Dawley, “From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God”

Dawley, William. 2018. From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God: Masculinities, ‘Spirituality,’ and the Group-ization of Religious Life in Northern Costa Rica. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).

Abstract: This piece explores the support group movement’s role in restructuring Latin American religion and contributing to the trans-denominational and trans-secular spread of the “reformation of machismo”—Elizabeth Brusco’s (2010) name for Latin American evangelicalism’s focus on transforming men and masculinity. Using ethnographic data from two years of fieldwork in an urbanizing area of northern Costa Rica and life history interviews with men from three churches and three men’s groups there, this paper argues that a region-wide popular discourse about a “crisis of masculinity/machismo” and a “crisis of the family” has broadened the appeal of efforts to transform men and masculinity—not only among most churches, but especially among a proliferating number of trans-denominational and non-religious men’s groups that are modeled implicitly on all-male Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which are extraordinarily popular throughout Latin America. This essay’s argument borrows from Wuthnow’s analysis of “the restructuring of [North] American religion” under the influence of the support group movement (1988, 1994a, 1994b, 1998), but it also employs an historiographic approach, exploring the origins of this restructuring of Latin American religion in the same “Methodist model” of social organization that has driven evangelical growth throughout the Americas (and men’s conversions especially) during times of social change and male social dislocation (Martin 1990). The conversion histories of two Catholic men are used to illustrate how it is participation in these groups, rather than formal conversion, that transforms many men’s lives, their gender identities, and their relationships with others. Finally, the possible contributions of this research to anthropological studies of religion, ethics, and morality are explored, in particular the role that models of social organization might play in the spread of new ethical practices, discourses, or identity models.

 

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