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Foreign Policy Change and the Salience of Religion in Brazil

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With Jair Bolsonaro in the Presidency, the integration of faith-based considerations in policymaking has become a declared objective of officials. Except for the group of deputies working together as FPE (Frente Parlamentar Evangélica), faith does not penetrate politics over institutional channels or programs. Rather, religion achieves political salience through other mechanisms: (1) ideological convergence between political-rightist and religious-conservative stances; (2) personal union between religious and political roles; and (3) actors’ cooperation within personal networks with ideological affinity and common interests. Two context factors have contributed to the de-secularization of politics: On the one hand, the strong growth of Evangelical communities has promoted a higher receptivity in society for religious arguments in public debates. On the other hand, the long period of progressive governments of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) and its culmination in a political and economic crisis amid a corruption scandal created a critical juncture that enabled a political turn (to the right)and the search for the moralization of politics and a politics of morality.

Portions of this chapter on Brazil have been already published as Zilla (2017, 2020a, 2020b).

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-658-33776-6_9
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  1. 1.

    In Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin America, the term evangélica/o has come to mean the religious communities discussed here. However, evangélicas not only includes the Pentecostal (pentecostales) and neo-Pentecostal (neopentecostales) communities, but also a number of other non-Catholic Christian denominations. It does not include the historically Protestant congregations of the Lutheran or Calvinist traditions, as these are usually referred to as Protestant congregations. On the other hand, Evangelical is used more frequently to refer to the first missionaries who came from the USA. The term Evangelista—sometimes erroneously used in Latin America for members of Evangelical churches—should be reserved for Jesus’ four disciples, after whom the four gospels are named.

  2. 2.

    See for instance the series 2019 and 2020 of Datafolha, Instituto de Pesquisas, Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020. “Avaliação de governo”.

  3. 3.

    Originating from a simple money laundering investigation at a car wash (lava jato) in the Brazilian state of Paraná, this corruption scandal initially shook the semi-state oil company Petrobras, from where it spread to the construction industry, especially the Odebrecht group, and the world's largest meat producer, JBS. The (still ongoing) investigations have revealed that numerous Brazilian officials and politicians of different parties were involved in corrupt practices that took place not only in Brazil but in several countries of all five continents in the context of contracts with Brazilian companies.

  4. 4.

    The guiding principles of Brazil’s foreign policy are summarized in Article 4 of the Constitution of 1988: I. National independence; II. Prevalence of human rights; III. Self-determination of peoples; IV. Non-intervention; V. equality among States; VI. Defense of peace; VII. Peaceful solution of conflicts; VIII. Repudiation of terrorism and racism; IX. Cooperation among people for the progress of humanity; X. Concession of political asylum. Further constitutional objectives of international affairs are the economic, political, social and cultural integration of the people of Latin America, with a view toward forming a Latin American community of nations. Critics of Bolsonaro’s foreign policy see several of these principles as having been violated.

  5. 5.

    Website Convenção Geral das Assembleias de Deus no Brasil: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  6. 6.

    Website Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  7. 7.

    Website Igreja do Evangelho Quadrangular: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  8. 8.

    Constituição da República Federativa do Brasil de 1988: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  9. 9.

    Código Civil Brasileiro: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  10. 10.

    Câmara dos Deputados, Frentes e grupos parlamentares: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  11. 11.

    Frente Parlamentar Evangélica do Congresso Nacional: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  12. 12.

    Own translation. Câmara Municipal de Cruz Alta Poder Legislativo do Município de Cruz Alta. Conferência Nacional da Frente Parlamentar Evangélica do Congresso Nacional, 23.12.2019. Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  13. 13.

    See Olavo de Cavalho’s YouTube channel: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  14. 14.

    Own translation. UOL, 2020, Presidente em evento evangélico: “Estado é laico, mas Bolsonaro é cristão: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  15. 15.

    Coincidently, long before the assault Bolsonaro’s supports had been calling him o mito (the myth).

  16. 16.

    Own translation. UOL. (2020). Presidente em evento evangélico: “Estado é laico, mas Bolsonaro é cristão: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  17. 17.

    Metapolítica17—Contra o Globalismo: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  18. 18.

    Vivas, F., (2019). TV Globo, “Estado é laico, mas esta ministra é terrivelmente cristã”, diz Damares ao assumir Direitos Humanos, 2 January 2019: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  19. 19.

    Käufer, T., (2019). Jair Bolsonaros Chefideologin ist die umstrittenste Politikerin Brasiliens, Frankfurter Rundschau, 19 August 2019, Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  20. 20.

    In the words of Celso Amorim, “política externa altiva e ativa”. He was Minister of External Relations from 2003 until 2011 and—during the Itamar Franco government—1993 until 1994. From June until September 1993, he acted as Secretary General of External Relations. In addition, he was a Professor of International Relations Theory at the Universidad de Brasilia.

  21. 21.

    Decree Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  22. 22.

    Moreover, in November 2020, Eduardo Bolsonaro was single guest in the first episode (in English) of “The Yair Netanyahu Show”, a new podcast-series of Benjamin Netanyahu’s son. In their conversation, both men agreed on the close friendship between Brazil and Israel and the commonalities between the ideas and policies of their fathers. The Yair Netanyahu Show: Accessed: 18 Nov. 2020.

  23. 23.

    Marcha para Jesus em Brasília, DF—10 August 2019. Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  24. 24.

    In December 2018, a couple of weeks before Bolsonaro’s inauguration, Brazil had already voted in favor of a draft UN Resolution sponsored by the US condemning the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, as a terrorist organization.

  25. 25.

    Grupos Parlamentares de Amizade: Accessed: 20 Jul. 2020.

  26. 26.

    Own translation.


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Correspondence to Claudia Zilla .

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Zilla, C. (2021). Foreign Policy Change and the Salience of Religion in Brazil. In: Toropova, M. (eds) Rethinking the Religious Factor in Foreign Policy. Politik und Religion. Springer VS, Wiesbaden.

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