Topic updates

Max Weber is alive and well and living in Guatemala City

Sarah Butler

22nd November 2022

Sociology teachers often use case studies from South America when teaching Beliefs: from the Liberation Theology movement of the 1960s to the rise of Pentacostalism, and the high religiosity - especially Catholicism - in countries such as Mexico, these all provide insightful data to complement our studies.

So this week I have been looking into the religious makeup of Mexico, helped by the 2020 census which has provided a useful, and thoroughly fascinating, update to a consistently changing picture.

Between 2010 and 2020, Catholicism in Mexico has fallen from 82.7% to 77.7%. Meanwhile, those identifying as Protestants and Evangelicals has increased from 7.5% to 11.2%. You can read a very detailed article here, which outlines these and many other developments within Mexico’s religious landscape.

Interestingly, the 2020 census shows a higher percentage of people with no religious affiliation, known as Religious Nones, which has grown from 4.7% to 8.1%. Whilst this may sound like the common theme of secularisation we regularly meet in our beliefs lessons, this becomes more dramatic when compared with Mexico in 1950 where the number of people identifying as no religion was 0%!

But why are Mexicans switching from Catholicism to Protestantism, including many who were raised as Catholic? This article, albeit from 2006, holds some interesting reasons for this ‘protestantisation’ of many countries across Latin America.

The article itself draws on a piece from the Economist which points out that it’s not simply the poor and dispossessed finding themselves attracted to Pentacostalism, but increasingly Latin America’s middle class and business elites, demonstrating that marginalisation is not the only explanation for the attractiveness of Pentacostalism.

The following reasons are amongst those cited:

  • The synchronicity between urban modernisation and the entrepreneurial flavour of Pentecostal religion (as quoted by sociologist Peter Berger, “Max Weber is alive and well and living in Guatemala City.”)
  • Lively worship and the use of popular culture including songs based on pop music, transformed with appropriate church lyrics.
  • Witnessing of local miracles (Berger may argue this strengthens the plausibility structure)
  • A personal relationship with the pastor, who often come from the local community themselves (a win for charismatic leaders!)
  • The Catholic Church’s inability to remain relevant, or connect with ordinary people.
These factors are cited from a book entitled Religion in the Mega-City by Philip Berryman on the growth of Evangelical Christianity in the global South - I’m off to track down a copy now so I can read it in full!

Sarah Butler

Sarah is an experienced Head of Social Sciences, EPQ Coordinator and Sociology examiner.

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