Abstract: The establishment of a Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Guatemala (including other countries in Latin America) in 2013 further complicated an already fragmented Guatemalan religious landscape. Under the leadership of a former Roman Catholic priest, now a Syriac Orthodox bishop, a religious renewal movement emerged in 2003, which was excommunicated in 2006 by the Roman Catholic Church. In 2013, the movement joined the Syriac Orthodox Church, whose Patriarch resides in Damascus, Syria. Members of this archdiocese are almost exclusively Mayan in origin, mostly live in poor, rural areas, and display charismatic-type practices. The communities that first joined this movement were located in areas severely affected by the armed conflict (1960–1996); but it subsequently attracted more diverse communities, including the cofradías (religious lay brotherhoods). This article studies the emergence of a Syriac Orthodox Church (SOC) in Guatemala, and argues that becoming Syriac Orthodox allowed these diverse communities to reconcile different aspects of their local world (traditional and charismatic practices, enhanced lay leadership, local Mayan identity) and its very shortcomings increased its attractiveness. This paper adopts a multi-disciplinary approach and draws upon diverse sources, including fieldwork in Guatemala and Los Angeles, to capture voices both inside and outside the archdiocese. While the Pentecostal and Catholic Charismatic movements in Guatemala have already attracted scholarly attention, the appearance of Orthodox Christianity on a large scale raises new questions.
Abstract: Although Q’eqchi’-Maya Mainstream Catholics and Charismatic Catholics in the Guatemala highlands share many of the same physical and social spaces, the relationship between them is a tense one due to their differing modes of ritual practice. Although this conflict rarely comes to a head directly, on one particular occasion a highly ranked member of a Mainstream congregation, and indeed an outspoken critic of the Charismatics, entered the village chapel during the latter’s weekly service and proceeded openly to criticize their ritual practices, leaders’ religious knowledge, and relationship to the larger institutional Catholic Church. This article analyzes this event as a means of furthering our understanding of what happens when unexpected circumstances threaten the integrity of a religious group’s ritual. How do participants try to circumvent, mitigate or otherwise manage such an occurrence? Examining the spoken and embodied actions taken by both the speaker criticizing the congregation and his intended audience sheds light on the interactive strategies each used to manage their social and ethical standing during the uneasy interaction. This article draws critical attention to the way adherents to two related but distinct forms of Christianity establish and contest their modes of religious authority through language, discourse, and bodily behavior. By investigating an episode in which two modes of Christian practice came into direct confrontation with each other, we can better understand how differing ways of being Christian are dialogically constituted.
Hoenes del Pinal, Eric. 2015. “From Vatican II to speaking in tongues: theology and language policy in a Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholic parish” Language Policy DOI 10.1007/s10993-015-9364-0 [Pre-Publication Release]
Abstract: One of the most far-reaching reforms undertaken by the Catholic Church as part of the Second Vatican Council was the adoption of vernacular languages in the liturgy. The transition from Latin to vernaculars was not unproblematic, how- ever, as it raised several practical and theoretical questions regarding the relation- ship between local churches and their languages. This paper examines the issues of language choice in the liturgy of an ethnically homogenous Q’eqchi’-Maya parish in Guatemala. While the aims of Vatican II have largely been met in the parish with Q’eqchi’ functioning as its de facto language, within the last decade Charismatic Catholicism has presented a challenge to Q’eqchi’ liturgical monolingualism. Catholic Charismatics’ theological commitment to unmediated experience of the divine is manifested through linguistic practices that subvert Q’eqchi’s status in the parish. Specifically Charismatics’ use of Spanish in their services has become an issue of contention in the parish. Though members of both congregations are equally likely to be functionally bilingual in Spanish and Q’eqchi’, language choice in ritual settings has become a marked and highly charged point of contention between them. In examining the conflict this paper proposes that the congregations’ language practices can be understood as de facto policies authorized by their distinct constructions of the role of language in religion. The paper contextualizes this local debate in light of the historical changes in the Catholic Church’s policies regarding the use of vernaculars in the liturgy.
Abstract: This article addresses the politics of space in the study of American religion. Part 1 argues that an attention to broken space, namely an assumed division between the sacred and the profane as well as between the local and the global, limits the kind of political relationships that the scholar can posit between religion and space. Part 2 proposes the term “affective space” as a flexible analytical tool with broad utility for the study of American religion, one that prompts scholars to address those social processes that constitute felt difference amid an unevenly interrelated world. To animate the production of affective spaces, this article draws on more than a decade of ethnographic research in and on postwar Guatemala.
The decade of the 1990s witnessed the development of two pivotal moments in the modern history of Guatemala. In 1996, ten years of violence and genocide came to an end with the consummation of the Peace Accord, in Oslo, Norway, between the Guatemalan army and the guerrilla insurgency. This internationally monitored cease-fire opened the necessary national space for an indigenous political movement known as the “Movimiento Maya” or pan-Maya Movement. Among the demands of this movement was a call for the redefinition of Guatemala as a multiethnic, pluralistic, and multilingual society, with full political and cultural rights for the Maya peoples.
On a different level, this new national agenda included the recovery, development, and diffusion of Maya spirituality, which, according to activist Maya-Kaqchikel and Presbyterian Victorino Similox, required a fundamental reassessment of Christian theology within the framework of Maya cultural paradigms. The creation of Maya hermeneutics represented one of the most challenging tasks in this process because it entailed rescuing and decoding the necessary symbols, rites, and myths from ancient Maya civilization.At the center of this theological reformulation was the Popol Wuj, or sacred book, of the ancient Maya, which became the heuristic source for knowledge of the ancient word. However, the prominence that this sacred text played in the spiritual life of Maya communities was a point of unresolved contention between Maya Catholics, Maya Protestants, and those Maya committed to ancient religious beliefs. Although this national theological dialogue over the spiritual relevance of the Popol Wuj occurred two decades ago, the theological implications it evoked find deep roots in five hundred years of Christianization of the Maya population of highland Guatemala.
This study takes an unorthodox approach to the Popol Wuj, given that most traditional scholarship focuses exclusively on its mytho-historical content in order to understand the precolonial Maya culture and worldview. This essay, however, aims to complement such approaches by analyzing the Popol Wuj within the two contexts of the spiritual conversion that the highland Guatemala Maya-K’iche’ population endured under the auspices of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. This comparative analysis between the Dominican Friar Francisco Ximénez’s missionary campaign in the seventeenth century and that of the Presbyterian missionaries Paul and Dora Burgess early in the twentieth century provides an opportunity to inquire into how this creation narrative has impacted the missionaries’ mind-set from colonial to modern times. It will be argued that in both cases the Popol Vuh narrative determined the way these missionaries constructed their image of the Maya-K’iche’ peoples, reshaped their theological positions on Maya religious beliefs, and dictated their agendas so as to best convert the native population to Christianity.
Abstract: This article explores a Pentecostal vision of economic development in Central America and considers how it becomes ‘really real’ for adherents, in part, through a sense of place. These Christians maintain that economic progress can only occur through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, whose role in development becomes apparent to them as they encounter a correspondence between three elements at three different churches: the church’s level of prosperity; the intensity of the Holy Spirit; and the level of development associated with the broader locality. The article first describes this development project and explores the town of Copán Ruinas, Honduras – considered the least developed of the three places – and then provides an ethnographic account of all three churches, moving ‘up’ from Copán Ruinas through San Pedro Sula (the wealthiest city in Honduras) and ending in Guatemala City. To track the differences between these churches, the article attends to the variations in texture between them.
Abstract: “In North Carolina, a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization facilitates a child sponsorship program that connects North American evangelical Christians with at-risk children in one of postwar Guatemala City’s most violent neighborhoods: La Paloma. Pitched in the name of gang prevention, child sponsors help create a context in which these Guatemalan kids might choose God over gangs. Based on fieldwork in North Carolina and in Guatemala, with both sponsors and the sponsored, this article explores how child sponsorship makes the work of gang prevention dependent on the work of self-cultivation. It is an ethnographic approach attuned to what this article understands as the subject of prevention, that is, the individual imagined and acted upon by the imperative to prevent. This includes at-risk youths, in all their racialized otherness, but also (and increasingly so) North American evangelicals who self-consciously craft their subjectivities through their participation in gang prevention. The subject of prevention’s observable outcome is a kind of segregation with its own spatial logic. The practice of evangelical gang prevention ultimately produces an observable kind of inequality that says something about the surgically selective nature of Central American security today. Some Guatemalan youth connect with North Americans. Others get left behind.”
Abstract: Amid unprecedented rates of deportation as well as an ever-growing gang problem, bilingual call centers have become viable spaces of control in postwar Guatemala. They provide deported ex–gang members with not only well-paying jobs but also a work environment structured by Protestant images and imperatives. Be humble. Be punctual. Be patient. These corporately Christian virtues minister to the deported at every turn, inviting them to assume and become subsumed by ascetic subjectivities. These are monkish dispositions that provide a vital lynchpin between the political, the economic, and the subjective. They also coordinate (at the level of conduct) projects of capitalist accumulation with efforts at regional security. This assemblage of industries and ethics, made in the name of control, is what this article understands as the soul of security.