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Is Latin America losing its religion?

posted by Per Smith

Writing in the Christian Century, Philip Jenkins suggests that there are signs of an early stage European style “secularization” at work in parts of Latin America, as evidenced by changes in birth rates as well as social attitudes:

Several factors shape a country’s religious outlook, and prosperity and the welfare net certainly play a role. A country’s fertility rate also tells us a lot about attitudes toward religion. When a country develops economically, women are needed to enter the workforce rather than remain in the home. Meanwhile, shifting religious values place less pressure on women to have large families. In turn, smaller families mean diminished links with religious structures—fewer children go through religious education or first communion classes. And couples who have decided to limit families tend to run up against church policies on issues of contraception and abortion. When sexuality is separated from conception and child-rearing, people are more open to nontraditional family structures, including gay unions. Whatever the causes, the European experience indicates that countries where the fertility rate falls well below replacement (2.1 children per woman) might be facing rapid secularization.

According to Jenkins birthrates have been steadily declining in the most developed Latin American nations, while rates of disaffiliation have been on the rise, particularly among younger generations. What does it mean for future generations of Latin Americans? Jenkins doesn’t believe it is time to “start writing the obituary for Latino faith,” but suggests instead that such faith “will be taking quite surprising forms in the near future.” Read the full article here.

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One Response to “Is Latin America losing its religion?”

  1. avatar Jesse Reiber says:

    After reviewing the Pew Form study, I found Jenkins’ article to be interesting in that he brought up other countries outside the US in comparison. It was especially interesting since Jenkins believes that the Latin American countries are beginning to look more like the European countries as opposed to the US in terms of their secularity.

    In my mind, and obviously quite naively, I imagined Latin America to always have been a fairly religious part of the world, especially in terms of Christianity. Though there seems to be a rise of the “nones” as in the US, one has to wonder where they stand in regard to religion in general. While Jenkins states that many individuals are leaving their respective churches, both Catholic and Protestant, I am curious as to what these Latin American nones believe in. Just because countries like Brazil and Uruguay have large populations that identify as having no religious affiliation does not mean that people within those countries are not religious. They might proclaim an atheistic belief, but it would be my guess that most would be pretty similar to the nones in the US, where a small fraction claims to be atheist, while the majority still professes to belief in some sort of higher power.

    Jenkins cites many reasons for Latin America’s increasing secularity such as the long-term economic growth and a declining fertility rate, but an additional reason for the rise in the number of nones may due to a desire to disassociate from religious institutions. Immoral behavior, like the Catholic Church and its history of sexual abuse scandals, is just one reason people might feel they do not need a church to continue practicing their faith.

    While some Latin American countries tend to be more conservative than others, I think that with a younger generation that is less religiously affiliated will serve to create a more liberal, but still spiritual voting population. It has probably already started to happen, as Jenkins states, with some Latin American countries legalizing gay marriage and abortion. Faith can be redefined and it has been throughout history and because of this I do not think that Latin America will so easily follow Europe’s footsteps to a more extreme secularism. France is often cited as a country that has had a long history with established religion and the Catholic Church, but I am not aware of any Latin American country having as similar a history. Of course, it will certainly be interesting to see what effect Pope Francis will have on Argentina as his time in the papacy begins.

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