argued book is the best statement available to date of the political economy model as applied to the study of religious change in Latin America. The author providesa a wealth of data on the emergence and extraordinary growth of pneumacentric (spirit-centered) religions in Latin America. A significant book, with a powerful argument, convincing results, and a range of operational concepts that the author applies very effectively to explain a range of phenomena in a unified and consistent way."— Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

"This is a bold, meticulous, and highly provocative study of Latin America's free-market religious economy. In identifying a high level of 'consumer demand for spirit-centered religion,' Chesnut has employed a dynamic and controversial model for understanding the reasons behind the rapid growth of Pentecostalism, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and the religions of the African diaspora in Latin America during recent decades. This is rich, engaging, and important study that should provide grist for scholarly debate for some time to come."—Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas, Austin

"Andrew Chesnut has written the must-read book on Latin American religion. The theoretical insights and empirical depth of this work are simply astounding. While specifically concerned with Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala, Chesnut's conclusions about the dynamism of charismatic religious movements extend well beyond these geographical confines. Indeed, anyone interested in contemporary religious movements will find this book indispensable."—Anthony Gill, author of Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America

"This is a very rare achievement: first rate history combined with an admirable grasp of social science, expressed in stylish prose. The result is a work of very great significance that not only describes, but helps to explain, the remarkable religious changes going on in Latin America."—Rodney Stark, University of Washington

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195161847
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Lexile: 1580L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The New Temples of Religious Pluralism 3
2 One True Faith: Four Centuries of Religious Monopoly 17
3 Cornering the Market: An Anatomy of Pentecostal Success 39
4 A Preferential Option for the Spirit: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal 64
5 Entrepreneurial Spirits: Religions of the African Diaspora 102
6 Practical Consumers: The Success of Pneumacentric Religion among Women 128
7 Conclusion: Ex Uno Plura (Out of One, Many) 147
Notes 161
References 165
Index 171
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