Volume 4, Issue 2, Autumn 2018
Latin America’s Contemporary Religious Imaginary
This paper explores how the unfulfilled promises of modernity, both of security and prosperity, affect the Latin American religious imaginary. I study the idea of a ‘religious social imaginary’ not only as a theoretical construct, but also as an interpretative tool to analyze empirical data. This imaginary is composed of an image of the divine in relationship with humanity, a set of cultural practices that shape these interactions, and the expression of a moral order that mirrors this construction of divinity. I use a nonrandom sample of 12 in-depth, semi-structured life history and object elicitation interviews with poor Latin Americans from Córdoba, Argentina, Montevideo, Uruguay, and Lima, Peru. Latin Americans of low income and limited educational backgrounds are the best informants for this study because they are, paradoxically, both the people modernity left behind as well as the popular image of a threat to modernity’s benefits for the rest of the population. I find that the participants construct an image of an accessible, intimate divinity that provides both companionship and protection, which manifests in other people as well as objects, and requires believers to embody these same caring characteristics. I propose that the construction of this contemporary Latin American religious imaginary is not only a response to the unique experience of modernity in the region, but also a tool of resistance against the hegemony inherent in modernity.