In Latin America, growth of Protestantism will stabilize, says sociologist

Predicts that Protestantism would eventually comprise 20 to 35 percent of the population in Latin America

April 29, 2011 | Web First
By ENInews Staff | Ecumenical News International

While Latin America has traditionally been overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the face of religion there is being transformed with the growth of Protestantism expected to stabilize over the coming decades, according to a Brazilian sociologist.

Paul Charles Freston, a senior researcher at Baylor University and professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, Sao Paulo, predicted that Protestantism would eventually comprise 20 to 35 percent of the population in Latin America, the Latin America and Caribbean Communication Agency reported.

It is unlikely that it would become a majority in any country of the area, added the academic. In the case of Brazil, which claims the world‚s largest baptized Roman Catholic population, Freston said he foresees a totally transformed evangelical scenario.

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

The Catholic church will also stabilize, said the sociologist, because it will have to adapt to a new social political scene, marked by democracy and religious pluralism. "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, he said.

Although the Brazilian censuses show that the Catholic church loses about one percent of its members each year, Freston said that decline also had positive aspects. When membership stabilizes, he explained, those remaining in the church will likely be more practicing, identified and committed, and no longer merely nominal.

Besides the numerical decline, the historical weight of the Catholic church in each country of Latin America will also change, related to the nature of its members. When church membership 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. It is that that is more and more threatened," said Freston.

--April 29, 2011

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