Oosterbaan, “Transposing Brazilian Carnival”

Oosterbaan, Martijn. 2017. Transposing Brazilian Carnival: Religion, Cultural Heritage, and Secularism in Rio de Janeiro. American Ethnologist Online First, DOI: 10.1111/aman.12930

Abstract: This article discusses the rise of evangelical carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro in relation to spectacular carnival parades that feature Afro-Brazilian religious elements. The article exposes divergent intersections of religion and cultural heritage in Brazilian carnival. The first intersection aims to affirm the intrinsic connection between samba enredo carnival music and Afro-Brazilian religion by means of cultural heritage narratives, and the second type employs similar narratives to undo this connection, attempting to make samba enredo accessible to evangelical religious performance. The article demonstrates the important role secularism plays in upholding distinctions between “culture” and “religion,” and shows how evangelical carnival groups engage with such historical formations by means of estratégia (strategy)—evangelical performances in cultural styles that are commonly perceived as “worldly.” This estratégia depends on and proposes a particular set of semiotic ideologies that allows for the separation of cultural form and spiritual content. Efforts to open up “national” cultural styles to different religious groups in light of multicultural politics are laudable, but advocates of such politics should keep in mind that cultural heritage regimes concerning samba push in the opposite direction and support a different set of semiotic ideologies.