The recent closure of face to face events around the world is dreadful on so many points, but in some ways it actually does open some opportunities. Many institutions have adapted by putting first rate lectures and conferences online (Georgetown has done some great stuff). Now it is the turn of my own unit, Baylor University’s ’s Institute for the Studies of Religion, ISR, and I am taking this opportunity to advertise a major upcoming event.
Before you ask, you would attend the event remotely, and it is free, gratis, and for nothing. You should definitely register, though.
ISR has now established an Evangelical Studies Program, ESP, in the very capable hands of David Bebbington. Yes, OK, we have already done all the ESP jokes about precognition, knowing this was going to happen, spoon-bending, etc.
This October 7-9, ESP is doing its inaugural conference on the History of Latin American Evangelicalism. The event was originally meant to be held as a regular face to face gathering, but for obvious reasons, we shifted to online. The good news about that is that you can sit in and appreciate the whole thing without flying or driving to Waco, or even wearing an annoying mask. I love our Baylor campus dearly, but that does save a lot of time and trouble.
The web page I cited above gives you all the details you really need about the event. As you see, it’s a great line up of speakers and a wide range of topics. You also see a link that allows you to register.
That Latin American theme is an enormously significant theme in the study of evangelicalism, or of Global Christianity as such. Evangelical growth in that continent has been a central fact of religious life over the past half century, challenging familiar Catholic structures and assumptions. Many controversies have resulted, with some scholars claiming that whole countries, or the region itself, are “turning Protestant.” That is exaggerated, but the scale of the change has been head-spinning, and the political impact across the continent has been huge.
This is all doubly important for the US because of the large scale US immigration to this country. By 2050, a quarter of Americans will claim Latino identity. Many of those newer immigrants are either Protestant/Pentecostal when they arrive in the US, or else join such churches within a decade or two. That evangelical shift is a matter for US history as much as Latin American.
To take one scholarly name from the ten or so speakers, the opening presentation is by David C. Kirkpatrick. I recently reviewed his terrific book A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left for Christian Century.
My own paper concerns “Fertility, Faith, and the Limits of Evangelical Growth in Latin America.” I just completed a book called Fertility and Faith which argues that sharply falling birth rates correlate closely with secularization and the sharp decline of religious institutions. Contrary to stereotypes, Latin America now has among the sharpest falls in fertility anywhere in the world, and the main areas affected are precisely the main centers (up to now) of evangelical growth, especially Brazil. We already witness a shift in the rapid spread of liberal laws on same sex marriage, in the teeth of ferocious opposition from all churches, Protestant and Catholic alike.
My argument is that for largely demographic reasons, the “evangelical revolutions” we used to expect look as if they might be forestalled by decisive shifts to secularization. I also argue that any discussion of religion in a particular state or society absolutely has to include that demographic dimension, and if it does not, it is missing a crucial part of the puzzle. Hypothetically, let me ask: is it possible to have a “New Reformation” in a country (or continent) with modern Scandinavian demographics?
Those are my ideas, and I’ll be delighted to argue them out with the outstanding body of scholars we will have assembled for this event.
You should sign up! Did I mention the event is free?