Selka, “Black Catholicism in Brazil”

Selka, Stephen.  2014.  Black Catholicism in Brazil.  Journal of Africana Religions 2(2): 287-295.

Abstract: Studies of Afro-Brazilian religion have tended to focus on Candomblé and other African-derived religions, and this is especially true in studies focused on the northeastern state of Bahia. Indeed, Bahia has long been imagined as a kind of living museum where African culture has been preserved in the Americas, a place where Christianity appears only as a thin veneer. This article focuses on my work on the intersection of Candomblé and Catholicism and more specifically on the Afro-Catholic Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death (Irmandade de Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte, or simply Boa Morte), whose members are women of African descent involved with Candomblé. Because of its grounding in African-derived religion, observers often wonder whether the sisterhood’s yearly festival is actually Candomblé ritual masquerading as a Catholic celebration. I argue that behind this question is the questionable presumption that Catholicism is somehow epiphenomenal in Afro-Brazilian religious life, a view that I contend is rooted in specific racial ideologies and cultural nationalisms and stems from certain ideas concerning the relationship between religion and belief.

Selka, “Demons and Money”

Selka, Stephen.  2014.  Demons and Money: Possessions in Brazilian Pentecostalism.  In Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions, Paul Christopher Johnson, ed.  Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Excerpt: “…this chapter explores interrelated understandings of spiritual and material possession – “possession by” and “possession of” – in the [Universal Church of the Kingdom of God] and similar neo-Pentecostal churches.  Spirit possession is central to Afro-Brazilia religions such as Candombé and Umbanda.  yet many Pentecostal Christians believe that the spirits that possess the practitioners of these religions are demons, and the practices of the [Universal church] in particular focus on liberating people from demonic influence.  This influence is seen as the cause of afflictions ranging from physcial illness to depression and of misfortunes such as divorce or unemployment.

In addition, some Pentecostal churches, especially third-wave or neo-Pentecostal ones, espouse what is often referred to derisively as the “theology of prosperity.”  Also know as the “health and wealth” gospel in North America, its proponents preach that the acquisition of material possessions is possible through faith.  The [Universal church] and similar neo-Pentecostal churches combine their promises of prosperity with an emphasis on deliverance from demons.  At first glance the relationship between these two kinds of possession might seem spurious, but they are closely connected.  In the most explicit formulation of this connection, as we see in the [Universal church], liberation from spiritual possession opens the way for the accumulation of material possessions.  That is, demonic control (possession by) impedes our realization of the prosperity (possession of) that God desires for human beings.”

Selka, “Cityscapes and contact zones”

Selka, Stephen. 2013. Cityscapes and contact zones: Christianity, Candomble, and African heritage tourism in Brazil. Religion 43(3): 403-420.

Abstract: In this article the author explores the ways in which Catholic, evangelical, and Candomblé actors produce competing framings that shape encounters taking place in the city of Cachoeira in the Brazilian state of Bahia. The framing of Cachoeira as a site of heritage tourism – one where local religious practices are read as part of the African heritage and attractions for African American ‘roots tourists’ – obscures as much as it reveals. This is not to suggest that this framing is entirely inaccurate or to deny that many visitors themselves describe their trips to Bahia this way. But I contend that the ‘heritage frame’ masks key issues that complicate diasporic encounters in Cachoeira, particularly different understandings of heritage and religion and their relationship to black identity that African Americans and Afro-Brazilians bring to these encounters.