Pentecostalism in Brazil

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0


The focus of this research essay will be on the emergence, development and public appeal of Pentecostalism in Brazil. First of all, the history of the Pentecostal churches in Brazil and their expansion within the last several decades will be examined. Thereby attention will be drawn to the wider social and global circumstances that enabled the religious change in Brazil.

In a second step the increase of differing types of Pentecostal churches will be assessed. By comparing it to having a deregulated market situation it will be exemplified how various products, in this case types of churches, are fighting for consumers and account for niche marketing in a situation of religious competition. Considering the dogmas and ethics of the various churches the supply-side of the producer-consumer relationship will be examined. It is to be shown that by stressing on different aspects of their doctrines a certain audience is addressed. By analysing the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and their particular stress on the practice of exorcism the attractiveness of a certain product to specific consumer needs will be assessed.

Finally, the circumstances of the Brazilians that are mainly attending Pentecostal churches will be illustrated with focusing on the benefits and appeals of committing to Pentecostalism. Especially for women and the poor the practices and theologies of certain Pentecostal churches promise immediate improvement of their social and personal conditions. By applying aspects of the rational choice theory it will be examined why people and levels of society are drawn to specific churches in opposition to others. In particular, attention will be given to the attractiveness of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to a particular group of society thereby stressing the demand side of the relationship.

Pentecostalism is a Protestant movement that had its origins in the United States of America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Even though the very first Pentecostal churches in Brazil were founded by US missionaries it is important to stress that "autonomous autochthonous initiatives have been responsible for the main growth of these churches" (Droogers 1993, 20) in Brazil. Pentecostalism is seen by many as a particularly North American phenomenon leaving out any reference to Pentecostal growth in the sphere of Latin America. In Brazil the emergence of Pentecostalism started from 1910 onwards "only four years after the Azura Street revival in Los Angeles" (Freston 1995 119) which is commonly seen as its origin. However what has to be acknowledged is that "the origins of a phenomenon (which may be anywhere or nowhere) must be distinguished from the (usually American) power to 'globalize' knowledge of it" (Freston 1997, 185). In regards to the development of the movement in Brazil the fact that it did not mainly derive from US initiative is important since "Pentecostalism was in its infancy when it reached Brazil" (Freston 1995, 121) which means that "without large resources or established denominations, it did not create the relations of dependence with the U.S. which characterized the historical missions" (Freston 1995, 121) of earlier Protestant movements.

When dealing with Brazilian society, Pentecostalism has to be taken under consideration more than ever since today "Pentecostalism is a popular, fast-growing and politically active force in Brazilian society" (Freston 1995, 119). Giving exact numbers of Pentecostals living in Brazil is not easy as it depends on the criteria that are being applied and how they are being counted. However, Freston assesses that "at a conservative estimate, Protestants make up 15% of the population, some 23 million" (Freston 1995, 119). In regards to Pentecostals this means, as "Pentecostals comprise about two-third of all Protestants" (Freston 1995, 119) around 16 million people where estimated as belonging to any Pentecostal church in the beginning of the 90s and this number is likely to have risen quite considerably since then. This claim is comprehensible when considering that in the time around 1992 "in Rio de Janeiro one new evangelical registered per day" (Freston 1997, 187) and that of all "new churches registered in 1990 to 1992, 91 per cent are Pentecostal-Charismatic" (Freston 1997, 187).

Historically, Pentecostalism can be seen as having emerged as "three 'waves' of institutional creation" (Freston 1995, 120). Applying a concept of waves is seen useful by Freston because this "emphasizes Pentecostalism's versatility, but also the way each church carries the mark of the era in which it was born" (Freston 1995, 120). Since there exist hundreds of various Pentecostal Churches only the few dominating ones were taken under consideration in Frestons historical analysis. The churches of the first wave, commonly seen as the 'historical Pentecostalism', emerged in 1910/1911. The Christian Congregation and the Assemblies of God are the main representatives. However, "the initial reception in Brazil is limited" (Freston 1995, 120). The societal circumstances have to be taken under consideration when assessing the minimal success of the original Pentecostal churches at first. Regarding the wider situation of Latin America Chesnut's illustration helps to understand the acceptance of the new movement was restrained.

"The tiny minorities who began to convert to historic Protestant denominations, such as Methodist and Presbyterianism, in the latter half of the nineteenth century and then to the faith missions around the turn of the century risked social ostracism and sometimes even violence at the hands of Catholics who viewed Protestant converts as traitorous to the One True Faith, if not the nation itself" (Chesnut 2003, 39).

Therefore as Dodson states, "the historical Protestant churches labored for a century to penetrate the Catholic monopoly with only limited success" (Dodson 1997, 25) However, Chesnut also acknowledges their "pioneering role in laying the historical infrastructure of the religion's new religious economy" (Chesnut 2003, 40) since they "set the stage upon which their charismatic brethren...would act as the protagonists in remaking Latin America's religious landscape" (Chesnut 2003, 40).

It is also not astonishing in this respect that Brazil was one of the first countries to establish Pentecostal churches in opposition to the historically Catholic domination since although "Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world...the hegemony of the Catholic church and its orthodoxy have never been as strong there as in other parts of Latin America" (Kramer 2005, 96). However not until the second wave of Pentecostal growth do the numbers become contextually significant. Again, the societal and global circumstances can mainly be accounted for the occurring events. The second wave is said to have begun in the 1950s and early 1960s "when urbanization and mass society, especially in Sao Paulo, make possible a form of Pentecostalism which breaks with existing models" (Freston 1995, 120). Counting to the second wave are, according to Freston, among various other small ones, the new founded Church of the Four Square Gospel, Brazil for Christ and God is Love (Freston 1995, 120). Although second wave can already be characterized by a more dynamic relationship to society the groups of the third wave update the relationship to society again by "increasing its theological, liturgical, ethical and aesthetical variety" (Freston 1995, 120). The emergence of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and the International Church of the Grace of God, which mainly make up the third wave, has also to be seen in relation to the wider social occurrences. The third wave of Pentecostal growth in Brazil happens after "the authoritarian modernization of the country, especially in communications, when over two-third of the population are urbanized, the economic 'miracle' is over and the 'lost decade' of the 1980s is beginning" (Frenston 1995, 120). Commonly the churches of the second and third wave are regarded as separate of the first ones, which are seen as the traditional Pentecostalism whereas the second and the third wave "have come to be called neo-Pentecostal, as a result of the changes they have introduced into Pentecostalism" (Freston 1995, 182).


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Pentecostalism in Brazil
University of Auckland  (Department of Sociology)
Sociology of Religion
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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413 KB
Pfingstbewegung, Brasilien, Religionssoziologie, Pentecostalism, religiöse Bewegung
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Johanna Niehues (Author), 2005, Pentecostalism in Brazil, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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