Home 603 Mesoamerica Cultures

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Week 1-2 Carmack

Week 3 Whisnat

Week 4 Whisnat

Week 5 Whisnat

Week 6 Nash

Week 6 Essay 1 Question

Week 6 Essay

Week 7 Nash

Week 8 Manz

Week 9 Manz

Week 10 Binford

Week 11 Binford

Week 12 Oppenheimer

Week 12 Quinones

Week 12 Essay 2 Question

Week 12 Essay 2

Week 13 Oppenheimer

Week 13 Quinones

Week 14 Dow

Week 15 Dow

Final Paper


Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
December 1, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

Holy Saints and Fiery Preachers Part I

Chapter 1 Protestantism in Mesoamerica: The Old within the New by James W. Dow: This chapter is by James Dow, one of the editors of the volume. This is the introduction to the other chapters and uses extensive statistical information to make comparisons of conversion rates to Protestantism in Mesoamerica. He focuses on two themes that come up again and again in discussions of the transformation to Protestantism: that the Protestant religion is compatible with native cultures; and that “Protestantism is linked to the rise of the market economy” (3). First the growth must be measured and that is why statistical information is included in this chapter. The chapters are arranged in geographical order from north to south and therefore should not need to be read in any particular order. A good portion of this chapter is devoted to a discussion of how the rise of Protestantism is related to the expansion of the market economy.

As Dow states in his concluding paragraph “The political power on Protestantism comes from its ability to break links with oppressive ideologies” (19) be they Catholic, or the native cargo system run by the “local civil-religious hierarchies” (18). Protestantism must give hope to those in dire situations. Also is seen as a way of diversion away from local economic seclusion to free market capitalism. It is capitalisms main support and came into being at a time when people of Europe needed a foundation for individuals compiling wealth and then reinvesting their wealth to create even more wealth. Accumulation of capital provides a cushion of security. The Protestant way of attaining this is through a good work ethic and saving, not indulging on the self. Still seems like wealthy Protestants go out and indulge as a show of prosperity.

Question: From the page 18 “state-imposed one-party political structures” are supposed to “interfere with the institutionalization of the market economy.” So my question is: The PRI was essentially a one party system. Did this party structure inhibit Mexico’s entry into the global economy; the very thing the party desired the most?

Chapter 2 Evangelicals in The Lower Mayo Valley by Mary I. O’Connor: Data gathered from ethnographic fieldwork in the Mayo Valley by author Mary O’Connor shows statistically that there has been a growth spurt in the conversion rate to Protestantism. Her interest was the “relationship between economic and ethnic factors, with religious behavior as a symbolic means of expressing both economic and ethnic change” (27). She says there is a continuum from “most-Mayo” to “most-Mestizo” living in the two small towns in which she spent her field time. According to O’Connor, a Mayo can become a Mestizo by converting to Protestantism!

This again brings up the question of what is a Mestizo? A Mestizo is not a racial identity as much as an ethnic identity? Mestizo means Spanish and Indian mixed blood sometimes too does it not? That was originally what I thought it meant. One definition of Ladino had to do with a Latin American with western values. To me that meant it could be any blood, Spanish, Mestizo, or Indian, as long as they had westernized notions and I guess this means they are pro-capitalist, does it not?

Anyway, observations by O’Connor seem to support Dow’s view that Protestantism allows the individual more freedom and the choice to accumulate wealth not allowed by the Mayo religion where there is much involvement with the community in the fiesta system although in this area participation as representative of a saint is voluntary whereas it is mandatory in other areas of Mexico.

In the small towns which O’Connor was doing her fieldwork, Mayo ethnicity means speakers of Mayo, that participate in “the Mayo folk-Catholic system” (31), have a Mayo surname, and live in a Mayo constructed house. A Mayo house has at least two “separate rooms connected by a ramada, an area covered only by a roof” (31). The kitchen is also a ramada that contains a wood-burning adobe stove of traditional construction. The rooms are wattle and daub, with packed dirt floor, and glassless windows with shutters. There are also orthodox Catholics in which participation in ritual is not central, this sect is indicative of Meztizo identity. Mestizos have a different style of house that is of painted or stuccoed brick, with cement floors and connected rooms, the kitchen stove is more modern gas type. 

There are three Protestant churches in the area of study, one requires members to tithe, participate actively, dress appropriately, and read the bible. This church is wealthy enough to pay a salaried pastor that lives in church owned housing. The second church seems to have only poor members, they are not required to tithe, giving only if they can, and their pastor receives a small sum of money to pay bills with. There is a strict dress code that men and women must follow covering themselves from neck to ankle and wrist. All refer to each other as brother and sister, and all are considered equals except the pastor who is to be obeyed. There is emphasis on the coming Apocalypse; only those who have repented will be rewarded. They are the Holy Rollers that flail around and talk in tongues. The third church is a middle ground between these. Tithing is not mandatory; the congregation elects officials and pastors. They do discuss the Apocalypse, but they do not encourage the speaking in tongues. They are neither wealthy nor poor.

A Mayo that converts to Protestantism vows to cease participation in the rituals of the folk-Catholic tradition that is part of the ethnic Mayo identity. This seems like a drastic break from tradition. But as I stated before, a Mayo can become a Mestizo simply by becoming a Protestant. This raises his status in the community for some reason. Another factor that may be influencing the conversion process is the location of the church to the townspeople. Very thorough evaluation using numbers as well as interviews and participant observation. One more note: the churches are pretty small. One church gives its sermon to seven people. That isn’t a lot of people. I can’t see that she has tied economics into her article, except in that the first church of wealthy Pentecostals converted to Protestantism after a brief economic boom in the area, and the congregation isolates itself from the rest of the townspeople, they depend on each other to maintain their economic success. And the second church (also Pentecostal) the members of which are impoverished are those poor that have suffered most in the process of globalization of the economy in the area. They are resigned to being poor in this life and look forward to the rewards of their repentance in the afterlife. This is a way of giving hope to people, to make life seem worth living even if there is no chance of succeeding in this world.

Chapter 3 Religious Affiliation in Indian Mexico by Carlos Garma: “Religion is a dynamic element in native communities” (57). Garma uses census data to find the percentages of religious affiliation in localities “considered to be ethnically Indian,” those where 70 percent or more “of the population speaks and Amerindian language” (58). He compared that data to the statistics for the total population statistics of religious affiliation for the whole of Mexico. There were marked differences in percentage for those claiming Catholic, Protestant, or None for their religion, noting that there may be problems with the categories allowed in the census (being too narrow of categories). Overall, between Catholic, and Protestant, you get the idea that a larger portion of Mexican Indians have converted to Protestantism than other ethnic groups.

Garma then compares ethnographic data from his own studies in the state of Puebla. The results of the comparison between Zapotitlán, Ixtepec, Pahuatlán, and Zongozotla vary greatly from Catholic majority with small, medium, and large conversions to Protestantism, to Catholic minority because of a substantial percent conversion to Protestantism. He links the conversions to Protestantism to the Catholic move towards intolerance of spiritual healing and the Pentecostal emphasis on the laying of hands and on miracles which are more in line with the native religion of the region. Other reasons for conversion may be the absence of a Catholic Church.   

Chapter 4 Demographic Factors Affecting Protestant Conversions in Three Mexican Villages by James W. Dow: Focuses on the spread of Protestantism as an “example of how the material conditions of life affect religious change” (73). Dow did fieldwork in Tenango de Doria over a 23-year period “ten visits totaling 53 months” (73) of study. This amount of time allowed him to view religious change over time. Dow compares three population centers in the municipio of Ñähñu Indians. The Pentecostal religious doctrine allows freedom from authority and Dow shows that the conversion to Protestant Pentecostal religion is the reaction against the civil-religious hierarchy and the mandatory participation and expenditure for religious rituals. It is economic burden the ethnic religious authority places on the young men of the group to spend all their income on religious festivals that become avoidable through conversion to Protestantism. Conversion to Protestantism is compared to population growth in the three villages.

Lastly, Dow does a computer simulation to compare the ratio of old to young men (those with power in the civil-religious hierarchy and those without, respectively) from the years 1910 to 1990. Simulation was required because missing data had to be interpolated. He used only male data (80). Dow shows that the pressure to convert to Protestantism is preceded by a decline in the ratio of young men (15-34) to old men (35 and over) (81-82). This puts the responsibility for the religious conversion of the group on the young men. When there are less young men available, there is more of a financial burden on them to donate dollars to the fiesta system. At this crucial low the economic burden of the fiesta system is too demanding making the young men ripe for a change. 

Chapter 5 Looking for a System of Order in Live: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico by Patricia Fortuny Loret de Mola
“The search for order and balance in live” (88) are two attributes that the Jehovah’s
Witnesses place great emphasis on and they are attractive to people living in minor or major chaos that want to find meaning in their lives. A little control is a good way to begin the search for harmony. In the opening paragraph author Fortuny asks an interview question of informant “Tania,” asking if “people would live better if everyone were a Witness?” (87). In the answer you find the lure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in strict conduct of the self, order, and rules for everyday life.

The article contains an excellent overview of the Jehovah’s Witnesses routine, the many days of meetings and how they are organized, and the mission activities the members are required to do. Also, she brings you up to date on the general state of the town of Guadalajara where the study was carried out. She uses two individuals as informants that joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses as case studies. One man, one woman, one in semi-impoverished conditions, one middle-class well enough off. Their reasons for joining varied. The old semi-impoverished man felt that the Catholic Church was not meeting his needs. His joining was more of a reaction against the conduct of the Catholic clergy towards him, which he describes as humiliating as compared to the conduct of the Witnesses who traveled at great inconvenience to themselves to come to his home to teach him. He must have considered this a show of respect, and he did appreciate the time and effort and orderliness of the meetings. 

The second case study was a middle-aged woman, “Tania” mentioned above, who was looking for a sense of order in her life. She described other church meetings that she attended as out of control and given to excess. The teachings and conduct of the Witnesses definitely give her a sense of control and security.

Chapter 6 Godparenthood Ties Among Zapotec Women and the Effects of Protestant Conversion by Nicole L. Sault: The Catholic religion encourages godparenting, which is a sponsorship roll that publicly announces a spiritual link between godparent and godchild. The church recognized union links families. The sponsors gain status in the community; the godchildren gain a protector and educator. There are many occasions in which the godparents and godchildren meet and interact. The relationships are ideally those of great respect and trust. It in effect creates an extended family. To convert from Catholicism to Protestantism, one is supposed to cut these godparent/godchild ties (among other things). Since the traditional elements of compadrazgo contribute to the well being many communities, breaking these godparent/godchild ties causes tension and resentment. The author sees varying adjustments to religious conversions from complete breaks and suffering the consequences of these breaks, to continued sponsorship publicly or privately. Cutting the ties of godparenthood has much greater negative consequences for women than men. 



Dow, James W., and Alan R. Sandstrom (eds.)
2001    Holy Saints and Fiery Preachers: The Anthropology of Protestantism in Mexico and Central America. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

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