Protestantism, Nationalism, and Fractured Communities in 1970s Mexico

Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM
Room 201 (Colorado Convention Center)
Kathleen M. McIntyre, Clarion University of Pennsylvania
This paper analyzes the impact of Protestantism on conceptualizations of nationalism, indigenous identity, and citizenship in Mexico.  Following the Mexican Revolution, the state collaborated with Protestant organizations to assimilate indigenous Mexicans by weakening local traditions embedded in syncretic Catholicism.  Initially, Mexican federal entities such as National Indigenist Institute (INI) worked closely with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) through development programs and public education curriculum. The SIL was once the largest Protestant missionary organization in the world with a sizable budget and contracts with host country governments throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa. 

In Mexico, the SIL worked with fifty-six indigenous languages and 110 local dialects between 1935 and 1979. However, while many of the SIL’s early programs complemented national integration goals, by the 1970s, the organization had failed to adapt to intellectual trends and global indigenous rights movements that interpreted the SIL’s continued presence in native communities as a hegemonic incursion of "el american way of life." By 1979, expelling Protestant organizations became a rallying point for indigenous rights’ movements in Latin America.

My paper links transnational discourse on “participatory indigenism” with debates over Protestant growth in native communities. As Mexican intellectuals drew connections between the role of U.S. government and exploitation of natural resources in Latin America, the SIL became emblematic of neo-colonialism. Debates over the SIL’s agenda in Mexico evolved into a larger discourse of indigenous citizenship and the meaning of community. More broadly, this paper addresses te ways in which Protestantism ruptures, negotiates, or creates social spaces in native communities of Latin America. Converts forge a transnational community not limited to a local village identity, but to a larger Christian one that unites Protestants with other regions of Latin America and the United States.

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