Comments on the text by Joanildo Burity: challenges for current times1

Reception: May 20, 2020

Acceptance: August 4, 2020


The objective of the text is to promote a dialogue with the article "The evangelical people: hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction", by Joanildo Burity. By positively evaluating the hypotheses of the article, related to the evangelical growth in Brazil, he seeks to dialogue with them from an anthropological perspective. To this end, it explores issues related to the spread of evangelical culture, its heterogeneity, and its affinities with peripheral cultural practices. It invites the reader to consider the importance of the militarism that develops in the Brazilian urban centers as partially responsible for the mediation role of the evangelical churches and, consequently, as important for their hegemonic construction. It also suggests that reflecting on gender relations can contribute to a better understanding of the political forms that the populist project now takes to build the country as an evangelical nation.

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comments on the text by joanildo burity: challenges for current times

The aim of this text is to promote a dialogue with the article “The evangelical people: Hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction” by Joanildo Burity. By giving a positive valuation of the article's hypotheses, in relation to evangelical growth in Brazil, it seeks to have a conversation with them from an anthropological perspective. With this in mind, it explores matters related to the promotion of evangelical culture, its heterogeneity and its affinities with peripheral cultural practices. It invites the reader to consider the importance of the militarism that unfolds in Brazilian urban centers as partially responsible for the role as mediator played by evangelical churches and, in consequence, as important for their hegemonic construction. It also suggests that reflecting upon gender relations can contribute to a better comprehension of the political forms now adopted by the populist project to build the country as an evangelical nation.

Keywords: Evangelicals, militarization, conservatism, gender differentiation, peripheries.

Discussing this text by Joanildo with readers is not an easy task. In fact, it represented a great challenge that was further increased in the framework imposed by covid-19. More in Brazil than in Argentina, the pandemic generates a growing and terrifying number of deaths that is allied with the failure of the public service, in addition to the threatening and authoritarian behavior of the President of the Republic. And every day the crisis worsens. Here, in Brazil, we have learned that the unimaginable of today has been surpassed by that of tomorrow, with the deepening of an authoritarian and deadly regime, which takes advantage of the health crisis in which we are immersed. But we will not lose hope. Therefore, dialogue with Joanildo Burity from a brilliant, original and consistent text will also take us, despite the difficulties, to another plane of life, one in which intellectual work is important and allows us to reflect on possible forms to get out of situations like these.

It is a dense and stimulating work of reflection. It presents a historical image of the growth of Pentecostals in Brazil and, to a certain extent, in Latin America, considering it through the theoretical instruments that, in summary, would be: the notion of town and populism, of minorization, constructed through Rancière's (1996) concept of politics, operated as a populist logic, prepared by Laclau (2005). A new national hegemony across the horizons opened up by evangelical groups is now on the agenda. Joanildo Burity, in this article as in others, does not allow easy solutions and is far from any deterministic framework and previously established interpretations (Burity, 2006, 2018). The opening of possible paths, on the one hand, and the combination of interests and perspectives, in certain historical moments, on the other, gave rise to the predominance of the conservative Pentecostal perspective, combined with an authoritarian project of a national nature, engendered as a populist logic that it has conquered hegemony between religious sectors and other sectors of society. This project now disputes at the national level the constitution of the country as a evangelical nation.

The text is convincing, which was not a surprise, in fact, knowing the analytical work of the author. Agreeing with your thesis, my comments will go in the direction of amplifying certain questions, provoking more questions from a reading associated with an anthropological perspective.

He argues that conservative evangelical growth was possible because of the building of a populist logic. This logic that had the evangelical actor as its central protagonist proved to be capable of going beyond the limits of the religious field and adding heterogeneous demands, on the social, religious and political plane. It was the conservatives who managed, from the eighties in Brazil, to build themselves as a people that gradually gained legitimacy and prominence in the political and religious sphere. Burity draws attention to the alliance that was forged between the evangelical elite and the far-right political forces that now rule the country. Yesterday's conservatism flirts with today's authoritarianism. It should be noted that the post-electoral period has privileged the elimination of rights in addition to promoting an enormous crisis in the democratic structures conquered by the Constitution of 88.

The text addresses a question of the utmost importance, which interests us all at this time: can the evangelical actor, who emerged as the main subject of this populism, together with all the political forces that support it (and are backed by it ) to assert its antidemocratic hegemonic aspirations and build the country as a evangelical nation, associated with the ruling elites of the country? Can this project win and stabilize? There is no way to predict the outcome of the ongoing clashes. And the author invites us to reflect on the game and the possibilities that are open.

The axis of this article is the process of constituting this populist logic. To do this, he explores various historical moments, different political contexts and some of their disputes. The emergence of the "evangelicals" as "people", through the defeat of historical Protestants and current Catholicism, the transformation of Pentecostals from "individuals out of the world" into protagonists of political action in the public sphere gave rise to to electoral processes with an increasing participation of this religious group and, finally, to the creation of an evangelical parliamentary bench in the National Congress. As is known, it has acquired more power in the political and social sphere. The description of this politico-religious path makes it clear how the winners of these political struggles and maneuvers could constitute evangelicals as political subjects through the populist logic. Evangelicals they were constituted as well as those who came to incarnate the people, "the excluded" of the nation. More and more evangelicals, in the name of evangelical people, they manifested themselves as political-religious actors that forged a new process of political subjectivity. They did not simply win within a restricted political sphere, in the National Congress, nor did they limit themselves to the hegemonic churches in the field. But the actors were made in this plot, immersed in the capillarity that the small churches have in the popular neighborhoods. Thus, with the significant scope of their political role, they managed to forge themselves as mediators, with a varying scope, between public policies and those whose life experience historically led them to see themselves as “the excluded” of all the nuances.

The populist logic, as a theoretical instrument mobilized by Joanildo Burity, supposes an antagonistic relationship between the “excluded” and the “others”. The realization, albeit momentary, of a link between "evangelicals" as "people" and "those below" became a process of transformation of the nation that began to include "evangelicals" as "people." The article links the political logic of populism with the notion of politics proposed by Jacques Rancière (1996). I do not intend to reproduce the theoretical work of these authors, but to draw attention to a valued aspect, namely, the character of rupture that the notion of politics acquires with Jacques Rancière and is reinforced in Burity's analysis. For the French philosopher, when inequality is denatured, it puts those who do not count in that order in check; demand its part, the part of those who have no part.

In short, evangelicals have emerged as a people of the without part, the down or that, diffusely and with different contours, they have a strong relationship with class antagonisms that are often neither visible nor considered in the public sphere. To some extent, their forms of belonging could be combined with different political and associative movements, as Burity points out. In short, the movements of the without part, the structurally dominated in social life, were and are those who in many small circumstances found themselves in antagonism with dominant groups, such as the boss, the bishop, the foreman, for example, or even with the traffickers, the corrupt police and the mayor, etc., all integrated in different ways into one catholic nation (Novaes, 1985; Boyer, 2008). Among those actors evangelicals they became progressively present as an engine of claims and desires for equality. Antagonism as politics, in the sense attributed by Jacques Rancière, makes the movement of the evangelical people a manifestation among many rooted in social life that pass through the body, the affections, the daily life, and through the memory of struggles and sufferings. As a result, Burity highlights, the generation of equivalence strings between evangelicals and different heterogeneous groups and associations at many levels of political action related to the "without a party."

Therefore, politics is present in many situations within the games of forces on a local scale, as a micro-politics, in general, restricted to small spaces, associated with the role of barely visible people in the public sphere. Their movements, which articulate various groups, basically did not exclude, nor do they exclude, until today, the evangelical religious. The process of redemocratization in the country favored, says Burity, the emergence of plural movements that have not stopped living with evangelicals. The evangelical condition, of course, added, to a great extent, specific qualities, a style, a morality not always activated but recognized. A political repertoire around “rights”, identified by evangelicals and non-evangelicals, began to include the speeches emanating from the churches with other connotations. Burity is right when he points out the opening of this religious identity, its capacity to be produced and reproduced in infinite movements and heterogeneous meanings.

Let us assess the consequences of the emergence of the "evangelical people" as a category and political force. It is, I point out, the growth of a religious elite that began to participate in an increasingly organic way in the devices to manage social life. In fact, evangelicals have entrenched themselves in the machines and technologies of the state and, in this way, have produced new forms of participation, cultural and political expression in society. Which means that the participation of the churches and their political representatives on many government fronts has increased.

Let us reinforce Joanildo's argument that points out two political-religious tendencies regarding the emergence of the “evangelical people” as “excluded”. A trend more connected with the corporate interests of the churches and another more associated with the activation of evangelicals as a people in convergence with those "below."

The corporate trend, in fact, is the one most capable of managing the conduct of the religious. From the place that they were recognized as legitimate protagonists of the "excluded from the Catholic nation", they went on over time to accumulate means of political and social intervention, cultivating forms of government. In effect, they elected representatives to the National Congress, structured a parliamentary front, made political alliances with parties of the right, center and left in the National Congress, and managed to defend the interests of their churches on the economic and social level, associating with ruralistas, businessmen and bankers in different governments. Joanildo Burity, by highlighting this political front as the corporate face of the construction of the "evangelical people", makes us think about the relationships that were formed with the other evangelical face, the one most clearly associated with the "excluded", the "without a party ", The" below. "

In fact, it is not difficult to point out that the protagonists of this evangelical elite have benefited from powerful financial and business means and have accumulated more and more wealth and power. Through the alliances they cultivated, they also advanced widely in the dominance of the media, winning national television and radio concessions. Is it possible to affirm that the evangelicals here, that is, the leaders of the great churches, their parliamentarians and their businesses managed to integrate into the so-called national elite in a stable way? Burity's analysis indicates how evangelicals have gained a significant place both in the strictly religious field and in the spheres of state, commercial and media power. They overcame the Catholic monopoly with a powerful political-economic-religious machine, excluded progressive Protestants, and established themselves in the public sphere, operating at full speed. Thus were born the modalities for the elaboration of a new political subjectivity based on religion.

An important question arises, therefore, from the insertion of the evangelicals in the dominant political elite and the connections they maintain with the language of evangelical rupture, so fundamental for the affirmation of the evangelicals What Town of those who have no part.

The political subjectivity that Joanildo Burity speaks of, therefore, is also developed by the association of evangelicals with the governmental machine. These began to function in many fields as an instrument of governance from a conservative and normative perspective. The evangelical political subject would have emerged, then, I emphasize, with a double mark: the one that arises from the revolt and the rupture, that is, from the promotion of politics, and also the one woven by the commitment to the police (in the sense attributed by Rancière [1996], that is, it is confused with the work of management and government of the status quo) through the obedient acceptance of the conveniences that emanate from the hegemonic political agreements. The conservative way of acting is combined, I believe, with the naturalized acceptance of the authoritarian practices that regulate social life, whose detrimental effects fall mainly on the insecurity and precariousness of popular territories that also bring together evangelicals associated with the defense of the "Rights", as already said.

An important point to keep in mind: conservative evangelical churches have never opposed the militarization of social life (see Telles, 2019; Birman and Leite, 2018). Before, they clapped and also turned it into a form of action. Violent practices, such as deaths, torture and mass incarceration through interventions by the armed forces (army and military police) allowed the churches to manage a conservative adaptation, in line with current militarized practices.2 They accepted a “war” against the poor and made themselves available to save their victims from death, the residents of the peripheries, through various social assistance projects (Birman and Machado, 2012; Machado, 2013). In other words, the evangelical action created important community ties through mediation work that involves critical and threatening situations of the inhabitants of the peripheries. These links are highly dimensioned by the diffusion work of the media, which gives them a peculiar power (Machado, 2013). Although there is a heterogeneity of values in the evangelical field, in some way it is hidden by the strident and overwhelming activism of the conservative churches that also gain state and parastatal protection. The results of this new hegemony are pointed out by Burity in the field of culture and social life in peripheral localities. The media culture that developed at the end of the last century (see Appadurai, 2001) led to the appearance of new forms of mediation, also religious (cf. Giumbelli, Rickli and Toniol, 2019), which promoted the evangelical presence in the public sphere and contributed to the widespread dissemination of their values and languages.

According to Burity, "the language of Pentecostalism provided a moral vocabulary for dealing with violence, poverty, loss of community ties, denial of the dignity and self-esteem of vulnerable people." The question that remains concerns its effectiveness. Could it be that the use and socially shared knowledge of this language implies adherence and submission to the religious values that circulate through its vocabulary?

To what extent does the “evangelical people” respond adequately to the normative requirements of the conservative churches and move away from the manifestations of politics, in Rancière's terms? How is the language of Pentecostalism used by "common" people, who do not belong to the churches? And, finally, how have these two constitutive faces of the "evangelical people", politics and the police, come together in the peripheries?

Is it possible to consider that the electoral process imposed on evangelicals (and the population) to have a “disaffiliation” from politics, considered by conservatives as the place of all evils? Do the religious crave (as we read in the text) the evangelical affiliation of the nation as the means of making the police the main (religious) instrument to rule the country, excluding the enemies of God who are everywhere? (Sant'ana, 2017).

It is not possible to predict the future, it is known. By not accepting any teleological perspective, the text directs us to discuss the gaps inherent to a heterogeneous society such as the Brazilian one: the fissures, the forms of resistance, the small and large disobediences that can be assessed to help reflect on the agencies, sometimes unusual, that potentiate (Cortes, 2014; Vital da Cunha, 2009, 2015).

The daily life of the cities reveals the ubiquity of the evangelical culture that is expressed far beyond the spaces of their churches. If we understand the notion of culture in terms of Geertz (2011), that is, as the construction of practices, symbols and worldviews that shape reality, we realize that evangelical culture has managed to spread and spread in society. It approaches what, in other times, was considered Catholicism impregnated in social life, marking the course of time, civic manifestations, political relations, legal structures, national and family values in an almost invisible way, in the social fabric. The secular national culture was historically constituted as Catholic and, now, in more recent times, it is the subject of dispute by evangelicals.

And now? Joanildo's observations regarding evangelical diffusion lead us to wonder how this possible religious adherence occurs and with what consequences. Will we face an equivalent phenomenon, as Pierre Sanchis (2001) observed some time ago, of a sector of “non-practicing” evangelicals? What would be the different forms and degrees of adherence of those who live in some way in the naturalized fabric of the evangelical culture? The success of the music gospel, TV shows, DJ, parties and forms of sociability go hand in hand with a multiplication of evangelical styles and behaviors? Does the domain of the evangelical language, recovering the expression of Burity, reveal an important adherence of the populations to the authoritarian and conservative precepts that are part of the government's management? We cannot ignore a harmony of the faithful with the conduct doctrinally required by their churches. This does not mean affirming, first, that there are no other minority tendencies, and second, that the margins of the churches are guided with the same fidelity to the religious precepts that they certainly know.

Although there may be a majority adherence and fidelity among evangelicals to the moral and social principles that are indicated to them, this should not be confused with the forms of appropriation of their lexicon without adhering to the norms. The political logic linked to death, as a naturalized policy in the peripheries of the country for more than thirty years, created governmental devices to manage daily life. Will it be able to guarantee the hegemonic reproduction of ethical and political conformity in these difficult times that we are living in? In the electoral period there was support; It remains to be seen how long it will persist.

If there are new forms of subjectivation in this form of government "of the police", it does not seem possible to separate them from other conditioning factors that several anthropologists have already pointed out, namely, those that the proximity of field work at different times and with different people and collectives indicate as the markers of gender, class and race, present in these relationships. Suffering, hope, affection, unavoidable situations differentiate the ways of acting and feeling. Why is it necessary to accept that a child was sentenced to death by the drug administrator without being able to react openly? What to do with the dances funk that young people do not give up and that they are a source of violence, sex and drugs, according to their possibly evangelical mothers?

It has not been difficult to perceive that the markers of gender, race and class are fundamental to understand the different differentiated movements that abound in the forms of life crossed by different but intertwined practices and principles (Brah, 2006). I would like to give two examples taken from the ethnographic descriptions of colleagues. Martijn Oosterban (2006) recounted a scene he witnessed in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, in which a group of young people, known participants in the local drug trade, arrived near a church, located in the community square. . When the youths arrived with their machine guns and rifles in front of the church door, they lowered their weapons to receive the blessing of a visiting pastor. After the evangelical leader placed his hands on their heads, which was silently observed by residents in the plaza, the youths quickly and furtively disappeared across a thicket. These young people did not belong to the church, but they were evangelicals non-participants, integrated in some way to its values, immersed in the cultural environments in which this culture is present, however, without obeying its normative precepts. The second example, from the master's work of Natânia Lopes (Lopes, 2011: 104-105), relates a situation that she accompanied in a dance funk which I reproduce below:

The intervention of a shepherd in a dance funk: I found it very curious that music was replaced by preaching in dance (funk). The evangelicals asked the bandits for permission to do so. It was they who authorized it. The audience listened more or less attentively. The believer spoke of the importance of avoiding the devil and his seductions. That the devil was the greatest enemy of humanity. That he always betrayed the people who followed him. That he was like Judas.

After his short speech (which lasted just over five minutes), the DJ he took the microphone back. And he made the following connection between the resumption of the feast and the preaching heard: “yes, my friends… he betrayed Jesus for ten pieces of silver. Who doesn't like X9 [snitches] raise your hand! " The silence was broken with an explosion of screams. The mass of people jumped with their hands in the air. And the song that began to play said: “the X9 gave away. He handed it over, found a problem. He's tied up, you know where? In the suitcase of a Siena [Fiat brand car]. The jail knock [the call to meet the gang] eventually put an end to the problem. The X9 gave away… did we burn [it or not? They all responded with a shout: "We burned it!" "Do we burn it or not?" "We burned it!"

A relationship of coexistence with the pastors made it easier for the young man from the local traffic and the person in charge of the dance to allow the word of God to resound in the room. The bandit's speech, imaginatively, turned to the evangelical lexicon to affirm the due obedience of the residents. The examples of relationships such as those described above are endless (Vital da Cunha, 2009, 2015; Machado da Silva, 2008). The relationship between these moral and material components of everyday life can be evoked as a problem: is it possible that the porosity of the borders between evangelicals and those seen as lords of life and death in the peripheries cannot help us to understand the harmony between religious patterns that favor war as an important social and cultural factor? After all, cities, as well as their political representatives and their media, coexist after thirty years with the growing militarization of society (Leite et al., 2018; Graham, 2016). Doesn't this conservative (and deadly) perspective on the poor located on the peripheries play an important role in the current conjuncture? How did the militarization of social life and the moral conversion of the country by the evangelical churches become crucial factors in the 2018 elections?

Burity mentions the appearance of a moral panic in this process. I would like to discuss its meaning as a final topic to be mentioned. The armed attack and the spirit of war that have already become naturalized in the country have been combined with the value of attention and morals as an evangelical activity, which mainly involves women. It is an affinity that is cultivated for the conservatism of the evangelical churches that we can better understand by the role that gender and race markers play in this conjunction.

It is important to bear in mind that in the electoral process the value of white and hegemonic masculinity was activated as a solution to fight against the enemies of the country. This masculinity elevates warrior virility as an ideal value, which largely happened during the electoral campaign (Braz, 2020). And she joined the defense of motherhood as a feminine ideal that is confronting the gender policies defended by the “left”. Women on the left were widely accused of profaning motherhood and basic moral values, and complicity with pedophilia. Drugged women were exhibited desecrating churches, it was suggested that sexual and pedophile attacks on children were common practices of the left in Brazil and around the world. The military violence of the future president of the Republic, on the contrary, was exalted for having an ideal profile to lead: someone who knows how to kill and does not hesitate to exterminate the communist, amoral and corrupt enemies to defend the country in the name of God. .

In a recent article (Birman, 2020) I emphasized the same argument: “We highlight the elaboration of a repertoire of gestures, bodies and images grammatically associated with male violence, at the same time known and renewed. The agent of this violence, the subject of these statements, is confused with the figure of the "colorless" and heterosexual man, that is, one whose whiteness is affirmed because he defines himself as antagonistic to those who are attacked: blacks, indigenous people, gays, women, feminists, Northeast people, the poor, slum dwellers and more. Isn't this the model of the individual / citizen, both known and naturalized and now strongly driven to build the new foundations of the nation-state?

Camilo Braz (2020), in his comments on the value of white virility shown by the president, makes us think that his relationship with him covid-19 is of the same order: the death of enemies, the weak and the vulnerable is part of his project to rule through extreme violence. It would be linked, in the Foucauldian perspective of biopolitics, with government policies related to the government of life, on the one hand, and, on the other, to the exercise of a power distributed among multiple forces of society that makes death and the exercise of war is one of the means of government of the poor.

However, the media and opinion polls indicate that political support for his project has decreased, albeit with a very slight fluctuation. In fact, there is no reliable data that demonstrates an effective change in Bolsonaro's accession.

I began this comment at a time when the political situation in Brazil was even more chaotic and convulsive than the one in which Joanildo Burity wrote. Although the general image has not changed substantially, the short time that separates the wording of the commented text from that of my comments indicates a rapid worsening of the situation, which reiterates the analytical relevance of the text. The pandemic underscored the extent to which the current government uses deadly destruction as a driver. We say this because, in addition to minimizing the effects of the pandemic, to prioritize the maintenance of economic activities - which resulted in more than 110,000 deaths until August - the Bolsonaro government supports and encourages armed military combat against the population considered enemy, as we already mentioned. The deaths related to the lack of care directed at the pandemic are due to biopolitical procedures that have historically been consolidated in Brazilian society. As is well known, medical and assistance devices are manufactured by prioritizing their beneficiaries (and therefore are always precarious for the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society).3 In the case of deaths by murder, we draw attention to the ongoing militarization process that criminalizes the popular strata, the inhabitants of the peripheries, especially the blacks and the poor, transforming them into “murderous” beings. Here the intertwining of gender, race and class relations is highlighted.

The final question in the text about a possible "domestication" or quenching of the Pentecostals' thirst for power cannot be easily answered. Joanildo asks very precisely: “The hypervisibility of the evangelical discursive formation and the antidemocratic practices and openly antagonistic to the social movements in which they participate more and more, will they not lead to an erosion and a delegitimization of these actors? Should the institutionalization of the new post-democratic order occur, will it not 'tame' or devour the Pentecostal thirst for power? " There is no easy answer. Social inequality and authoritarianism were not born with the Bolsonaro government, they are rooted in the history of the country. However, there is nothing that predicts that the current negative scenario will continue. I believe that the majority of the religious of the popular strata, due to the multiple losses they are suffering, will be able to abandon, as has happened on other occasions, their adherence to the extreme right that this government embodies. The popular strata, by reacting to the losses, can “tame” the evangelical groups, hitherto hegemonic and powerful, which, for now, are well established in the spheres of power.


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Patricia birman She has a degree in Psychology (1976), a Master in Social Anthropology (1980) and a PhD in Social Anthropology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (1988). She received a postdoctoral fellowship (1995/1996) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris, and is a professor of Anthropology at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. As an anthropologist she specialized in the field of religious studies. He has researched Afro-Brazilian cults, Pentecostalism in Brazil, and religions in the public space. Currently the object of research is the interweaving between religious and secular practices oriented to the management of poverty. He develops research work on the production of peripheral territorialities in urban spaces.

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EncartesVol. 4, No. 8, September 2021-February 2022, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, and Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: September 29, 2021.