Growth of Protestantism in Latin America will tend to stabilize, says Brazilian sociologist

April 29, 2011

SAO PAULO, Brazil

The growth of Protestantism in Latin America will stabilize over the next decades, reaching 20-35 percent of the population, and Protestantism will unlikely become a majority in any country of the area, says Brazilian sociologist Paul Charles Freston.

Freston, who is a senior researcher at Baylor University and professor at the Federal University of São Carlos, São Paulo, said in an interview with the Instituto Humanistas (IHU) of São Leopoldo this month, that he foresees a totally transformed Evangelical scenario in Brazil.

“It will not have the same triumphalism and the same hardened way. Other types of leaders will be produced, other relationships among the different religions and with politics," he predicted.   

Freston added that the Catholic Church also will stabilize, because it will have to adapt to a new social political scene, marked by democracy and religious pluralism.    

In his analysis, “It is difficult to maintain hegemony in civil society because it is becoming more and more independent, autonomous and plural. For example, the dictatorships, the same that pursued the (Catholic) church, were more favorable situations for the maintenance of the social position of the church," that on many occasions served as an umbrella for groups in opposition to the military regime. 

The Brazilian censuses show that each year the Catholic Church loses about 1% of its members. But that loss of nominal adhesion also has its positive aspects.

More and more religion is becoming a choice in Brazil and no longer simply a religion of cultural inheritance, from parent to child. The faithful of the Catholic Church will, when its membership stabilizes, certainly be more practicing, identified and committed, and no longer merely nominal, Freston pointed out.   

Besides the numerical decline, the historical weight of the Catholic Church in each country of Latin America will also suffer changes, related to the nature of its members. When the numeric representation falls in relation to the total population, it becomes more difficult to justify certain privileges.

"The idea of the church is something that gets confused with nationality and it demands a certain preferential status within society,” said Freston. “It is that that is more and more threatened.”

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