This month, Oxford published The Vatican and Catholic Activism in Mexico and Chile: The Politics of Transnational Catholicism, 1920-1940, by Stephen J. C. Andes (Louisiana State University). The publisher’s description follows.
As in Europe, secular nation building in Latin America challenged the traditional authority of the Roman Catholic Church in the early twentieth century. In response, Catholic social and political movements sought to contest state-led secularisation and provide an answer to the ‘social question’, the complex set of problems associated with urbanisation, industrialisation, and poverty. As Catholics mobilised against the secular threat, they also struggled with each other to define the proper role of the Church in the public sphere. This study utilizes recently opened files at the Vatican pertaining to Mexico’s post-revolutionary Church-state conflict known as the Cristero Rebellion (1926-1929). However, looking beyond Mexico’s exceptional case, the work employs a transnational framework, enabling a better understanding of the supranational relationship between Latin American Catholic activists and the Vatican. To capture this world historical context, Andes compares Mexico to Chile’s own experience of religious conflict. Unlike past scholarship, which has focused almost exclusively on local conditions, Andes seeks to answer how diverse national visions of Catholicism responded to papal attempts to centralize its authority and universalize Church practices worldwide.
The Politics of Transnational Catholicism applies research on the interwar papacy, which is almost exclusively European in outlook, to a Latin American context. The national cases presented illuminate how Catholicism shaped public life in Latin America as the Vatican sought to define Catholic participation in Mexican and Chilean national politics. It reveals that Catholic activism directly influenced the development of new political movements such as Christian Democracy, which remained central to political life in the region for the remainder of the twentieth century.
This month, New York University Press will publish Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream by Leah Sarat (Arizona State University). The publisher’s description follows.
The canyon in central Mexico was ablaze with torches as hundreds of people filed in. So palpable was their shared shock and grief, they later said, that neither pastor nor priest was needed. The event was a memorial service for one of their own who had died during an attempted border passage. Months later a survivor emerged from a coma to tell his story. The accident had provoked a near-death encounter with God that prompted his conversion to Pentecostalism.
Today, over half of the local residents of El Alberto, a town in central Mexico, are Pentecostal. Submitting themselves to the authority of a God for whom there are no borders, these Pentecostals today both embrace migration as their right while also praying that their “Mexican Dream”—the dream of a Mexican future with ample employment for all—will one day become a reality.
Fire in the Canyon provides one of the first in‑depth looks at the dynamic relationship between religion, migration, and ethnicity across the U.S.-Mexican border. Faced with the choice between life‑threatening danger at the border and life‑sapping poverty in Mexico, residents of El Alberto are drawing on both their religion and their indigenous heritage to demand not only the right to migrate, but also the right to stay home. If we wish to understand people’s migration decisions, Sarat argues, we must take religion seriously. It is through religion that people formulate their ideas about life, death, and the limits of government authority.
In January, Duke University Press will publish Religion and State Formation in Postrevolutionary Mexico by Ben Fallaw (Colby College). The publisher’s description follows.
The religion question—the place of the Church in a Catholic country after an anticlerical revolution—profoundly shaped the process of state formation in Mexico. From the end of the Cristero War in 1929 until Manuel Ávila Camacho assumed the presidency in late 1940 and declared his faith, Mexico’s unresolved religious conflict roiled regional politics, impeded federal schooling, undermined agrarian reform, and flared into sporadic violence, ultimately frustrating the secular vision shared by Plutarco Elías Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas.
Ben Fallaw argues that previous scholarship has not appreciated the pervasive influence of Catholics and Catholicism on postrevolutionary state formation. By delving into the history of four understudied Mexican states, he is able to show that religion swayed regional politics not just in states such as Guanajuato, in Mexico’s central-west “Rosary Belt,” but even in those considered much less observant, including Campeche, Guerrero, and Hidalgo. Religion and State Formation in Postrevolutionary Mexico reshapes our understanding of agrarian reform, federal schooling, revolutionary anticlericalism, elections, the Segunda (a second Cristero War in the 1930s), and indigenism, the Revolution’s valorization of the Mesoamerican past as the font of national identity.
As promised, I’m reporting back with my impressions of “For Greater Glory,” a film depicting the Mexican Cristeros War of 1926-29, which opened this past weekend.
The film is not an American production – and its director makes his debut with it. I fear that this shows. Despite some genuine stars (Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria), and beautiful visuals, the film lacks a certain polish. It is at times too fast and choppy, and at times too slow and drawn out. That said, the film has its moments – there are several excellent scenes. And overall, it is certainly watchable.
And given its subject matter and content, I suggest that it is certainly worth watching.
The Cristeros War was sparked by widespread popular resistance to Continue reading