Welcome to the Occupation

Well that went fast! Conference season is over for me. I attend two with regularity, and I try to present at one of the them if I have any new material I am working on–for me, conferences are similar to when comedians take their new material to smaller clubs, trying it out on audiences first, refining, editing, working on timing, all before the next HBO special, or sitcom pilot. This is the fun part of a conference, the working out of material, the endless streams of conversations–what are you working on? Where did you do your work? Is so and so still there? With few exceptions, I have been the only one who looks like me in the room—that should bother more people than it seems too.

 The American Society of Church History is such a conference. And for nearly twenty years, I have attended these types of conferences and talked about my work on Latino/a Pentecostals. For many of those years, I have been the only Latina in the room, and without too much exaggeration, the only Pentecostal. It is a neat little club, me, my work, and my willingness to explain pretty much the same thing to the same groups, in different verbiage, with endless repetition–because no one else will. No one else does, and as such, being a pioneer, as it were, can either be a depressing dirge about how no one cares, how both mainstream American Religious historians ignore us, and how historians of evangelicalism tend to treat us as their rebellious and somewhat crazy cousins. No, I don’t get depressed over being the only one in the room, maybe a little fatigued, but one reason I do it, trying out new material, material that perhaps a dozen or so people in the field of History know anything about is because, well, I have too.

Who else is going to tell the powers that be that religious history existed in the West too, among indigenous peoples, among Mexicanos in Alta California, among Hispanos in New Mexico? Who else is going to change the trajectory American religious history has been on for decades that the narrative flow is East to West, Protestant to Catholic to Other–who will tell them that this is, well, historically inaccurate? By way of introduction, here are 5 things that all American Religious Historians and anyone else interested in Latino/a religious communities should know…next week I’ll have 5 more and then I want to introduce you to some up and coming scholars who you’ll be hearing alot more from in the years to come….I am so glad they are on their way–and that they too will be able to tell our stories…

5. Conversion to various forms of Protestantisms are over 100 years old…so this is not new, think 1850s at the earliest. (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians).

4. Latinos/as are becoming more secular, very much like the general population, look for generation to be a prime factor (especially 3rd and 4th generation).

3. U.S. Latinos are easily 65% Catholic, so despite the wishes of my evangelical brethren, earnest Ph.D. students, & inquisitive journalists–yeah, it is still about La Virgen (popular devotions trump institutional church).

2. Latino/a evangelicos are largely still enamored by the conservative politics and theology of white evangelicals, interest in mainline Protestantism’s emphasis on social justice still lags behind. (high tension piety & individualism over communal concerns).

1. Latino “others” conversion to non-traditional religions: Islam, Buddhism, etc. is not surging, but writing about these instances is important since these communities are not religious monoliths. ( Some aspiring PhD student would do well to hop on this bandwagon).

About Arlene Sánchez-Walsh

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