Activist Faith: Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile.

Author:Edmonds, Amy
Position:Book review
 
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Activist Faith: Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile. By Carol Ann Drogus and Hannah Stewart-Gambino. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. 212 pp. np.

This book provides a fascinating look into a rarely_ studied question: what happens to religious social activism after democratization is accomplished? Chile and Brazil both endured authoritarian military governments throughout the 1970s and 1980s that brutally subdued political dissension. In response to these repressive regimes broad grassroots opposition movements, known as Christian Base Communities, or CEBs, developed. These movements, largely mobilized by the Catholic Church and led by women, served as critical actors to the successful re-democratization of Chile and Brazil, and the significant activism of women was claimed to be "proof of far-reaching political, gender, and social change (p. 15). Since both countries democratized in the late 1980s, however, CEB's have declined dramatically, and there appears to be little enduring impact. Through the use of extensive interviews with women who were active participants and leaders in political dissension, the authors seek to discover what lasting consequences the empowerment of women had on civil society.

Within the context of social movement theory the authors first analyze the relationship between the Catholic Church and the base communities throughout the regime's rule. They then compare the decline of the base communities and examine hove and why the church withdrew its support. This section is compelling due to the authors' detailed examination of the way specific characteristics of the base communities affected their decline. Although the, authors note a variety of factors used to explain the Catholic hierarchy s decision to keep the alliance between faith and politics temporary, this analysis is incomplete and neglects some of the historical pressures, such as the former alliance of the Catholic Church with the Christian Democratic Party in the 1960s that influenced the separation of church from state.

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