History ETDs

Publication Date

1-31-2013

Abstract

This study focuses on intra-village religious conflict stemming from Protestant conversion in Oaxaca. Protestant expansion is nowhere more visible than in southern Mexico. Of the southern states Oaxaca has the highest growth rate of Protestantism, increasing 531% between 1970 and 2000. From 2000 to 2010, it grew another 65%. Such rapid change brought serious conflicts in closely knit indigenous villages. Asserting that en el pueblo, la costumbre es ley,' ('in the town, custom is law') some communities argued that Protestant expansion created divisions and jeopardized communalism. Religious competition challenged collective identity in indigenous villages, leading to competing conceptualizations of tradition and ritual. Indigenous leaders, evangélicos, bilingual teachers, government mediators, U.S. missionaries, and the Catholic Church fought over who had the authority to determine the expression of legal culture and local variations in the exercise of power. Framed by the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the Zapatista uprising in 1994—revolutions with very different conceptualizations of indigenous citizenship—I examine how Protestantism impacted social organization, political authority, and identities in native communities. Protestant conversion in these communities fueled broad discussions of indigenous rights, autonomy, and local citizenship. Three-quarters of Oaxaca's 570 municipalities rule by a traditional governance system known as usos y costumbres (uses and customs). Due to such localized political allegiances, religious rituals play an important role in community adhesion. Converting to Protestantism is an individual religious choice and a decision with social, political, and economic implications for one's family and the entire community. This history of autonomy and geographical and political fragmentation, coupled with the struggle of the central government to enforce the Federal Constitution, has led to political stalemates over individual rights to exercise their religious beliefs and the collective rights of native peoples to set the social, political, and spiritual agendas of their communities. An examination of the growth of Protestantism illuminates the struggle over power dynamics in local indigenous communities and its intersection with regional and national authorities. Through their identification as evangélicos, Protestants united across political, geographic, and ethnic borders. In the process, they redefined what it meant to be indigenous, Mexican, and Christian.

Level of Degree

Doctoral

Degree Name

History

Department Name

History

First Advisor

Hall, Linda

First Committee Member (Chair)

Garcia y Griego, Manuel

Second Committee Member

Hutchison, Elizabeth

Third Committee Member

Radding, Cynthia

Fourth Committee Member

Field, Les

Language

English

Document Type

Dissertation

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