Dengah, “Examining Costly Religious Rituals”

Dengah, H.J. Francois II. 2017. Being Part of the Nacao: Examining Costly Religious Rituals in a Brazilian Neo-Pentecostal Church. Ethos 45(1): 48-74.

Abstract: Neo-Pentecostalism is notable for its emphasis on “prosperity theology,” the belief that economic prosperity is available to the faithful. Members give monetary offerings in exchange for later blessings of financial prosperity. Despite the faith’s rapid growth worldwide, the influence of prosperity theology on believers’ lives is still being understood. This mixed-method study examines Brazilian neo-Pentecostal rituals through the dual paradigms of religious signaling and cognitive dissonance theory. Signaling theory posits that costly behaviors, such as giving significant sums of money, are honest signs of an individual’s intent toward group cooperation. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals will justify the costly signals required by overvaluing membership in the group. The integration of these two approaches provides a comprehensive model for costly ritual participation by addressing both social and individual motivating factors. This study furthers our understanding of neo-Pentecostalism by examining how prosperity theology rituals influence behaviors, cognitions, and the psychological well-being.

Dengah, “How Religious Status Shapes Psychological Well-being”

Dengah, H. J. François.  2014. How Religious Status Shapes Psychological Well-being: Cultural Consonance as a Measure of Subcultural Status among Brazilian Pentecostals.  Social Science and Medicine.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Research on subjective social status has long recognized that individuals occupy multiple social hierarchies, with socioeconomic status (SES) being but one. The issue, as such, has been to identify culturally meaningful measures of social status. Through cognitive anthropological theory and methods, I show that it is possible to identify multiple cultural models of “status,” and objectively measure an individual’s level of adherence, or consonance, with each—effectively placing them within the multidimensional space of social hierarchies. Through a mixed qualitative and quantitative study of 118 Brazilian Pentecostals carried out from 2011-2012, I show that dominant and limitedly-distributed cultural models of status operate simultaneously and concurrently in the lives of those who hold them. Importantly, each marker of cultural status moderates the other’s association with psychological well-being. I argue that the importance of a given social hierarchy is framed by cultural values. For Brazilian Pentecostals, their limitedly distributed model of religious status alters the influence of more dominant societal indicators on psychological well-being. The interaction between religious and secular lifestyle statuses on psychological health is stronger than the association of SES, effectively explaining 51% of the variance. This finding suggests that among some populations, limitedly distributed cultural models of status may be a dominant force in shaping measures of well-being.