Religious Fragmentation, Social Disintegration? Social Networks and Evangelical Protestantism in Rural Andean Bolivia

Abstract

Latin America remains, much more than any other region in the world, dominated by a single religion: Catholicism. But in the second half of the twentieth century, a so-called “Protestant wave” spread across the region increasing religious diversity. This wave was spurred on by Pentecostal and other evangelical Protestant churches, denominations that challenge the religious syncretism, state-church relationships, and many of the institutions and relationships that structure social and cultural life in Latin America. These changes can bring tensions, conflicts, or abuses that can have a socially disintegrating effect. This paper uses “religious fragmentation” as a lens to examine this process in rural highland Bolivia. Drawing upon qualitative fieldwork in two communities, this paper first examines the motivations for and contestations surrounding increasing Protestant affiliation and second asks how religious fragmentation interacts with existing social networks and relationships. Paying special attention to reciprocity networks, which are culturally and economically significant in these indigenous communities, this paper argues that non-religious social relationships and activities can act as intervening variables that overcome the social fragmentations of religious change.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This follows the practice of the campesinos themselves, who understand that there are different sects but for whom the relevant distinction is between Protestant and Catholic. Mariz and Martín (2010) note that most Protestants, whether Pentecostal or not, have become identified as evangélicos, another example of how Pentecostalism has strongly influenced other Protestant denominations.

  2. 2.

    Evangelical, Christian, or brother/sister.

  3. 3.

    Often falling under the rubric of being “born again” (Stoll 1993). See also O’Neill (2015) regarding individual personal transformation.

  4. 4.

    Canessa (2002) suggests that evangelical asceticism includes abstention from coca, which is a nearly ubiquitous part of rural experience. In the villages where I completed my fieldwork, however, many evangélicos chewed coca while working.

  5. 5.

    Though, many note, replacing it was another form of patriarchy (Robbins 2004; Brusco 1993; Freston 1998).

  6. 6.

    There are many parallels here to scholarship in Mexico, especially Chiapas, which similarly identifies a communal and ritualistic function of alcohol consumption and intoxication, the negative aspects of excessive alcohol consumption, and the role of religious change in addressing alcohol abuses (see Eber 2000; Eber and Kovic 2003).

  7. 7.

    “Parade” might imply more organization or coherence than I actually observed. Because of the confusion from intoxication and imperfectly-trained horses, this festival looks more like the confusion of children on Halloween than a formal parade.

  8. 8.

    Chicherías are local establishments, generally in a family’s home, that serve primarily chicha.

  9. 9.

    Peón” refers to those who provide agricultural labor during work parties. It does not hold the pejorative meaning in this context as it frequently does in English.

  10. 10.

    Nuestro padre es Inti, Pachamama nuestra madre.”

  11. 11.

    The Adventists in the community identified Sixto as their pastor, but he refused the title.

  12. 12.

    The local euphemisms for sober/able to work and drunk/disabled from alcohol.

  13. 13.

    Including Catholic saints or the wakas that represent the indigenous earth-beings.

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Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank three generous reviewers for their thoughtful comments and suggestions. Funding for field research was provided by the Inter-America Foundation and the University of New Mexico’s Latin American and Iberian Institute.

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Walsh-Dilley, M. Religious Fragmentation, Social Disintegration? Social Networks and Evangelical Protestantism in Rural Andean Bolivia. Qual Sociol 42, 499–520 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-019-09425-z

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Keywords

  • Protestant wave
  • Religion
  • Religious pluralism
  • Reciprocity
  • Alcohol
  • Andes
  • Bolivia
  • Solidarity
  • Evangelicalism