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Is There a Connection Between Pentecostalism/Evangelicalism in Brazil and Right-Wing Politics? Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 29th, 2022


The connection between religion and politics is a complex yet critical theme to be studied in any sovereign state’s contemporary sociopolitical and economic context. While Latin America has been known as overwhelmingly Catholic for an extended period of time, the recent religious trends and increased share of Pentecostals/Evangelicals in the region’s population may indicate a connection to right-wing movements and activities. The growing phenomenon of right-wing populism in Brazil, a predominantly catholic country from the historical perspective, is of particular interest to researchers since it allows for studying the relationship and consequences between religion and politics. The recent collapse of the left-wing administration in Brazil and its replacement with right-wing ideology representatives have President Jair Bolsonaro as an important subject to be examined and discussed when analyzing the possible factors contributing to the rise of populism in Brazil (Garcia, 2019). Bolsonaro’s religion-themed campaign appealed to Pentecostals/Evangelicals who have gained an influential presence in Brazil’s politics over the recent years. This interdisciplinary review aims to discuss whether there is a connection between Pentecostalism/Evangelicalism in Brazil and right-wing politics and whether Bolsonaro’s campaign could contribute to the fall of the left-wing administration and a shift to the current right-wing political attitudes.

This literature review attempts to take into consideration a confluence of sociopolitical factors in Brazil to examine what the current research has to say concerning Protestantism’s contribution to the election of a far-right presidential candidate. The sources relevant to this theme display mixed evidence, and studying the issue from an interdisciplinary perspective allows for obtaining a comprehensive picture. President Jair Bolsonaro, known for his commitment to the right-wing ideology and national conservatism, found public support of the evangelical community, which identifies the need to explore the potential influence of religious nationalism (Ramos, 2020). Furthermore, the relationship between Brazil’s religion and politics is an important subject to study in the contemporary context and in view of the country’s role in the political, economic, and cultural growth of Latin America.

The importance of this subject should be determined with regard to the effects of right-wing populism in the country. According to Costa and Ferreira (2016), this tendency increased the value of conservative ideas and resulted in the aggravation of crisis, violence, disparities, and oppression in Brazil. In this regard, the political attitudes of Evangelical/Pentecostal politicians, particularly of conservative populist leaders, such as Bolsonaro, are of specific interest for researchers. Current studies highlight various aspects of the issue and provide a foundation for examining it from a multidisciplinary perspective and take a holistic view on a potential relationship between Pentecostalism/Evangelicalism and right-wing politics in Brazil (Cowan, 2018). The historical establishment of Pentecostal/Evangelical churches and the dynamics of the right-wing ideology in Brazil appear to interrelate, whereas the implications of the rightist government and its connection to religion present a cause for concern (Garcia, 2019). Thus, a review of the relevant literature allows for obtaining a complex picture by examining and integrating findings from various discipline areas.

Religious Studies Literature Review

Historical Establishment and Development of Pentecostalism/Evangelicalism in Brazil

A theology of liberation: History, politics, and salvation, by Gutierrez, illuminates the distinctive features of liberation theology and places them in a historical context of the revolutionary process in Latin America. Gutierrez (1998) refers to the late 20th century as the beginning of “a new historical era to be characterized by a radical aspiration for integral liberation” (p. xvii). Theology is viewed as reliant on the historical development and role of the church and, thus, transformative in nature.

Drawing on the political theology of hope and secularism in earlier texts, the author notes that a political domination pattern characterizes the Latin American experience. While at the global front, wealthier nations dominate poorer ones, in Latin America, a powerful elite controls the masses. However, unlike in other third-world countries, the church is a part of the dominant group and a crucial cultural actor in this region. Thus, Christians must endeavor to free people from this domination through radical attacks on unfair systems and structures. While pre-evangelization emphasized salvation, in Latin America, the church operates beyond such a narrow scope of self-liberation by acting on behalf of the oppressed. The social realities drive the church into working with those repressed in a struggle for liberation.

Narrowing the scope, a theological perspective is applied to track the rise of Protestant churches and their implications in the developing countries, which include Brazil. In Smilde’s review: Evangelicals and politics in Latin America: Moving beyond monolithic portraits, the author reviews three books examining the emergence of Protestantism and its impact on capitalist economics in Latin America. Historically, Catholicism’s decline in the 1980s coincided with the growth of evangelical churches that emphasized redemption, morality, and healing and promoted individualism and democracy – a break from authoritarian systems (Smilde, 2003). According to the article, the politics of evangelical Pentecostalism is complex, as the church now addresses more social issues than before. From the reviewed books, the author notes that Evangelical and Catholic actors follow distinct or opposing political visions, given that Catholicism and Evangelicalism comprise loosely integrated movements. Another important point made is that contrary to the assumption that Evangelical actors and followers do not share political ideals, they indeed do since Protestantism tends to align to grassroots social inclusion. In conclusion, various Evangelical political engagements involving different actors transcend denominational lines (Catholic or Pentecostal monolith), with theology being critical.

Another central theme is the advent of neo-Pentecostalism, which significantly transformed Christianity in Latin America over the last decades through an assertion of neo-Pentecostal churches in a public sphere and remodeling cultural and secular relationships. Freston examines Brazil’s neo-Pentecostalism in “Neo-Pentecostalism” in Brazil: Problems of definition and the struggle for hegemony, including its typologies and efforts by new denominations to dominate Protestantism in this country.

Delving into the history of the Protestant community in Brazil, the author notes that Pentecostal churches grew most among the lower socioeconomic groups. Freston (1999) implements an analytic strategy to underline the variety of Evangelical politics and view Brazilian Pentecostal churches’ history through the lens of institutional creation in relation to culture. Many denominations, such as the one named Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UC) which was not considered orthodox by many Pentecostal theologians, grew very fast because they offered ecclesial messages appealing to the masses. A key characteristic of Pentecostalism in Brazil is that, unlike Catholicism, it is highly segmented, as it seeks to supplant earlier churches planted by missionaries and immigrants. Neo-Pentecostal churches such as UC have emerged that appeal to the poor and operate alongside charismatic movements that serve the middle class. To conclude, UC’s struggle for Protestant hegemony in Brazil has thrust it into the political sphere – it has formed alliances to mobilize resources for political initiatives aimed at protecting Protestant actors from secularism and from a voting bloc.

Likewise, Freston discusses how Evangelical Christianity is closely tied to the Latin American democratization process in Evangelicals and politics in Latin America. The author claims that Catholicism is characterized by an institutional structure closely linked to the mentality of rural Christian states, which implies a gap between the so-called official and popular Catholicism (Freston, 2002). A theology of liberation, previously discussed by Gutierrez (1998), is therefore viewed as an attempt to invigorate the church at a fundamental level. Based on the defining features of Evangelicalism (conversion, activism, infallibility of scripture, and a focus on Christ’s sacrifice in the cross), the article explores the direct and indirect involvement of the actors in politics and its consequences.

Latin America, as a region, is marked by high inequalities that are a legacy of colonial landholding practices. A vibrant civil society emerged to address these issues, but the evangelical community captured the social thought of the people through its doctrines. While political attitudes among the Pentecostal groups in Latin America are diverse, they are united politically in their strong stance against corruption, call for religious egalitarianism, and fair electoral practices. In conclusion, the evangelical groups’ participation in politics also extends to fighting for peasant farmers and democratization of ritual functions in Pentecostal churches to include even the poor.

In Smith’s book Religious politics in Latin America: Pentecostal vs. Catholic, the author traces the development of religious and political processes in Latin America and the degree of their interconnectedness. Smith (1998) specifically focuses on the phenomenon of rapidly growing Protestantism, particularly Pentecostal churches in a predominantly Catholic area over the recent half a millennium. Such changes and the dramatic expansion of Protestantism are predicted to influence the percentage of Catholics in Latin America over the 21st century to the point where Protestants outnumber Catholicism followers. Pentecostal domination presents another noteworthy trend due to the specific emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit and the experientiality of God’s presence, which implies the dynamic nature of Pentecostal denominations. Furthermore, Pentecostalism appeals to low-income sectors and rural and urban workers and seems to maintain a steady growth caused by socioeconomic changes in the region and the failures of Catholicism.

Pentecostalism is marked by a decentralized organizational structure and little to no hierarchy, which further implies the possibility of changes in the current trend. However, Smith (1998) highlights Pentecostals’ extraordinarily increasing involvement in politics which poses serious implications for public policy and the ongoing economic restructuring in Latin America. The author outlines two possible scenarios regarding the future interrelation of the two denominations. As Pentecostal and Catholic leaders share certain characteristics, such as a decentralized structure of Pentecostals and Christian Base Communities, a formation of committed Christians, and support of a sober lifestyle, they might tighten their connection at the religious and socioeconomic levels. Thus, despite Pentecostals’ original reluctance to engage in political affairs, they might be forced to assert their objectives concerning economic and social issues publicly. The other scenario indicated by Smith (1998) suggests Pentecostalism’s modernizing role in liberal democracy and capitalist development and Catholicism’s inclination towards political authoritarianism and state-controlled markets and return to predominantly spiritual power. Given that the majority of Latin America’s population are affiliated with one of these denominations, the similarities and disagreements between Pentecostalism’s and Catholicism’s political agendas can complicate the debate on public policy and outcomes.

Clark’s Pentecostal ecclesiology: A view from the global South adds to the discussion by taking a closer look at the concept of church in Latin America, Africa, and Southern Asia through the lens of ecclesiology. The difference between the understanding of the church in the North and South is attributable to different social environments, background cultures, public spaces, leadership models, resources, and spiritualities. Evangelical Protestantism, particularly Pentecostalism, is deemed influential in terms of social dynamics in the North. Clark (2013) points out Evangelism’s impact on the Republican politics in the United States, drawing a parallel with the role of the Universal Church in Brazil’s presidential elections as another example of religious influence. Moreover, the author makes a critical assumption claiming that the Southern context is more dynamic and “classically Pentecostal” than its Northern counterpart (p. 56). Overall, the recent expansion of Pentecostal denominations in the Global South should be addressed with regard to the difference in contexts which suggests the relevance of the interdisciplinary approach adopted in this literature review.

Similar to the researchers mentioned above, Zilla highlights the religious shift resulting in the reduction of Catholics and increase of Evangelicals in her Evangelicals and politics in Brazil: The relevance of religious change in Latin America. The author suggests a causal relationship between these two variables and identifies the role of Pentecostal churches as problem-solvers appealing to insecure social groups. In turn, Catholicism has been losing its political reach and privileged position in Brazil throughout its recent demographic transformation (Zilla, 2020). The social weight of Evangelicalism has grown over the recent decades, and its solution- and experience-centered mindset extends the involvement of Pentecostal churches in the political sphere. As Zilla (2020) claims, Brazil is a prominent example of strikingly growing social relevance and power of Evangelical churches, with Bolsonaro’s election in January 2019 and public support resulting from religious involvement. The research paper explores the concerns resulting from the connection between religion and politics, attributing Evangelical dominance to the growing religious diversity in Brazilian society.

Likewise, Moreira refers to Pentecostalism’s differentiation process as a major factor adding to increased religious diversity in Latin America in the article From religious diversity to the political competition: The differentiation process of Pentecostalism in Brazil. The author debates on the need for the adaptation of Keynesian rules in order to regulate radical religious markets in unequal societies, among which Brazilian (Moreira, 2018). Intolerant attitudes of Pentecostal leaders are marked as relevant to the conception of a functionalist religious market and neoliberal macro conditions. According to Moreira (2018), religious pluralism is a desirable outcome; however, socially conservative behaviors of neo-Pentecostal leaders can undermine democracy. Thus, new theoretical and political requirements should be identified to eliminate aggressive practices and prevent conflicts among religious groups in the context of religious diversity in Brazil.

Johansen explores the phenomenon of Brazil’s competitive religious environment and transition to Evangelicalismin relation to the democratic shift in his article The role of Pentecostalism in democratic development: A case study of Brazil. Johansen (2014) explores the notion of religion in the Brazilian context and identifies the ways in which the population responds to the modernization’s effects, highlighting religious conversion as one of the primary responses. The article explores the role of the Evangelical churches in power-sharing and discusses whether it reduces or aggravates fragmentation in society. Johansen (2014) outlines the current and desirable processes of democratic consolidation in Brazil, pointing out the contribution of Protestantism. The Pentecostal community provides an alternative structure for political and social expression for marginalized people who mobilize and gain undeniable power (Johansen, 2014). The article adds to the existing debate by examining the role of the religious shift in the mobilization of democratic processes in Brazil.

Political Sciences and International Relations Literature Review

Dynamics of Right-Wing Politics and Consequences of Pentecostalism/Evangelicalism from an International Relations’ Perspective

Garcia, in Brazil under Bolsonaro: Social base, agenda, and perspectives, explores the rise of the far-right phenomenon globally exemplified by the election of Brazil’s president, Bolsonaro. The author attributes the emergence of ‘Bolsonarism’ to the effects of neoliberal globalization, including high unemployment rates and economic disparities that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis. Right-wing forces’ attacks on the progressive workers’ party in 2013 were motivated by lost socioeconomic privileges – education and formal employment. The unemployed workers adopted conservative ethics (anti-gay and anti-feminist) that were strengthened by evangelical groups (Garcia, 2019). Bolsonaro positioned himself as a simple person who shares these values. Therefore, his social base comprises the Pentecostal church, petty bourgeoisie, and peasant farmers that dislike the ruling elite. Despite international pressure and an irrational discourse, Bolsonaro emerged victorious in the polls because of a fake news strategy that Trump and Brexit also used. The article concludes that despite initiating popular economic programs, such as bilateral worker-employer negotiations, the sustainability of Bolsonaro’s regime is limited, as popular struggles and unmet interests are rising.

Some authors discuss the implications of Evangelicalism in regard to the political sciences’ perspective. In particular, The new Protestantism in Latin America: Remembering what we already know, testing what we have learned, by Dixon examines the new wave of Protestantism spreading in Latin America. Protestant populations have been growing since the 1960s, changing the family structure, social relations, and political and economic culture, but most analyses do not address cultural and political options created locally.

From the several works considered, the author notes that the attempt to attract capital from North America and Europe led to Protestant expansion in the 19th century and the desire of Latin American liberals, such as Simon Bolivar, to break the hegemony of the Catholic church on education. New social principles – namely, communication, economics, and politics – were introduced (Dixon, 1995). He attributes the massive wave and influence of Protestantism to its responsiveness to local cultural, political, and economic needs. Its appeal is linked to the acceptance of the poor, racial minorities (African Brazilians), and the uneducated population that can participate in Protestant work without being forced to comprehend complex doctrines. Protestantism’s progressive stance not only helped solve immediate economic needs but has also caused a permanent sociocultural transformation in Latin America. In conclusion, understanding different groups’ political goals, including bishops and the underprivileged, requires cultural analysis of Pentecostalism and progressive Catholicism.

Focusing on the Brazilian context, Maxwell, in the The two Brazils, delves into Brazil’s political and economic policies (the Real Plan) that accompanied neoliberalism in the 1990s. The adopted neoliberal ideology brought prosperity for all, but the Real Plan would plunge the country into a recession, occasioning mass layoffs and forcing the then president, Fernando Cardoso, to implement IMF- mandated austerity measures. On the other hand, earlier reforms fostered pluralism and opened up political life through education, active trade union movements, and grassroots engagement. As a result, two Brazilian actors emerged: the bankers and capitalists on one hand and social/political activists on the other (Maxwell, 1999). The latter group gave a political voice to the deprived, including the Pentecostals and African Brazilians. Cardoso’s popularity among these people was declining, as they perceived him as friendly to bankers and industrialists but hostile to workers. The article concludes that as the austerity measures led to an economic slowdown, making the president unpopular, he turned to persuasion and compromise to win over the populace.

Still on the rise of a political movement (popular conservatism) in Latin America, its impact on politics and society, and related challenges, de Santibañes discusses the topics in Popular conservatism rising in Latin America. Its main claim is that popular conservatives, unlike their traditional counterparts, tend to adopt a more assertive (or violent) discourse, oppose the ruling elite, and advance a more direct type of democracy (de Santibañes, 2020). Conservative populist leaders, including Netanyahu, Trump, Putin, and Bolsonaro, as well as political events such as Brexit, illustrate the rising popularity of traditionalist and nationalist views. The author argues that this trend signifies the end of a liberal order that favored labor mobility, globalization, and minority rights. In Latin America, Bolsonaro’s nationalistic approach to corruption or the Amazon issue has support from the religious institutions (mostly evangelicals), agribusinesses, and the military disgruntled with liberal elites’ failure to meet people’s economic or security expectations. However, three dangers lie ahead of this new phenomenon: weaker multilateral relations, the rise of an all-powerful state, and the disappearance of liberal elites.

Building upon the existing research, Thomas addresses the religious resurgence in the context of expected demographic shifts and their impact on, in Globalized God: Religion’s growing influence in international politics. Demographic trends indicate that population growth will be highest in the global South, resulting in religious megacities in the developing world. Christianity, which began as an urban movement in the first century un the Middle East and spread following income inequality patterns, will expand through the same path (Thomas, 2010). It is now evolving into a post-Western religion dominant in developing countries. The author warns that, given these trends, global Christianity will soon replace Islamist fundamentalism as a challenge to the West’s foreign policy. Additionally, religious changes occurring in China (dominated by evangelical and Islamic populations), India, and Russia (Orthodox Church) will influence geopolitics. Globalization has enhanced the participation of religious diaspora in the west in local advocacy and social action, including extremist movements such as Al Qaeda. In conclusion, faith in the global South will be central to political struggles over human rights and democratic practice; hence, religion is important in future Western diplomacy.

In order to avoid costly miscalculations in diplomacy, it is important to contemplate A hemispheric moral majority: Brazil and the transnational construction of the New Right by Cowan. The article examines Brazil as the epicenter of the New Right – radical deregulation, individual autonomy, and capitalism. Considering the role of right-wing Christian conservatives in Brazil, the author argues that the new politicized Christianity has changed this Right in a post-authoritarian era. The New Right arose transnationally after the Cold War as Brazilian activists supported the anti-Communist wave and the Vatican order (Cowan, 2018). The International Policy Forum (IPF) was founded to bring together right-wing leaders across nations. Its Brazilian IPF chapter was the Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP) organization that leveraged transnational linkages with like-minded anti-communist neoconservatives in the USA to advance the religious Right founded on anti-communism, morality, anti-modernism, and anti-statist commitment. Brazil’s far-right ideology emerged following right-wing disjointedness. It involves conservative evangelical politicians with a strong stance on social and moral issues and an ethnocentric focus. In conclusion, the evangelical support has a transnational dimension, with relationships among conservatives playing a role in the New Right practice.

The theme of globalization is essential to consider under the political sciences and international relations review. The critical analysis by Thomas in Outwitting the developed countries? Existential insecurity and the global resurgence of religion consider the influence of the recent global resurgence of religious movements, including radicalism, revivalism, or fundamentalism, on international relations. Contrary to secularization theory, religious movements are becoming stronger, posing an existential security threat (Thomas, 2007). The article’s central claim is that developing nations have outsmarted developed ones by being centers of a religious renaissance. The author argues that the resurgence of religious movements driven by modernization and globalization will cause a shift in 21st-century foreign relations. The center for the emerging cultural and religious pluralism will be in the developing countries, not the West. It will entail more emotive or persuasive forms of Christianity, including evangelical healing, which will impact international relations. This trend is not consistent with the existential security argument that draws on secularization’s idea that modernization would reduce religion’s significance. In conclusion, religious symbols and practices embedded in people’s lives will increasingly play a role in politics and foreign relations in a globalized world.

Contributing to the discourse, Costa Lima and Ferreira da Silva analyze the implications of the economic crisis on a global scale, with a focus on the Brazilian experience. In The conservative reaction in Brazil: The pendulum has swung to the right in the world scenario, the authors argue that capitalistic and evangelical practices have had a negative impact on global economic policy. Post-neoliberalism has deepened socioeconomic disparities, increased unemployment, and reduced opportunities for social action.

The central argument is that the philosophy of individualism based on the prosperity doctrine (Pentecostalism) and entrepreneurial mindset (capitalism) has crept into the dominant discourse and created heterogeneous working-class and fragmented labor movements. As per Costa Lima and Ferreira da Silva (2016), the outcome has been increased competition and isolation, diminished solidarity for collective action, and relapse to conservative ideas. Bolstered by Pentecostal movements, official policies now reflect the traditional right-wing values in countries such as Brazil that had embraced modern liberalism. In Europe and South America, a shift to right-wing politics to deal with economic challenges and consolidate support for populist rhetoric is evident (Costa Lima & Ferreira da Silva, 2016). Coupled with structural issues limiting legislature-executive collaboration (for Brazil), this alternative, right-wing populism has only deepened the crisis, triggered violence, and increased oppression and disparities.

Similarly, Levine admits the competitiveness of the future Christianity in Latin America, examining the current and potential effects of democracy on the religious life of the population in The future of Christianity in Latin America. The author agrees with those researchers who emphasize the growing pluralism of the Christian church in the region, attributing the collapse of the Catholic monopoly to social, political, and economic underpinnings (Levine, 2009). At the same time, the article suggests that one should not approach the foundations for democratic and entrepreneurial changes caused by the shift to Protestantism from the perspective of the traditional Brazilian context. In a country marked by rapid urbanization, media expansion, high literacy, and a large economy, the concept of the conventional model could result in misleading assumptions.

Following up with the theme of the interrelation between Christianity and political activism, Levine discusses the fundamental ideas of liberation theology in Assessing the impacts of liberation theology in Latin America. The author analyses the causes leading to the emergence of liberation theology in Latin America, highlighting the particular role of social shift, ecclesiological debate, and political confusion. Levine (1988) emphasizes the enduring impact of liberationist ideas for society on the condition of the development of new leaders, structures, and social environment. Thus, the author claims that the liberation theory’s postulates should be examined in relation to their conception in specific political and socioeconomic settings.

Sociology and Anthropology Literature Review

Implications of Right-Wing Politics for Brazilian Society and How These Implications May be Connected to Religion

From the sociological and anthropological perspectives, understanding the implications of right-wing politics and their connection to religion is essential in the context of Brazilian society and culture. In The globalization of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, Robbins explores the specifics of the Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity, a form emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual, in view of the ongoing cultural globalization. The author examines the existing literature on the dynamical nature of the global culture accompanying the spread of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, pointing out its contradictory image (Robbins, 2004). While some researchers claim that this movement is marked by successful self-replicating in its canonical form throughout various contexts, others underline the adaptive nature of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity and its ability to adjust to different cultures. In conclusion, the review supports the idea that both approaches are applicable at the same time due to the homogenizing guise of this Christianity form, allowing it to distance itself from cultures while engaging them.

Burity and Santana examine the rise of charismatic Pentecostalism in Brazil, in Minoritization and pluralization: What is the “people” that pentecostal politicization is building? calling for human rights and its implication for church-state separation, sociopolitical pluralization, and the Pentecostals’ minority status. With a discourse based on perceived exclusion by the Brazilian political elite, the Pentecostal people distinguished themselves as politicized minorities. Based on 55 interviews of church leaders, the authors argue that Pentecostals struggle with competing interests of being separate from the world (an independent voice) and engaging in dialogue with secular actors in the context of increasing pluralization (Burity & Santana, 2016). This open versus closed vision comes from the need to be self-assertive and respond to contemporary opposing views. The unintended outcome has been the blurring of the distinction between the sacrosanct and wicked or religious and secular in Pentecostalism’s conquest of the Brazilian population. The article concludes that this relational context has the potential of minoritizing the pluralistic and populist democratic practice.

From the political anthropology’s perspective, Bolsonaro’s 2018 victory in Brazil’s presidential polls was possible due to the massive support he garnered from Evangelicals and Catholics in the country. Løland addresses the possible reasons and implication in his work The political conditions and theological foundations of the new Christian right in Brazil. This article explores the theologies propagated by key religious figures that influenced the outcome. The author identifies three relevant theological categories: a supernatural form of neoliberalism, apocalyptic doctrine emphasizing good versus evil, and neoconservative Catholicism (Løland, 2020). The religious groups worked with right-wing activists to popularize these doctrinal values among the masses. The alliance capitalized on cultural conditions in Brazil that aligned with the Christian Right in the US. Bolsonaro’s ascendancy as a major political actor can be attributed to his association with politically active conservative Christians and the theological values they espouse. These groups included the traditional Pentecostal evangelicals, neo-Pentecostalism, and Catholic neoconservatives. The author concludes that while some undemocratic and conservative ideals are united in this Christian Right, the new trend is likely to contribute to democratic development in Brazil.

Given the recent authority shift in Brazil and the fact that Evangelical politicians in Latin America have taken up legislative roles identifies the need for studying the evangelicals’ approaches to electoral politics. Reich and Santos argue in The rise (and frequent fall) of evangelical politicians: Organization, theology, and church politics, that in Brazil, these legislators have been implicated in political corruption. This article evaluates how evangelical interests in the country are protected through these representatives. The central argument is that evangelical political engagement entails three electoral approaches: rejection, individual involvement, and a church community project (Reich & Santos, 2013). Of the three methods, the personal mode is the least prone to corruption scandals in Brazil. In contrast, the corporate or church community model is disposed to this vice. Evangelical legislators sponsored by churches often adopt machine or resource-based politics that are associated with political corruption.

The authors also associate narrowing of voter bases and party hopping with this electoral mode. They further connect these attributes to the evangelical implication in scandals reported during President da Silva’s govern (2003-2011). The fragmented representation of interests and corruption-prone politics in Brazil must be considered in regard to the church-backed apparatus. In conclusion, the article demonstrates the critical role of the evangelical movement and theological values (prosperity teaching) in influencing legislative representation and the disposition to political corruption.

Similarly, the article Religious activity and political participation: The Brazilian and Chilean Cases by Patterson analyzes the effect of Protestantism on Latin American politics. The author examines the hypothesis of whether different religions lead to diversity in political practice. The religious shift in Brazil and Chile is based on the idea that Protestant movements espouse democratic or pluralistic ideals, unlike Catholicism. Their investment in civic skills – communication and organization principles – through teaching has enhanced citizen engagement and political participation (Patterson, 2005). Further, religious-based political parties have been formed in Peru and Guatemala that are allied to top politicians. However, given that the foundational beliefs differ between Protestants and Catholics, political behavior is bound to be different. The author establishes that religious activity and political engagement predict public participation in Brazilian or Chilean politics for Protestants. Thus, religious institutions instill critical skills in the congregation that can be channeled to political activity. Further, the different fundamental beliefs between Protestants and Catholics result in distinct brands of politics by the Brazilian and Chilean public.

Ramos argues that Evangelicals have immense control over Brazil’s political system and democracy in his article Which truth will set Brazil free: Political lessons from the rise of the evangelical right. The paper considers the origins and spread of neo-Pentecostalism in Brazil and the projected increased democratic participation of evangelicals residing in poor or marginalized neighborhoods. Pentecostal churches appealed to this population by propagating a “message of hope and prosperity” (Ramos, 2020, p. 20). With the economic crisis, Evangelicalism is bound to increase in popularity across Brazil. Historically, evangelicals’ involvement in politics was limited considering the principle of church-state separation. However, with democracy came expanded sexual rights and a decline in traditional family values. The evangelicals’ opposition to abortion and same-sex marriages ushered in a new political era. The evangelical community is now an influential group that Bolsonaro has engaged in after his popularity among elites declined. The author identifies an important lesson from this phenomenon: evangelicals’ political influence will encourage anti-democratic practices. Their firm stance against abortion and same-sex unions are aligned to the far right because of the anti-religious view adopted by leftist political actors.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that there is a fundamentalist wave sweeping across world religions today, explored by Lehman in Fundamentalism and globalism. The author identifies this phenomenon’s defining characteristic as the notion of the infallibility of religious texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Notably, evangelical Christian or Zionist movements have a political dimension–they form associations with ultra-nationalist reach and focus on territorial expansion. Their common features include the capacity to carry the message across cultural delimitations, disseminate the idea of scriptural infallibility, and religious institutionalization through rules and rituals (Lehman, 1998). They emphasize returning to traditions in their approach to sexuality, with Orthodox Judaism treating women as unclean – related to menstruation. In contrast, neo-Pentecostalism is unique, as it does not draw on these traditions but instead seeks to deconstruct local or traditional popular cultures. In conclusion, fundamentalism’s focus on women’s empowerment and dealing with their domestic problems by providing means of economic and political participation or non-governmental movement mirrors a bottom-up form of capitalism.

Functional differentiation is a critical term to be addressed under the sociology and anthropology literature review. In Functional differentiation and religious organizations in modernity: A theoretical analysis based on Pentecostalism in Brazil, Dutra and Sales explore the contribution of religious organizations to modern society. The authors apply Luhmann’s theory of functional differentiation to perceive religion as a discrete subsystem and explore its relationship in regard to other social spheres in the contemporary context (Dutra and Sales, 2018). This theory is based on differentiating differences or binary non-religious codes and references unique for various social practices and communities. The authors conduct an empirical analysis of religious organizations compliant with Pentecostal semantics to study their historical formation. The article concludes that modern society’s functional differentiation should be the foundation for religious organizations’ analysis.

Another concept critical to analyze from the anthropological and sociological viewpoint is Brazilian’s transition to democracy and its implications for the population. Cavendish studies the impact of Christian base communities on the democratic shift in Brazil and Chile in his work Christian base communities and the building of democracy: Brazil and Chile. According to Cavendish (1994), two primary stages of the conversion from the authoritarian government are identified: political regimes transition and “the consolidation of democracy” (p. 179). The article suggests that as the liberation theory ideas spread across Latin America, they provided a foundation for more formal political organizations, fostering the development of democracy.

Artifacts are of particular interest for researchers taking an anthropological perspective on the connection between politics and religion. In his paper Portable power, religious swag: Mediating authority in Brazilian Neo-Pentecostalism, Feller conducts a conceptual analysis of sacred objects and their application within Brazilian’s UC. The author distinguishes between contractual media used to bolster contracts between the UC followers and portable media which can be brought to meetings and taken back home after being blessed (Feller, 2018). Overall, the article aims to explore the mediation of religious authority through artifacts that imply the contribution of material objects to institutional control and individual empowerment.

Analysis: General Interdisciplinary Theoretical Debate

Frameworks and Approaches Used by Scholars

The interdisciplinary review conducted to approach the phenomenon from different perspectives allowed for identifying frameworks and approaches commonly used by scholars of particular subject areas. The field of religious studies frequently applies the theology of liberation to explore the historical developments of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism and identify the patterns of political domination in Latin America (Gutierrez, 1998; Freston, 2002). The political theology of secularism and hope is mentioned to categorize the pattern of domination of the masses by the elite, similar to the inequalities among wealthier and poorer nations at the global level (Gutierrez, 1998). Furthermore, in “Neo-Pentecostalism” in Brazil: Problems of definition and the struggle for hegemony, Freston (1999) implements an analytical strategy to study the phenomenon of Neo-Pentecostalism and the variety of Evangelical politics in relation to culture. Thus, the religious studies review implies the complexity of the phenomena studied, and the interconnectedness of the disciplines applied.

At the same time, frameworks are developed for a strategic approach to the right-wing politics and consequences of the shift to Pentecostalism in Brazil. The field of political sciences and international relations focuses on neoliberal globalization and neoliberalism as the dominant form of globalization that imply market-oriented reform policies (Maxwell, 1999; Thomas, 2010; Thomas, 2007). Moreover, the post-neoliberal theory is applied by Costa Lima and Ferreira da Silva (2016) in The conservative reaction in Brazil: The pendulum has swung to the right in the world scenario to study the effects of the right-wing populism in Latin America. In Popular conservatism rising in Latin America, the notion of popular conservatism is mentioned by de Santibañes (2020) in relation to a more assertive discourse and direct type of democracy. An aggressive approach is deemed dangerous due to the right-wing populism’s contribution to the crisis, violence, and inequalities.

Another critical framework is the New Right theory which combines neo-liberal economics and conservative viewpoints on social challenges. Brazil is viewed as a prominent example of this phenomenon (Cowan, 2018). Similarly, the liberation theology approach is applied to study the causes for the political shift and in Latin America and outline the long-term implications of liberationist ideas for society (Levine, 1988). The modernization theory is implemented by Thomas (2007), allowing him to identify the correlation between globalization and modernization processes and a shift in contemporary foreign relations. The modernizing function of Pentecostalism in liberal democracy is also mentioned by Smith (1998). The political sciences and international relations areas highlight the importance of specific political and socioeconomic settings.

The field of sociology and anthropology explores the implications of right-wing politics in Brazil and their connection to religion through various approaches. The pluralization theoretical approach allows for examining the characteristics and role of charismatic Pentecostalism in Brazil, which emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s role in view of cultural globalization (Robbins, 2004; Burity & Santana, 2016). The increased pluralization in the religious context implies the need for decisive action from Pentecostal churches concerning social and economic issues (Freston, 1999; Burity & Santana, 2016; de Santibañes, 2020). In Minoritization and pluralization: What is the “people” that pentecostal politicization is building?, Burity and Santana (2016) conduct 55 interviews of church leaders to investigate the rise of charismatic Pentecostalism in Brazil. Luhmann’s Functional differentiation theory is utilized by Dutra and Sales (2018) to carry out an empirical analysis of Pentecostal religious organizations and their binary non-religious codes. Overall, the complexity of the subject studied allows researchers to use different frameworks and approaches to study various aspects of the phenomenon.

Common Concepts and Comparisons

As can be seen, a number of concepts repeatedly appear in various studies related to different disciplines identified by this literature review. The theology of liberation is used by Levine (1988), Gutierrez (1998), and Freston (2002) in an attempt to trace the historical development of Evangelicalism and define the aspects affecting the religious shift in Brazil. Modernization and globalization are critical processes categorized as contributing factors to the ongoing situation in Latin America, particularly Brazil (Garcia, 2019; Smith, 1998; Thomas, 2007). Furthermore, Bolsonaro’s election in 2019 is viewed as the event resulting from the religion-themed campaign and appeal to Evangelicals whose percentage in the country continues to climb (Garcia, 2019). Levine (2009) claims that democracy significantly impacts the ideas of rights and the diversification of political positions. As a result, given a strong thread of liberationism within the historic Protestantism, its association with democratic politics should be studied in regard to liberation theology.

Moreover, the increased segmentation and lack of administrative control and hierarchical structure are highlighted in relation to Pentecostalism in Brazil, in contrast to Catholicism. The tendency to avoid involvement in political activities among Evangelicals reduces and is gradually replaced by the need for increased representation and self-assertion due to the religious diversity in Brazil (Zilla, 2020; Moreira, 2018). The competitiveness of the religious environment is also stressed by Johansen (2014), who studies the modernization’s effects on the religious transition and power-sharing. Another reoccurring theme mentioned by several researchers is the growing role of the church in addressing social issues and challenges and the associated need for transformation (Smilde, 2003; Gutierrez, 1998; Smith, 1998). Thus, a comparison of common ideas and concepts used by researchers allows for obtaining a comprehensive picture of Brazil’s primary characteristics in relation to politics and religion.

Contrasts and Inconsistencies

The contrasts can be seen not only in the approach to the issue and critical implications but also in assumptions resulting from the research findings by different scholars. For instance, de Santibañes (2020) claims that popular conservatives oppose the ruling elite, thus, advancing direct democracy and contemporary social underpinnings. At the same time, Levine (2009) warns against applying the traditional approach to conclude that the shift to Protestantism is correlated with changes in the demographic, social, and economic aspects in the region. The rapid development, urbanization, and modernization, and media imply the irrelevance of the traditional model, which can lead to deceptive assumptions (Levine, 2009). At the same time, the rise of far-right populism is a global phenomenon that requires more consideration.

The image of the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is contradictory in view of his national conservatism and the implications of the current political shift in the country. As per Løland (2020), Bolsonaro’s presidency is attributed to the support of traditional Pentecostal evangelicals, Catholic neoconservatives, and neo-Pentecostals. In turn, Garcia (2019) argues that the current situation is rooted in neoliberal globalization’s effects resulting from the global financial crisis, high unemployment, and growing inequality. Zilla (2020) highlights the social relevance of Pentecostal churches in the context of Bolsonaro’s presidential authority, while Moreira (2018) suggests that Pentecostalism aims to and satisfy the needs of different social groups. Likewise, Smilde (2003) claims that Protestantism is associated with open democratic policies in contrast to Catholicism and authoritarian politics. In comparison, Ramos (2020) points to Evangelicalism’s opposition to expanded sexual rights, abortion, and other acute issues, thus, suggesting its contribution to a new political era. While religious pluralism and diverse voices of churches are deemed as desirable, radical attitudes of neo-Pentecostal leaders can undermine the principles of democracy.

Scholars of different disciplines utilized different methodologies to come to conclusions regarding their research. In particular, the field of religious studies applied the liberation theology framework to understand Christianity and the phenomenon of Neo-Pentecostalism, determining political domination patterns in Brazil, where elite social groups dominate the masses. Political sciences and international relations on neoliberal globalization through the post-neoliberal theory, identifying the effects of right-wing politics for the population. The field of sociology and anthropology adopts a pluralization theoretical approach to the religious context to explore charismatic Pentecostalism’s implications and the consequences of religious diversity in Brazil. Overall, some findings support claims made by other discipline scholars; however, the complexity of the issue implies certain disagreements concluded by some researchers.


This interdisciplinary review examines the phenomenon of the increasing number of Pentecostalism/Evangelicalism followers and the spread of right-wing political attitudes in Brazil, aiming to consider different disciplines’ viewpoints and obtain a complex picture. Brazil is known as a significant political, economic, and cultural power in Lain America, which raises public concern due to the recent fall of the left-wing administration. Thus, researchers are particularly concerned about studying the phenomenon from various viewpoints and adding to the discourse in order to shed light on the big picture. In particular, the possible contribution of President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign to the rise of populism and the recent collapse of the left-wing administration in Brazil is of specific interest. The major agreements in the literature revolve around the concepts of globalization, modernization, and pluralization.

Most authors agree on the modernization’s effects on the religious shift observed in Brazil and highlight the increasing religious diversity as a contributing factor that prompts Evangelicals, previously distant from political involvement, to engage actively. The current socioeconomic conditions and the growing competition among the religious denominations pressure Protestants to improve their visibility and take a stand publicly regarding their social and economic position. Studying the role of religion in the power-sharing relationship is critical in regard to collective interest and the contribution to the development of a stable democracy. The assertiveness that borders on violence attributed to some Protestant leaders, particularly conservative populists, implies the harmful effects for the liberal order that supports minority rights, globalization, and mobility. Undoubtedly, religious movements gain in force, and despite all struggles, one cannot prevent the engagement of religion in politics in the contemporary context, in contrast to the secularization theory. In a globalized world, international relations will be affected by religious nominations prevailing in countries. Official policies affected by Pentecostal movements currently reflect conservative values in countries that had embraced modern liberalism, including Brazil.

On the other hand, researchers show certain disagreements regarding the relevance of Protestantism, particularly Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, and Bolsonaro’s contribution to the shift in the authoritarian political system in Brazil. The country presents a unique case as a developing nation with both positive features and aggravated challenges. However, researchers’ views on Pentecostalism’s role in reducing inequalities differ along with findings whether it has characteristics required to minimize conflict and fragmentation. Some scholars emphasize the inclusive nature and problem-solving approach of Evangelicalism, thus, pointing to its capability to decrease fragmentation in a power-sharing arrangement. Nevertheless, other researchers highlight the adverse effect of radical behaviors that contribute to the aggravation of the crisis, increased violence, inequalities, and oppression in Brazil. Even though religious pluralism and diversified churches are viewed as positive, the far-right attitudes of some neo-Pentecostal leaders can undermine the principles of democracy. As a result, the question that needs to be examined is whether Protestantism has the potential to increase cohesion and provide an inclusive approach.

The current prejudiced attitudes found in Brazilian neo-Pentecostal leaders undermine the very essence of democracy which compromises religious diversity in the region. The collapse of the Catholic monopoly cannot be ignored and should be viewed in the context of the social, political, and economic development of the country. As most of the Brazilian population is affiliated with Christian or Protestant denominations, the separation of the state and church appears even more challenging. However, a number of sociocultural factors must be taken into consideration to study the changes and explore the historical development of Pentecostalism in Brazil, drawing connections with politics.


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