Where do we analytically place religion? Challenges for a transdisciplinary analysis on marginalization in Latin America

Received: May 7, 2019

Acceptance: August 29, 2019


In this commentary, some of the proposals of Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz about the possibilities of empowerment of the subordinate sectors to resist social marginalization through religion are questioned. The author accepts the challenge of transdisciplinary dialogue and wonders in which theoretical place religious studies are placed and how the author constructs the selection of works on which he bases his argument. The main point that he proposes is that religion cannot be treated as a specific section in the analysis because it is a transversal dimension to social experience. For this he points out several situations that offer a kaleidoscopic vision of the role of religion.

Keywords: , , , ,

In Analytical Terms, Where Do We Situate Religion? Challenges to a Transdisciplinary Analysis of Marginalization in Latin America

The present commentary questions certain of Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz's proposals regarding the use of religion for secondary-sector empowerment and as a means of resisting marginalization. In it, Cristina Gutiérrez takes up the challenge that transdisciplinary dialogue represents, and asks in what theoretical spot should religious studies be situated, as well as questioning how Pérez Sáinz constructed the bibliography upon which he bases his arguments. One major point proposed is that religion cannot be treated as a specific analysis area because it is a transversal dimension of the social experience. To that end, the essay points to a number of situations that offer a kaleidoscopic vision of religion's role.

Keywords: Interdisciplinary, religious studies, secondary sectors, social experience, individuation.

Lhe reading of "Inequalities and the re-politicization of the social in Latin America" constitutes an intellectual challenge for the various specialties and sub-disciplines in the field of social sciences and in particular Latin American studies. Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz's article offers a solid and complex analytical vision of the current political, economic and social processes in Latin America under a particular question: what are the possibilities of empowerment of the subordinate sectors to resist social marginalization in the context of the new model of globalized accumulation that supports the neoliberal order? To answer it, he resorts to a wide body of works where we can distinguish the contributions of political scientists, economists, Latin Americanists, ethnologists, sociologists of work, among others. Several notable studies of the sociology and anthropology of religion are also present and are subjected to this interrogation. The analysis of his works is carried out under a poststructural analytical orientation in general terms, but also under an analytical framework developed specifically to solve the question posed.

The intellectual challenge occurs precisely because the scale and the general and specific analytical scheme in which the author's approach is positioned necessarily “misplaces” the selected and cited particular works –generated under another scale and analytical scheme– to constitute the corpus of evidence to be analyzed in light of the author's interrogation. I must say that it is very stimulating to observe how various works that have been transcendent in the study of religion in Latin America (such as those of Pablo Semán, Carlos Garma, Renée de la Torre or Miguel Mansilla) are examined from this new perspective. And it is because the works on religion tend to suffer from an isolation from social science discussions that would well deserve a careful analysis. Fortunately this is not the case. Its use presents both limits and possibilities to articulate a transdisciplinary and complex diagnosis on a Latin American scale. The exercise is in fact very necessary to broaden the perspectives of disciplinary and specialized work in which we are immersing ourselves inertially, and to avoid the isolation of our investigative work.

I am reminded of a widely recognized antecedent of this type of diagnostic exercise based on the conjunction of first-hand research results: the one carried out by Manuel Castells in his influential turn-of-the-century work on the age of information (nineteen ninety six). There is no doubt that the author's global perspective, together with his legitimate theoretical interests, generated a new interpretive paradigm of the transformations of the technology-capitalism-society relationship based on the selection of research works from numerous countries carried out on another scale. and under different interrogations. The example is relevant because also on that occasion the results of specialized studies on the religious mobilizations of the last years of the century xx They were subjected to the interrogation of whether they contained a project of society or only constituted reactions and resistance that protected specific sectors and privileges (local societies, patriarchy) in the face of the catastrophe caused by the transformations of global capitalism, coupled with information technologies. . The results of the interrogation also present similarities with those of the work that concerns us today: religious mobilizations appear in this work as expressions of traditionalism and fundamentalist radicalization, reproducers of a status quo threatened, lacking future projects. On the other hand, movements considered secular by the author, such as environmentalism and feminism, are valued as the most serious possibilities of transformation in the logic of the network society. I wonder: in what theoretical place is religion placed beforehand in order to proceed with its analysis? How was that corpus of results on contemporary religious mobilizations in order to include conservative evangelisms and Islamic fundamentalisms, but leave out “the religious” spiritual movements of sign new age and feminists? This exclusion is especially relevant, since as secular movements they were considered by the author as “project identities” (Castells, 1996), with a future approach to living together.

In the aspiration to a knowledge as complete as possible, which does justice to the complexity of our objects of knowledge, the construction of a dialogue between knowledge, that is, transdisciplinary, is fundamental (Nicolescu, 1996). It is worth carefully reviewing the construction of this implicit dialogue in the use of works on the socio-anthropology of religion in the valuable diagnostic test that concerns us. With that intention, in what follows I will give an account of two reflections: the first, about the place of religion in the analytical scheme proposed, both at the general theoretical methodological level, and at the level of the scaffolding built specifically for this diagnosis. The second, around the selection of works that make up the corpus of evidences through which the role of religion in the possibilities of empowerment of the subaltern sectors is diagnosed.

Within the general analytical strategy of the text, the author proposes the initial description of the historical keys to understand the generation of inequalities. After describing in a clear and synthetic way the precariousness of the wage-earning world, the exclusion of small owners from globalization and the weakening of the supports of social citizenship (called supports of individuation), he focuses on observing the Latin American historical processes that they have implied a processing of differences in terms of inequality and inferiorization. It then deals with the case of inequalities between men and women, and between white and indigenous, which have given rise to a historic struggle for the recognition of indigenous people and women, although with still very negative balances for both. It is worth asking if religious difference has not also been historically processed in terms of inferiorization: have not non-Catholics been suspects of political disloyalty, as well as cultural foreigners? Catholicism has been a formidable reservoir for the generation of conservative nationalist political and cultural imaginaries (notable examples in Mexico and Argentina) that have been central to the generation of the nation's “others” (Segato, 2007). In fact, due to this centrality, authors such as Berryman consider the current process of religious diversification in Latin America as one of the most significant cultural transformations in light of the monopoly role of Catholicism in the subcontinent since the colonial period (Berryman, 1995). That is, it would be possible to analytically locate this socio-religious process as part of the historical keys to the generation of inequalities, both in itself (Catholic / non-Catholic), as well as being part of the keys that the same author mentions: it would be possible to identify the the way religion has gone through the construction of the man / woman differences in terms of inequality and patriarchal domination legitimized both by the institutional operation and by the myths of origin and the discourses of morality that emanate from most of the Christian churches; let alone address the implication of religious discourse in indigenous colonization and subjection to the western order. However, it is clear that, within this general analytical strategy of the text, religion is part of what the author calls “the repertoire of answers from marginalization ”, not as one of the keys to its genesis. This is a key analytical decision that, it seems to me, largely determines the results that the author finds, as I will try to show.

The author goes on to point out that “from the marginalization itself, diverse responses are generated that question it: the feared, which is expressed in violence; the exit, which materializes in migration; the magic, which seeks the refuge of religiosity; and that based on collective action, which can give rise to social movements ”.

In this regard, I would like to highlight two points: first, that although the author specifies that “these four dynamics are responses because they do not originate exogenously from social marginalization but are induced by it without this implying affirming that it is their sole cause nor the main cause ”, confirms that the place of religion in his scheme is consequential, although it starts from a multi-causal explanatory model; and secondly, that within this reactive place it places religion on the plane of magical responses, as an illusory refuge from a reality that seems to be made out of something else. The analytical placement of religion in the scheme is thus already outlined, and it would not be surprising if the result of the diagnosis was, in fact, that religion, with regard to resources for the empowerment of the marginalized, plays a role. role of adaptive response that, as such, contributes to the reproduction of the conditions that generate said marginalization. However, the development of these different responses offers other important angles for discussion.

In the development of the section dedicated specifically to religiosity, reference is made to very relevant contemporary works and authors in the field of socio-anthropology of religion in Latin America, who have covered a wide range of research topics: religiosities and ethnic spiritualities, transnationalization of traditional religiosities, the role of evangelicals in the dictatorship, new religious and spiritual modalities in commercial circuits and massmediados, religious conservatisms, popular religiosity ... However, there are only two themes that are selected from this wide literature to be exploited: the one that refers to the Pentecostal growth as a transversal modality to the Christian churches, including the Catholic, with special interest in the orientation offered by the theology of prosperity, and that which refers to the growing religious individuation. In the selection of prosperity theology as a privileged feature of contemporary Latin American religiosity, the result that the author obtains is largely determined, since this theology is precisely the religious orientation of Pentecostalism that has the greatest affinity with the promotion of consumerism among the popular sectors and that even generates cosmologies related to the capitalist symbolic universe. For its part, individuation is conceptualized by the author in relation to the generation of supports for citizenship, against which he discards the value of individuation religious, since it considers that it only occurs in the context of the marginalized group itself, and that it is a support merely symbolic. I believe that we are facing a key of misunderstanding between theoretical and disciplinary approaches that would be worth trying to disarm: individualization is understood in socio-anthropological studies of religion as a process of autonomization and growing distance of the believing (and non-believing) subject from the institutionalized religious authorities. It is a fact that is not reduced to the Pentecostal phenomenon and that has been recorded by different authors in Latin America even by quantitative means (De la Torre and Gutiérrez, 2011; Mallimaci, 2014; Cruz Esquivel, 2017) and implies a process of a symbolic nature, yes, but of genesis in concrete social dynamics and profound potential consequences in the performance of subjects (individual and collective) in the face of still undetermined political, religious or economic orders. In fact, it is expressed not only in the intimate plane of the subject, nor is it necessarily related to individualism: we see it, for example, in the logic of collective rituals of long duration and constant revival, identified as part of the popular religiosity around saints. and virgins, who are vital in the defense of collective spaces and in the maintenance of identities and memories linked to the territory, which maintain their validity and autonomy while trust in religious authorities declines; We see it in the growing dissent of the parishioners around the conservative and patriarchal orientations of the religious hierarchies in matters of sexual morality (De la Torre, Gutiérrez and Hérnández 2017); We see it in the generation of a spiritual self-management that in Europe was influenced by the rise in educational level and the collapse of collective controls linked to urbanization and the privatization of life (Bourdieu, 1988) but which in Latin America seems to accompany us since long-standing and also occurs in popular contexts (Suárez, 2006); We see it in the continuities between the daily sacred experience of Latin American citizens and the orientations in action in the public sphere (Morello et al., 2017). Transformations on the level of the symbolic have real consequences. So what is the relationship between the individuation referred to by the author as support for citizenship, and the religious individuation described by Latin American scholars? I think it is a question open to empirical research, based on greater conceptual and operational clarity, under theoretical premises that allow the detection of multiple and complex causal directionalities.

Finally, I would like to point out another learning that seems key to achieving understanding in the transdisciplinary dialogue that concerns us: religion, as Danièle Hervieu-Léger puts it, is a transversal dimension to social experience. Among scholars of the religious phenomenon there is a constant tension between addressing what is specifically religious and attending to its interweaving in all the extension of the social (2004). Therefore, it seems to me that instead of making religion a specific section within the proposed scheme of possible responses to marginalization, it would be very productive to explore how religious expressions are linked to each of those possibilities indicated by the author. Religion is embedded in all of them, although not always in a hopeful way from the point of view of the empowerment of the marginalized:

In the violence (s): in the justification of its exercise between individuals or between groups and institutions, in the creation of support networks between victims of it, in the devotions that are part of the resilience of the vulnerable (Delgado , 2018), in the creation of self-defense networks, including in the creation of discipline and codes of honor among organized violence groups, as analyzed by Claudio Lomnitz (2016). In the dynamics of open conflicts well described by the author, the identity and sacralization dynamics of the gangs' territory are crossed by religious experiences and devotions (Marcial, 2006; Yllescas, 2018).

In migration (s): in the devotions that migrants carry and bring and that constitute symbolic supports in the face of uncertainty, and material supports when humanitarian networks and congregations alleviate their needs in transit and in the establishment; in the construction of diasporic communities; in the strengthening of cultural and political citizenships in the places of destination (Rosaldo, 2000; Odgers, 2006; Odgers and Ruiz, 2009; Rivera 2006), as is the case of various national and religious minorities in the United States, and even the conformation of a cultural / religious / political identity of “Latinos” (Oboler, 2013; De la Torre and Gutiérrez, 2013). The "resistance responses", well documented by the author, are traversed by experiences of religiosity.

In collective actions with transformative possibilities: beyond the three cases well selected by the author, the feminist movements and the recognition of indigenous identities alluded to in the initial section of the article regarding the historical keys to understanding the generation of inequality They are imbricated with movements that, although they are not socially recognized as religious, claim the experience of a spirituality different from those of the Christian institutional religions, legitimizing patriarchalism and anthropocentrism that sustains the exploitation of the earth. For the first case we can trace a whole body of literature on eco-feminist spirituality (ie. Longman, 2018), as well as recent Latin American works that propose how the spiritual exploration carried out by women's circles, for example, generates a new body awareness of gender that impacts the very bases of discrimination and the colonization of female bodies (Ramírez , 2019; Felitti and Rohatsch, 2018). Another great vein is the development of a feminist theology, which deconstructs the patriarchal narrative that has marked institutional religions. For the second case of indigenous recognition movements, we can observe the imbrication of the spiritual matrix new age with the different worldviews of indigenous Latin American origin that claim the sacred character of the earth, thought as Tonantzin, Madre, Pachamama (De la Torre, Gutiérrez and Juárez, 2016), and that support the articulation of transnational alliances for the defense of territories of ethnic refuge from the extractivism of mining exploitation, for example (Liffman, 2017).

I conclude by reiterating the value of large-scale interpretive and diagnostic works, such as that of Juan Pablo Pérez, for the expansion of the reflective capacity and the impact of our individual works; and at the same time, proposing that the place where we analytically place religion in said diagnostic works constitutes a subject of transdisciplinary theoretical and methodological dialogue, which cannot be taken for granted when using research results from different disciplines and specialties as sources. In this case, faced with the question about religion as a resource for the empowerment of the marginalized, the conclusion that religion constitutes a mere adaptive response owes much to an isolated, reactive and de facto, almost epiphenomenal location of the religious symbolic in the social life in the proposed analytical scheme. Facing and discussing this location as an issue in itself would open up new possibilities for the construction of complex collaborative diagnoses. We would thus obtain a rich and kaleidoscopic vision of the role of religion; we would see it simultaneously embedded in multiple socio-political processes in Latin America with different spatialities and temporalities, and with different directionality: in some cases it can function as an adaptive response that reproduces a status quo, or even being involved in the very generation of alienation and disempowerment of the subordinates; in others, as a resource for resilience and resistance in the face of growing precariousness and vulnerability in all areas of life; in still others, as a symbolic and material process for the reconstruction of memories, decolonization of bodies, defense of territories and the rights of individual and collective subjects.


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