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CLALS | Religion & Democratic Contestation


Latin American/Latino Studies
Fax: 202-885-6430
4545 42nd Street, Room 308

Stinchcomb, Dennis A
Program Manager

Latin American/Latino Studies
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-8137
Religion and Democracy

Project Summary

The Religion and Democratic Contestation Initiative is focused on improving our understanding of religious responses to emergent rights-based social justice mobilizations in Latin American democracies. Building on a now completed project focused on the relationship of religion to violence in Latin America under circumstances both of dictatorship and democracy, the present initiative seeks to describe and compare how religious actors, organizations, and hierarchies are currently participating in transnational, national and local advocacy associated with two widespread sources of conflicts characteristic of the region’s democracies: conflicts over extractive resources and relating to environmental and climate justice, on the one hand, and contestation relating to gender and sexuality, on the other. In so doing, this initiative plans to assess the extent of continuity and change in religious approaches to rights and justice in Latin America, from the past to the present.

The environment and gender were chosen as topics to organize the current project, given the evident public debate and social contestation these two questions generate in Latin America today, and our assessment that public perceptions of these issues are changing. This project gives particular attention to interactions between religion and governments, religious and civil society actors, and between local and transnational advocacy networks, including the role of religious actors in the creation and application of the law. A primary project goal is to identify and explain the range of variation of religious orientations to rights, justice and to the law. A second goal is to identify the sources of specific conceptions of rights and justice for religious advocacy, as articulated by theological concepts and positions, by local, and national engagements, but also by religious participation in transnational advocacy networks dedicated to these issues.

This project is directed by Robert Albro, a Research Associate Professor at CLALS, together with the Center's Director, Eric Hershberg, and co-Principal Investigators Evan Berry, currently an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion and co-director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Master’s Program at American University, and Macarena Sáez, Director of the Impact Litigation Project at American University’s Washington College of Law. This project is supported by a two-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Group sitting around a table at workshop presentation

Workshops and Public Fora

We convened three meetings with scholars from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America to facilitate the project's work. An initial planning meeting was held in Washington, DC, in February 2014. This meeting included a public forum on the relationship of religious advocacy to both justice and rights in contemporary Latin America. In November 2014, also in Washington, DC, CLALS convened a group of leading researchers, who presented original case-driven research as part of a day-long meeting concerned with the ways religion has shaped public agendas around gender and the environment in Latin America. This meeting was followed by a public forum on religion, sex, and nature in diverse social justice movements across the region. The project also sponsored a panel at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in May 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which highlighted one part of this ongoing work, the challenge posed by indigenous peoples and their cosmologies to global environmental debate. In July 2015, we held a third meeting on religion and climate change in comparative regional perspective. 

We also convened a series of workshops and public fora to facilitate dialogue with and inform the work of practitioners and policy decision-makers engaged with project topics. Together with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, we hosted a public workshop in September 2015 on religion, journalism, and climate change, which will assessed the impact of the papal encyclical on the environment. The workshop also marked the premiere of the documentary When the Forest Weeps, by School of Communications Journalist in Residence Bill Gentile. In collaboration with the Washington College of Law’s Impact Litigation Project, we hosted a workshop in October 2015 on the influence of religious family law on the rights of LGBT parents and children. Two final public panels were held January 20-21, 2016 to disseminate project findings among practitioners and policy decision-makers through the presentation of case studies. The first of these took place at the Washington Office on Latin America in Washington, DC and the second at the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice in New York City.

Project Concept Document

Project Video Resources


Working Papers:

What Pope Francis Brings to Latin America

"Let Us Care for Everyone's Home": The Catholic Church's Role in Keeping Gold Mining out of El Salvador

Public Fora: Churches and Cosmologies

Participant Bios

Forum Flyers (DC and NYC)

DC Event Video via

Workshop: Religion, Law, and LGBTI Rights

Workshop Agenda

Participant Bios

Workshop Rationale

Public Forum: Religion and Climate Change in the Public Sphere

Event Videos and Report via the Pulitzer Center

Feature Article on When the Forest Weeps 

Forum Agenda

Participant Bios

Forum Flyer

Workshop Rationale

Workshop: Religion and Climate Change in Comparative Regional Perspective

Workshop Agenda

Participant Bios

November 2014 Project Workshop

Workshop Agenda

Participant Bios

Public Forum Flyer

February 2014 Planning Meeting

Workshop Agenda

Participant Bios

Public Forum Flyer

Related Blog Posts

From Lima to Paris ... and Beyond

El Salvador: Just Saying No to Gold Mining

Pope Francis’s Pastoral Mission

The Papal Encyclical: Driving Debate in Latin America

The Amazon Basin: Rainforests, Oil, Politics, and the U.N. Climate Negotiations

Historic August for LGBT Rights in Colombia

Is Marina Silva the PT’s Nemesis?

Climate Change: Creating Spaces for Action

Brazil: Evangelicals Gaining Influence

Brazil: Sustained Attention to Sustainable Development?

Performing the Pope

Related Links

Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs

CLALS and School of Communication Partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Archived Project: Religion and Violence in Latin America

Hemispheric Institute Initiative: Religion and Politics in the Americas