Cover image for Activist Faith: Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile By Carol Ann Drogus and Hannah Stewart-Gambino

Activist Faith

Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile

Carol Ann Drogus, and Hannah Stewart-Gambino

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$35.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02550-6

224 pages
6" × 9"
2005

Activist Faith

Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile

Carol Ann Drogus, and Hannah Stewart-Gambino

“An extensive and powerful literature on religion, society, and politics in Latin America in recent years has begun with the assumption that most of the movements that surged in the struggle against military rule are dead, that most of the activists are scattered and burned out, and that the promise of civil society as a source of new values and a new kind of citizenship and political life was illusory. Many have assumed that the religiously inspired activism of that period left little lasting impact, but hardly anyone has actually looked at the activists themselves to see what remains, how they cope in a different, more open environment, and how they see and act on the present and future.

Activist Faith addresses these issues with a wealth of empirical detail from two key cases and with a richly interdisciplinary argument that draws on theorizing about social movements. The authors strive to understand what sustains activism and movements in radically different circumstances from those in which they arose. Their analysis is enriched by systematic attention to the impact of gender and gender-related issues on activism and movements. In the process, they shed much needed light on the fate of the activists and social movements that rose to prominence throughout Latin America during the 1980s.

This beautifully written book is a major achievement that gives us analytical tools for studying how movements and activists survive in the doldrums and when a cycle of protest peaks and societies move on.”

 

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"An extensive and powerful literature on religion, society, and politics in Latin America in recent years has begun with the assumption that most of the movements that surged in the struggle against military rule are dead, that most of the activists are scattered and burned out, and that the promise of civil society as a source of new values and a new kind of citizenship and political life was illusory. Many have assumed that the religiously inspired activism of that period left little lasting impact, but hardly anyone has actually looked at the activists themselves to see what remains, how they cope in a different, more open environment, and how they see and act on the present and future.

Activist Faith addresses these issues with a wealth of empirical detail from two key cases and with a richly interdisciplinary argument that draws on theorizing about social movements. The authors strive to understand what sustains activism and movements in radically different circumstances from those in which they arose. Their analysis is enriched by systematic attention to the impact of gender and gender-related issues on activism and movements. In the process, they shed much needed light on the fate of the activists and social movements that rose to prominence throughout Latin America during the 1980s.

This beautifully written book is a major achievement that gives us analytical tools for studying how movements and activists survive in the doldrums and when a cycle of protest peaks and societies move on."—Daniel H. Levine, University of Michigan

“An extensive and powerful literature on religion, society, and politics in Latin America in recent years has begun with the assumption that most of the movements that surged in the struggle against military rule are dead, that most of the activists are scattered and burned out, and that the promise of civil society as a source of new values and a new kind of citizenship and political life was illusory. Many have assumed that the religiously inspired activism of that period left little lasting impact, but hardly anyone has actually looked at the activists themselves to see what remains, how they cope in a different, more open environment, and how they see and act on the present and future.

Activist Faith addresses these issues with a wealth of empirical detail from two key cases and with a richly interdisciplinary argument that draws on theorizing about social movements. The authors strive to understand what sustains activism and movements in radically different circumstances from those in which they arose. Their analysis is enriched by systematic attention to the impact of gender and gender-related issues on activism and movements. In the process, they shed much needed light on the fate of the activists and social movements that rose to prominence throughout Latin America during the 1980s.

This beautifully written book is a major achievement that gives us analytical tools for studying how movements and activists survive in the doldrums and when a cycle of protest peaks and societies move on.”
“Two of today’s leading authorities on religion and politics in Latin America have teamed up to produce the first comprehensive study of women’s grassroots religious movements since the transition to democracy in Brazil and Chile. On a theoretical level, the book compels us to rethink the conventional wisdom about the ‘death’ of social movements in Latin America. On a more human level, the interviews with women activists give voice to ‘ordinary heroes’ so often absent from the literature. The tremendous access Drogus and Stewart-Gambino had to these women gives the analysis a degree of depth and insight that is hard to match.”
“This richly detailed and well-written book tackles a complex and under researched question: What kind of legacy does social movement activism leave behind, especially once the movement itself has declined? Drogus and Stewart-Gambino answer this question by conducting detailed interviews with women who were active in Christian base communities in Brazil and Chile during the ‘peak’ years of activism.”
“Despite the limitations of the research methods, this book offers a valuable contribution to an understudied area and should be read by anyone interested in current social movements in Latin America or in the relationship between the church and political activism.”

Carol Ann Drogus is Professor of Government at Hamilton College.

Hannah W. Stewart-Gambino is Professor of Political Science and Director of Global Citizenship at Lehigh University.

Contents

Acknowledgments

List of Acronyms

1. Activism and Its Aftermath

2. Understanding Invisibility: Perspectives on Social Movement Decline

3. Resurrecting Civil Society: Base Communities Under Military Rule

4. Earthquake Versus Erosion: Church Retreat and Social Movement Decline

5. Keeping the Faith: Empowerment and Activism in a New Era

6. Catholics and Pentecostals: Possibilities for Alliance

7. Activist Women and Women’s Activists: Possibilities for Networking with Feminist Groups

8. Legacies of Activism: Personal Empowerment, Movement Survival

Bibliography

Index

Activism and Its Aftermath

Women were active during the dictatorship because of the political problem that existed in those years . . . and the need to denounce and organize—for example, the soup kitchens. Our involvement was motivated by our needs. We did not get involved just for the sake of doing it, but because of the dire need. If we organized human rights committees, it was because someone had their rights trampled. Women became leaders then.

—Maritza Sandoval, Santa Cruz de Mayo base community, Villa O’Higgins)

Maritza Sandoval’s story is that of many poor Brazilian and Chilean women. The Brazilian (1964–85) and Chilean (1973–90) military regimes that set out to control and depoliticize civil society ended up creating new and unexpected sources of opposition from people such as Maritza. Although many had never previously joined any kind of organized group outside the home, poor women heroically rose to meet the challenges facing their families and communities during military rule. Mobilized by the Catholic Church through its base communities, women activists represent all that was new and promising in the “new” social movements.

More recently, however, the kinds of social movements that characterized the democratic transitions—church-based movements, poor women’s movements—have been nearly invisible in the new democracies of both countries. As a result, the question of the long-term impact of base communities and military-era social movements need to be revisited. Authors of previous studies have explained the reasons for the declining salience of social movement organizing through the church and by poor women in the new democracies. In this book, by contrast, a different question will be addressed. We begin from the assumption that a decline in social movement activism is to be expected and ask instead what becomes of activists and whether and how they seek to maintain their movements in changed political and social contexts.

We place the base community movement and its women activists in the contexts of social movements and of theories examining movement cycles. Doing so allows us to recognize the absence of protest without assuming that it means “failure” for the movement. We focus, instead, on what may be taking the place of earlier kinds of activism. By looking at the experiences of the women from the base communities from this theoretical perspective, we can specify ways in which their organizing may have had a less visible, but a long-term, impact on civil society. The theory of movement cycles leads us to look for personal change and empowerment, but also for the creation of new organizations dedicated to both action and movement maintenance and possibly the creation of activist networks as well. To the extent that we can demonstrate that former activists such as Maritza Sandoval are actively maintaining their movements and creating new networks, we can offer powerful evidence that base communities and their associated social movements have indeed made a lasting contribution to strengthening civil society. Although the current context may inhibit activism of the sort these women engaged in earlier, they may nonetheless today be building new organizational venues and networks that could become sites for future activism.