Religious Studies in Latin America. Renée de la Torre


This article critically reviews recent contributions to religious research in Latin America. Social scientists have long considered religion to be a struc- turing feature of culture and local society. Owing to the centrality of Catholi- cism in Latin America, early studies privileged the political influences of the Catholic Church with respect to the state and society at large. The "other- ness" of native folk religions received less attention, with scholars undervalu- ing the presence of indigenous and African religiosities. In Latin America, religions are currently experiencing a diversification and reconfiguration, owing in part to the growing influence of different Christian denomina- tions, particularly Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Religious change is also occurring at the margins of institutional churches through New Age, neo-pagan, neo-Indian, neo-esoteric, and self-styled religiosities, as well as through popular religious syncretisms, indicating new experiments with what is considered sacred. This dynamism poses theoretical and conceptual chal- lenges to scholars analyzing religious diversity and the renewed role that religions play in contemporary societies with respect to secularization, syn- cretism, and hybridization as well as the emergence of alternative identities (gender, sexual, ideological and political).