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.
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: While much attention has been paid to how linguistic practices and language ideologies shape local forms of Christianity, relatively little attention has been paid to the role that non-verbal communicative codes and people’s ideas about them play in these same processes. This paper analyzes the gestural and bodily practices of Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholics belonging to two denominations (Mainstream and Charismatic Catholicism) to argue that non-linguistic practices play a significant role in constructing and performing moral and religious identities. I argue that because local discourses about what constitutes appropriate bodily behavior in religious rituals invoke some of the same kinds of value judgments and are predicated on the same semiotic processes as metalinguistic discourses, a fuller understanding of how language ideologies underpin Christian subjectivities needs to take into account how a wide range of communicative practices relate to each other.
A part of the special issue Beyond Logos: Extensions of the Language Ideology Paradigm in the Study of Global Christianity (-ies)