Religion and Politics in Nicaragua: A Historical Ethnography Set in the City of Masaya

Dissertation, State University of New York (Suny) (2008)
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UMI Number: 3319553 This study is a historical ethnography of religious diversity in post-revolutionary Nicaragua from the vantage point of Catholics who live in the city of Masaya located on the Pacific side of Nicaragua at the end of the twentieth century. My overarching research question is: How may ethnographically observed patterns in Catholic religious practices in contemporary Nicaragua be understood in historical context? Utilizing anthropological theory and method grounded in Weberian historical theory, I explore Catholic ritual as contested politico-religious cultural terrain. The patron saint celebration of Masaya becomes a contested symbol in 1999 as those who carry Saint Jerome in street procession refuse to honor a sitting president, challenging his right to rule. The deep Marian devotion of the Nicaraguan people is reflected in the household and neighborhood celebrations of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, while nation-building elites have a long history of claiming the Virgin as patron saint of the nation. While these traditional Catholic saint celebrations figure in imagining a nation, three "new" Catholic movements also compete for attention, while the polity is increasingly exposed to Protestant and Pentecostal groups. When Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown in 1979, ending the 40-year family dictatorship, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) ruled for a decade with the attention of the world placed on its religion of revolution, the Christian base community and liberation theology. At the same time, however, two other movements began growing quietly. They, like liberation theology, draw their justification from the second Vatican Council. In Masaya, Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the Neocatechumenal Way are "exemplary" prophetic movements gaining ground within the Catholic Church in competition with the "ethical" prophets of the Christian base community. Selectively adopting "protestant-like" forms of worship through these modern movements, the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic Church reacts to the challenge to its cultural hegemony coming from evangelical competitors. New history is continuously being made as people in this part of Nicaragua struggle over the direction of their country within a complex terrain of religious competition.

Author's Profile

Catherine Stanford
American Anthropological Association


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