Serving Faith: A Comparative Study of Religious Influence and Faith-Based Community Service in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Description Cultural anthropology Religion Latin American studies Brazil, Candomblè, Community, Neo-Pentecostalism, Religion, Service Anthropology Degree Awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University Multi-faith communities are becoming more prevalent, with different religious groups and adherents living and working side by side; moreover, religious institutions are often the primary providers of charity and service when welfare support is lacking. So what happens when people of different religious backgrounds share a community and its ailments? This dissertation takes as its focus a multi-faith community in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil and scrutinizes how three religious institutions (the Catholic St. John’s, the Neo-Pentecostal UCKG, and Candomblé’s Ilê Axé) seek to make an impact on the community through faith-based community service projects. This study asks how religious institutions influence adherents ideologically and morally. How practitioners internalize those beliefs and how religious influence is then expressed through community actions. Findings revealed that religious influence is articulated through discourse, “feeling,” identity, and service. Discourse was the first mode of religious influence investigated. Individualist ideology was expressed through sermons and newspapers in the UCKG and sought to establish self-reliance and self-determination as a Neo-Pentecostal moral value, privileging direct unmitigated relationships with God. St. John’s sermons and newspapers revealed the importance of Jesuit ideology, specifically through a literal interpretation of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s call to “find God in all things.” The creation myth in Candomblé provided two central symbols, the orí or head and the xirê or wheel, which encouraged an ideological worldview based on their symbolic qualities. These ideologies, individualism, merging the sacred with the mundane and xirê and orí, are woven into discourses of faith to assert and reinforce disciplinary guidelines for ideal religious belief, practice, and identity. What adherents, themselves, said had the greatest influence in their decisions and daily lives were “feelings.” This study highlights how religious institutions use the senses, through ritual acts, to reinforce ideological and moral values. For example, sound held an important but different purpose in each space. In St. John’s, impromptu sing-a-longs to samba classics served as a sonic mode of unification. At the UCKG, loud individualized prayers and songs shouted in dissonant unison prepared adherents for direct and personalized connections to the Holy Spirit. In Ilė Axé, the rapid and repetitive patterns of percussion and ritual songs at feasts emphasized an alternative communication system to the spiritual realm. Findings for how religious influence is reflected through community service actions revealed that cultural citizenship, or the inequalities in cultural and social benefits, legal rights and aspects of state belonging, has a significant effect on all three religious institutions. The UCKG’s drug rehabilitation initiative reinforces individualist and neoliberal values that lessen the community’s dependence on state welfare. St. John’s avoids overt political acts in the community; instead it focused on deepening intra-group relationships by reinforcing the values of equality and unity between adherents. Ilê Axé’s community service actions draws on the education and skills of particular members to advance social and political awareness and shift social perspectives on injustice in the community. Looking at the three religious instituions’ civic actions simultaneously suggested that most faith-based community actions are influenced by a pursuit of belonging and legitimacy in the nation-state.
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