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Religion and Environmental Struggles in Latin America

Abstract and Keywords

Latin America faces environmental crises that directly affect the health and well-being of its people, especially the poor. This essay discusses the involvement of religious groups in the myriad environmental struggles found in Latin America today. It charts religious beliefs and practices of indigenous religions, focusing on Roman Catholicism, liberation theology, ecofeminism, Protestants (emphasizing evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism), and diaspora religions of Latin America and the Caribbean. In each case, it analyzes religious symbols, theologies, myths, narratives, and rituals as they relate to the nonhuman world. It also examines the link between environmental ethics and action, the legacy of colonization in Latin America, religious syncretism and sacred/secular blurring, epistemology, and hermeneutics.

Keywords: Latin America, religious groups, religious beliefs, indigenous religions, Roman Catholicism, liberation theology, ecofeminism, environmental ethics, diaspora religions

Millions of indigenous people and peasants crowd into urban slums throughout Latin America. Displaced from their land, they struggle to provide for their families in cities that offer them air pollution, contaminated water, minimal shelter, and inadequate sanitation services. Mining, logging, ranching, the clear-cutting of forests, soil erosion, and the polluting of lakes and rivers force others into desperate battles for survival in the countryside. Latin America faces environmental crises that directly affect the health and well-being of its people, especially the poor.

This essay tracks the involvement of religious groups in the myriad environmental struggles found in Latin America today. We assume that religion, through myth, rituals, and narratives, provides a framework by which one can understand a group's relationship to nonhuman nature and to actions on behalf of the environment. We realize that analyzing the beliefs and actions of religious actors is complicated terrain; each tradition or group will be more complex than evidenced by the brief treatment given in this essay. Religious traditions, identities, and institutions are continually contested and reshaped to fit historical, (p. 511) social, economic, and cultural conditions. With this caveat, however, we contend that taking religious traditions and actors into account deepens understanding of environmental struggles and movements within Latin America. This essay explores religion and environmental struggles in Latin America by charting religious beliefs and practices of indigenous religions, the Roman Catholic church, liberation theologians, ecofeminist movements, Protestant faith traditions (emphasizing evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism), and diaspora religions of Latin America and the Caribbean. In each case we analyze religious symbols, theologies, myths, narratives, and rituals as they relate to the nonhuman world. We track links between theory and practice as we discuss the involvement of religious institutions and individual actors in environmental struggles. The essay concludes by discussing common themes found among the religious traditions, debates within the scholarly literature, and issues for further study.

Indigenous Religions

One could easily make the claim that religion plays a more central role in the environmental struggles faced by the indigenous peoples of Latin America than it does for other groups. Some contend that it is impossible to separate indigenous struggles on behalf of the environment from religion, since religious beliefs play a major role in current indigenous political activism.1 We hesitate to make too many generalizations about indigenous religions, given the literally thousands of different groups present in Latin America and the heterogeneity of beliefs and practices. Yet, we believe that common themes emerge when analyzing the indigenous relation to nature. Brandt Peterson writes:

The tremendous diversity of Latin American indigenous peoples is reflected in the heterogeneity of their religious beliefs and relations to nature. Yet Indians throughout the America share a basic experience of colonization and social, political, and economic marginalization in which assimilationist efforts to eradicate indigenous belief systems have persisted from missionary colonists through post-independence education policies, as have the dispossession and destruction of Indian lands by outsiders. For many indigenous peoples religion as an expression of a unique identity and a philosophy of connections to particular territories and place is central to their struggles to secure and protect their rights as distinct peoples.2

Pre-Columbian cosmovisions, whether Aztec, Inca, or Maya, spoke of an earth in which humans were inextricably interconnected with sacred landscapes, animals, and spirits. The cosmic order for the Aztecs could not be taken for (p. 512) granted; human blood obtained through ritual sacrifice was offered to keep the sun moving, for example, and human actions were seen as inseparable from the forces of nature. Deities and animals in turn were believed to assist humans, as evidenced in an Aztecan myth chronicling the discovery of corn: “Again, they said, ‘Gods what will they eat? Let food be looked for.’ Then the ant went and got a kernel of corn out of Food Mountain. … Then the gods chew them and put them on our lips. That's how we grew strong.”3 Mayan creation myths found in the Popol Vuh show the connections among humans, the earth, and deities, clearly depicting a spirituality centered on the natural world. Humans and animals celebrate the dawn of the world: “And here is the dawning and showing of the sun, moon, and stars. … And then, when the sun came up, the animals, small and great were happy. The eagle, the white vulture, small birds, great birds spread their wings, and the penitents and sacrificers knelt down. They were overjoyed, together with the penitents and sacrificers of the Tams, the Ilocs.”4 The Spanish also encountered Inca and other Andean peoples who believed that they were the offspring of the sun, moon, stars, thunder, and lightning. Latin America's pre-Columbian population inhabited a world both natural and sacred.

Contact with Europeans devastated most of Latin America's indigenous groups as the new arrivals introduced diseases and spread epidemics. Native peoples were killed through warfare, exploited economically, enslaved, and converted to Christianity. The nature-based religious systems of indigenous peoples were viewed by the new arrivals with suspicion and hostility. Father Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón wrote a typical response to indigenous practices in 1629: “In this New Spain, as in all the other heathen lands, they … still today hold the sun in great veneration, doing so as if it were God … and thus they attribute a rational soul to the sun and the moon and animals, speaking to them for the purpose of witchcraft.”5 This hostility toward native beliefs meant that indigenous peoples throughout the Americas received punishment for their religious practices and were forced to go underground or mix their local beliefs with Christianity. Given this history of conquest and loss of people, land, and practices, it is amazing that indigenous peoples and religions still survive.

For most contemporary indigenous religions, the relationship between nature and religion remains central in myths, narratives, and rituals. While recognizing the great diversity of beliefs and practices and the aftermath of colonization, most scholars still claim that indigenous worldviews encourage concern for nature and, by extension, practices that are not environmentally exploitative. Leslie E. Sponsel writes of the Amazon jungle, for example, “Indigenous environmental impact is usually negligible to moderate.”6

For most indigenous groups the sacred permeates nature. Sharp divisions between nature and humans or between the wild and civilized are rarely made. Rather, “indigenous peoples have evolved complex relationships based on systems of ecokinship with the elements of the world that surround them.”7 The creation (p. 513) myth of the Huarorani of Ecuador, for example, features a giant tree linking the earth and sky. The earth is part of this tree of life; humans and forest animals are connected through their place on the tree of life. This sense of ecokinship yields norms valuing reciprocity or balance between humans and the nonhuman world. Juan Carlos Galeano reports that for Amazon indigenous groups “many of the tales which illustrate such mythological importance of reciprocity and balance with nature are constructed with the fabric of direct experiences of fishermen, loggers, rubber tappers, hunters, intruders, and other forest dwellers.”8 Some Andean communities believe that mountains will kill people through landslides, floods, and illness if they do not nourish mountains that feed and shelter them. Mining, road building, and the clear-cutting of forests potentially throw sacred mountains into imbalance.9 The U'wa of Colombia believe that the universe will end if humans, nature, and deities fall out of balance. Contemporary Nahua of Central America may ask permission before cutting trees or plowing the ground in order to plant corn, saying, “Because the tree is the brother of Cemanahuac (that which surrounds us), one must ask permission before using its wood. If this is not done, the substance that lives within the tree and in the forest can do harm to the peasant or his family by causing disease and even death. If the gifts of the forest are overexploited, there will come a time when the forest will cease to produce, because all living beings become tired.”10

Rituals are often the means by which indigenous groups express the balance and reciprocity that characterize their relation with nature. Religious ceremonies, rituals, and practices honor the human-nature bond, recognizing interdependence, a desire to maintain balance, and deep connections with place. Myths and narratives relate humans to their natural surroundings. The Maya, for example, consider corn to be religiously important; they call themselves people of the corn. A local mountain or grove may be sacred, and animals frequently appear in indigenous myths as moral voices. Narratives may express geographically specific ways of relating to nature that are framed in religious terms.

Most indigenous religious traditions reflect geographical boundedness, yet also incorporate a range of religious symbols and practices. Traditional elements and Christian symbolism are mixed frequently, yielding a religious syncretism in service of ecological values. Mayan priests in Guatemala may also be practicing Catholics, and throughout the Americas indigenous groups have incorporated local myths into the worship of Christian saints. The Virgin Mary is often represented with symbols for local indigenous goddesses; Guadalupe, for example, incorporates aspects of the Aztecan goddess Tonantzin, as will be discussed later in this essay. Incan symbols of the sun and moon, representing Coya, a daughter of the moon, appear in depictions of the Andean Virgin Mary. A fluidity of forms and mixing of indigenous and Christian practices is common.

The indigenous of Latin America have maintained their ethnoreligious identity and close connections to the land over centuries of oppression. Contemporary (p. 514) ecoindigenous religion begins with the experience of colonization and economic, social, and cultural marginalization. Increased modernization and relentless development grew during the last decades of the twentieth century, threatening indigenous lands and lifeways. Indigenous resistance movements have grown throughout the region, and religious practices enable native peoples to resist ongoing attempts at further colonization and erasure as external actors press for resource extraction on their lands and as governments initiate assimilation projects. The patenting of traditional resources by Western companies also concerns many indigenous groups; they view such appropriation as an exploitation or “biopiracy” of indigenous knowledge. Indigenous protests and movements to protect lands from oil-drilling, deforestation, and mining, to protest “bioprospecting,” and to resist the introduction of genetically modified crops have emerged throughout Latin America over the past several decades. Thousands marched from the Amazon jungle to Quito, Ecuador, in 1992 to demand protected territory for local indigenous groups. Maya in Guatemala protest oil-drilling projects in Lake Petén Irzâ, the Huarorani resist oil-drilling in their forests, the Tukanoan organize to halt deforestation created by the planting of coca in their lands, and the Kogi of Colombia struggle to maintain their lifeways and their mountain lands. The U'wa utilize civil disobedience and lawsuits to resist oil-drilling in their mountain ranges; they have threatened mass suicide if drilling proceeds.

Increasing threats to the land and lifeways of many of Latin American's indigenous peoples have led to the growth of panindigenous activism. The Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, for example, united traditional indigenous peoples, Roman Catholics, and evangelical Maya to protest the imperatives of the global economy as expressed in the North America Free Trade Agreement. The production of maize, sacred to Mayan communities in southern Mexico, decreased dramatically following NAFTA, as the United States flooded Mexico with cheap corn. In addition, the Mexican government eroded communal ownership patterns. Faced with similar threats throughout the Americas, native groups have attempted to promote solidarity and activism among heterogeneous groups with divergent religious practices. The International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs and Survival International were formed in the 1960s and 1970s as indigenous rights and activist organizations. In 1992, 650 representatives met at the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Territory, Environment, and Development held at Kari Oca, Brazil, during the week before the Earth Summit (the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development). The group issued the Kari Oca Declaration and the Indigenous Peoples'Earth Charter. These documents affirmed the connections among land, spirituality, and self-determination, promoted a pan-Indian religious perspective and ethic, and linked indigenous religion and ethics with the defense and protection of natural resources.

Increasingly, environmentalists from more affluent nations have joined Latin American indigenous land struggles to bring international attention to their (p. 515) efforts to protest deforestation, resist mining, and protect intellectual property. These alliances have often proven successful. The danger exists, however, that nonnative outsiders, with a superficial understanding of indigenous religions and lifeways, may objectify native religions and indigenous in their search for the “pure” environmentalist. John Grim writes that “this romantic exploitation of indigenous religions typically accentuates a perceived native ecological wisdom as having been genetically transmitted.”11

Indigenous peoples throughout Latin America fight against mining, logging, ranching, and the damming of rivers to protect their land, ways of life, and religious sensibilities. Cleary and Steigenga write, “Indigenous mobilization cannot be understood without a careful consideration of religious factors. While specific political openings and social and economic processes facilitated the indigenous resurgence, religious institutions, beliefs and practices provided many of the resources, motivations, identities, and networks that nurtured the movement.”12 Land, life, the sacred, and the environment remain inseparable for the indigenous peoples of Latin America.

Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism remains the dominant religion in Latin America. Although campesinos (“peasant farmers”) may practice a “folk Catholicism” that is tied to nature, the Catholic church in Latin America itself does not, as Anna Peterson writes, “have a long tradition of explicit theological and moral reflection about the natural world.”13 Early Christian and medieval theologians such as Bonaventure, Francis of Assisi, and Hildegard of Bingen expressed appreciation for nature in their theologies and presumed that a harmonious order among humans and the natural world corresponded to God's design. Their views, however, did not reflect dominant theologies at the time of the conquest. The post-Reformation Catholicism that reached the Americas presumed that the domination of nature and other peoples by Christians reflected God's will. Extraction of resources, destruction of land, and colonizing of “savages” thus posed few theological problems.

A notable exception to triumphalist theologies of domination was that of Spanish Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas, who both defended the rights of indigenous peoples and extolled the natural world they inhabited. De las Casas vehemently protested against the destruction of indigenous peoples and their lands and engaged in numerous debates concerning the Spanish Christian right to colonize, enslave, and evangelize them. Eduardo Mendieta writes that “in De las Casas we find an explicitly articulated theology and missiology that for the first time (p. 516) combines reverence for the dignity of human beings along with their‘natural environment,’without which human beings would not be able to live and flourish.”14 Contemporary liberation theologians, such as Gustavo Gutierrez, have championed De las Casas as an apostle for the poor, the indigenous, and the land.15

The legend of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531 symbolizes for many a softened theological posture toward native peoples and their lands. On 8 December 1531 the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a Christianized native, Juan Diego, on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City. According to the legend, she spoke to Juan Diego in Aztec and asked him to tell the bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumârraga, to build a chapel in her honor at Tepeyac. Juan Diego failed on two successive visits and met the apparition for the third time, telling her that the bishop had demanded signs from her. Guadalupe then told Juan Diego to gather roses for the bishop from Tepeyac. Upon opening his cloak in front of the bishop, the roses fell out, revealing a life-size image of Guadalupe imprinted on his rough cactus-fiber cloak. The bishop recognized the miracle and placed the image in a cathedral built at Tepeyac.

Significantly, the Guadalupan tradition was introduced thirty-five years after conquest. Native peoples at times resisted domination overtly, but were more likely to subvert their conqueror's intentions covertly through merging local beliefs and lifeways with Christian images and practices. Cults of Mary brought by the Spaniards merged with pre-Columbian earth deities such as Tonantzin, the “revered mother” of Tepeyac, to create Guadalupe, for example. The Roman Catholic church used Guadalupe as a means of evangelization of native peoples, whereas the indigenous worshiped Guadalupe as a way to continue pre-Christian practices that linked her with sacred space and power coming from the earth. As the tradition evolved in the seventeenth century, Guadalupe became associated with Mexican patriotism, nationalism, and the interests of creoles (Mexican-born Spaniards), rather than with the struggles of indigenous peoples. It was not until the twentieth century that the Virgin of Guadalupe again became explicitly linked to the rights of native peoples, the poor, and the land. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, named the “Patron Saint of the Americas” by Pope John Paul II, has been a complicated symbol in Latin America's history, standing for conquest, earth goddesses, nature, the modern nation-state, and indigenous rights.

Liberation Theology

Bartolomé de las Casas and the Virgin of Guadalupe are exceptions, however, to dominant Roman Catholic theologies and practices that persisted in Latin America (p. 517) for nearly five hundred years. The Roman Catholic church tended to ally itself with local power elites, governments, and the wealthy.16 The emergence of liberation theology marked a sea change in the role of the Roman Catholic church in Latin America. Liberation theology grew in Latin America during the late 1960s as a response by activist priests and concerned laypeople to increased poverty, the failed promises of modernization, and the brutality of military dictatorships. It grew quickly over the next decades, spread from Latin America to other less affluent nations, and with the publication of A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez in 1971 was introduced to an even wider audience.17 Liberation theology did not address ecological concerns in its early years, focusing instead on the social, economic, and political dimensions of the oppression of the poor. Increasingly, however, liberation theologians recognized that the destruction of the earth and the oppression of the poor were linked; the poor's liberation was seen as impossible without defense of the environment. Liberation theologians now frequently promote ecological understanding as a paradigm for interpreting social realities.

Liberation theology claims that God sides with the most oppressed. The Latin American Bishops Conference meetings in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968 and in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979 underscored this “preferential option for the poor” as being at the heart of Christian theology and the gospel mandate. Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff writes, “Liberation Theology is born from the efforts to listen to the cry of the oppressed … there is an immediate relationship between God, oppression, liberation: God is in the poor who cry out.”18 The poor, the true subjects of liberation, must be understood within a context of socioeconomic, political, and cultural oppression according to liberation theologians. This understanding of the central subject of liberation theology, the poor, yields hermeneutic tools for theology. The poor and oppressed are hermeneutically privileged, and all social analysis must begin with their experience. This hermeneutical privilege holds true for environmental issues as well as for theology. Eduardo Bonnin writes that the option for the poor is the “hermeneutic key that helps us realize the importance of an authentic solution to the ecological problem for the construction of the Kingdom of God in Latin America.”19 Just as the poor of the land are central to theological discourse, they must also be central to ecological discourse.

Privileging the poor led to particular forms of social analysis for Latin America's radical Catholics. Liberation theology grounded itself in a socioeconomic analysis of the plight of the poor. In its early stages it relied heavily on a Marxist social analysis, claiming that this analysis best described the material conditions of Latin America's poor. Consequently, the eschatology espoused by liberation theology was fully “this worldly.” The reign of God occurs on earth as a process that makes historical, social, economic, and political progress central. A community in the Amazon River basin, for example, brings the kingdom of God to earth as it fights to preserve lakes and rivers from the destructive practices of (p. 518) the market as embodied by commercial fishermen. Heidi Hadsell writes that community members view their struggle as Christian because “this Christianity is marked by a this-worldly eschatology requiring Christian involvement in historical projects of political and economic justice by and for the excluded. Toward this end it takes as a central ethical task the responsibility to facilitate political and economic education and analysis, as well as transformative action, both by the poor themselves, who are viewed as primary historical agents, and by others, who act in solidarity with the poor and the excluded.”20

Social analysis, although a critical starting point, is insufficient without praxis (struggle with and for the oppressed), given liberation theology's eschatology. Thus, orthopraxis (correct action) is viewed as equal to or more important than orthodoxy (right thought or doctrine). A theological vision emphasizing the poor and an eschatology centered in this world lead to political action, community involvement, and a religious and political accompaniment of a community in its struggles. Clodovis Boff articulated liberation theology's three methodological phases as the social analytical, the hermeneutical, and the practical-pastoral.21 Believers are to reflect on their social situation, often using a Marxist analysis, interpret scripture in light of social analysis, and then act in the world. Salvadoran environmental activists, for example, who were engaged in protesting the destruction of one of the country's last remaining forest preserves and promoting appropriate technologies realized, according to Lois Lorentzen, that “Christians are to actively engage in the work of the kingdom of God, an earthly labor which involves changing unjust social structures.”22

Liberation theologians emphasize social sin and structural injustice over individual wrongdoing. They claim that environmental exploitation stems from structural injustices that affect both the poor and the nonhuman world; ecological problems cannot be resolved until structures of exploitation and domination are transformed. Leonardo Boff writes that “ecological injustice is transformed into social injustice by producing social oppression, exhaustion of resources, contamination of the atmosphere and the deteriorating quality of life.”23 Social sin is not just the poverty and exploitation of people, but also the contamination of their resources. Ricardo Navarro, director of the Centro Salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada and founding member of the Salvadoran Ecological Union, claims that polluting rivers through the excessive use of pesticides is a social sin equal to denying food to people through unjust economic and social structures; both cause death.24 The violation of nature is a religious offense.

The emphasis on structural injustice and economic, political, and social institutions led liberation theologians to propose social ecology as the philosophical movement within environmentalism that best expressed a liberation perspective. The United Nations'first international conference on the environment held in Stockholm in 1972 had a great influence on theologians such as Carlos Herz and (p. 519) Eduardo Contreras of Peru and Eduardo Guaynas of Uruguay. Participants from less affluent countries called poverty an environmental problem and claimed that the poor suffer most from socioenvironmental deterioration. Following the conference, Guaynas wrote, “We define social ecology as the study of humans, individually and socially, interacting with the environment. The land shapes human cultural and social manifestations. The human interacts intensely with the environment. Neither can be studied in isolation.”25 The political, social, economic dimensions of environmental degradation and crisis are thus primary; both social ecologists and liberation theologians agree that no divide exists between social and environmental issues.

Sharp criticisms of more affluent countries emerge from an analysis based in social ecology and liberation theology. Relations between rich and poor countries are characterized as neocolonial and exploitive. Tony Brun writes, “As opposed to the North, where the environmental crisis is felt in a context of material well-being, in the South it is closely related to poverty. In Latin America, the dramatic situation of its natural ecosystems is related to the profound social problems.”26 Liberation theologians uniformly denounce the neoliberal model of development and global capitalism for their “antiecological character.”27

As ecotheology evolved in Latin America, prominent theologians such as Ivone Gebara and Leonardo Boff departed from a strict social ecology perspective. Boff was one of the first to connect liberation theology with environmental concerns, writing an article as early as 1976 on the environment and Franciscan spirituality. He embraced social ecology in his early writings, employing a Marxist analysis to illuminate the plight of the poor and to argue that dominant groups exploit both the poor and the land. Boff took a more ecocentric or holistic approach in 1993 with the publication of Ecology and Liberation and claimed that ecology is fundamentally theological. Both the trinity and ecology demonstrate to Boff that “everything that co-exists, pre-exists. And everything that co-exists and pre-exists subsists by means of an infinite web of all-inclusive relations. Nothing exists outside relationships. … All being constitutes a link in the vast cosmic chain. As Christians, we may say that it comes from God and returns to God.”28 He used the Amazon of Brazil as a concrete case to articulate an “ecology-based cosmology, rooted in evolutionary process in which sin is defined as breaking connectedness,” with the 1995 publication of Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.29 Boff 's articulation of an ecospirituality that looks more to ecocentric and biocentric models in environmental thought still remains firmly rooted in historical analysis however. He writes, “This violence was planted in Latin America with the sixteenth-century standard of labour and a relationship with nature that implied ecocide, the devastation of our ecosystems.”30

Historically grounded liberation theologies, whether adopting social ecology or bio- and ecocentric models, embrace praxis as the true test of faith commitment. (p. 520) Christian base communities became the ideal loci for articulation and praxis of an informed ecotheology. Initially formed in areas underserved by priests, Christian base communities provided space for reflection for those generally excluded from theological discourse. Participants in Christian base communities reflected upon Christian scriptures in light of their life situations and started organizing grassroots projects to meet local needs. Many groups and individuals moved on to political activism. Increasingly base communities addressed environmental issues such as air pollution, water contamination, sanitation services, soil erosion, mining, the use of chemical pesticides, logging, and other ecological issues that directly affected their communities'health and well-being. Heidi Hadsell writes that in Brazil issues include “the land-tenure patterns … which result in a relative few owners of large pieces of land and millions of rural peasants who have no land to farm at all, and many millions of urban poor who endure substandard housing and sanitation, poor or nonexistent health and education provisions, and who often can find no employment. Another ethical theme is that of the plight of Brazil's indigenous populations which are steadily dwindling through violence and disease as their lands are encroached upon by loggers, ranchers and farmers, and as what were once remote areas come under the embrace of significant capitalist expansion.”31

Christian base communities in Brazil's Amazon River basin have supported and organized rubber tappers and other poor landholders in struggles against ranchers. Rubber tappers have participated for decades in nonviolent efforts to halt deforestation and the destruction of their way of life. At times these peaceful protests are met with violence, most notably in the case of the murder of Chico Mendes. The Pastoral Land Commission of the Roman Catholic church of Brazil was formed to work on environmental and other issues with landless peasants. Since its formation it has worked to protect fishing habitat, to gain land for peasants, and to protect the Amazon jungle for rubber tappers and indigenous peoples. The well-known Movement of the Landless, although technically a secular movement, is also supported by the Roman Catholic church and Christian base communities. Throughout Latin America, churches have formed ecological committees in order “to promote conversion to ecological community. This conversion denounces environmental damage as a serious affront against the creator, promotes technologies that respect the land and local material cultures, practices agriculture that is sustainable and for local consumption, and actively resists mainstream neoliberal development policies.”32 Churches, base communities, and Catholic organizations participate with popular social and environmental movements throughout Latin America to fight for clean water and air, to halt deforestation, and to confront the numerous environmental issues affecting the region's rural and urban poor. Religious belief and practice are seen as inseparable from environmental struggle.

(p. 521) Religious Ecofeminism

Religious ecofeminism belongs to what Costa Rican theologian Elsa Tamez and Brazilian Ivone Gebara term the third stage of feminist theology in Latin America. Women theologians in the first phase (1970–80) according to Tamez and Gebara, tended to see themselves as liberation theologians and enthusiastically participated in the growing Christian base community movement. An explicitly feminist consciousness grew during the second phase (1980–90), and the current third phase (1990 onward) is marked by “challenges to the patriarchal anthropology and cosmovision in liberation theology itself and by the construction of a Latin American ecofeminism.”33 Most Latin American ecofeminists came from Christian base communities (and may still be very active within them) and were influenced by liberation theology. Many still consider themselves liberation theologians, or more appropriately ecofeminist liberation theologians. Gebara, a Brazilian Sister of Our Lady and professor for decades at the Theological Institute of Recife, Brazil, is the most widely known spokesperson for ecofeminist theology from a Latin American perspective. Gebara gained international attention in 1995 when the Vatican, under the auspices of the Congregation of the Doctrine and Faith, silenced her for two years. Gebara had claimed that liberation theology needed to be tolerant of women's choice for abortion given the hardship of raising children in the context of desperate poverty. The congregation instructed Gebara not to speak, teach, or write for two years and sent her to France for theological reeducation. She returned to Brazil in 1997 and again became active in writing ecofeminist theology and environmental activism.

Ecofeminist theologians such as Gebara, while influenced by liberation methodology, want to move beyond what they see as androcentric tendencies in many theologies of liberation. Gebara defines ecofeminism as the “thought and social movement that refers basically to the ideological connection between the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of women within a hierarchical/patriarchal system. From this philosophical and theological viewpoint, ecofeminism may be considered as a knowledge that hopes to heal the ecosystem and women.”34 Latin American ecofeminist theologians locate women's experience at the center of liberation discourse in order to uncover the ways in which women's oppression and daily reality measure all paradigms, including those of liberation theology.

Latin American ecofeminists contend that not only are women and nature linked ideologically and conceptually, but also that environmental destruction affects women differently than men. Women are more likely to provide family sustenance and thus depend on a healthy environment. They must provide clean water for their families; in the countryside they need trees for fuel, food, and (p. 522) fodder. They bear the brunt of childcare and care of the sick and elderly; thus polluted waters that give family members cholera or diarrhea (the largest cause of child death in poor countries) affect them directly.

Ecofeminist theologians share with liberation theology the idea of hermeneutic privilege. They contend, however, that the poor women of Latin America are the oppressed within the oppressed. Mary Judith Ress writes that the ecofeminist collective Con-spirando, for example, is “deeply marked by the concrete, lived experience of women. Influenced by liberation theology's option for the poor, feminist theologians stress the feminization of poverty:‘the poor have a face and it is the face of a woman and her children,’has become the starting point for much of our theological work.”35 La vida cotidiana (“the daily life”) of poor women is the microcosm that questions the macrocosm according to Gebara and thus becomes central to her epistemology. She writes that “women, children, and African and indigenous populations are the first victims and the first to be excluded from the goods of the earth.”36 For Gebara, an ecofeminist epistemology based in the daily life of Latin America's poorest women yields ambiguous and complex understandings rather than fixed ideologies. It is a “contextual epistemology, which seeks to take the lived context of every human group as its primary and most basic reference point.”37 The methodology developed by Latin America's ecofeminist theologians puts women's corporality (sexuality, sex, body, etc.) at its center and explores the relationship between the daily life of women and systemic forms of oppression, thus connecting women's exploitation with environmental and economic exploitation.

The central aspect of daily life is interdependence or interrelationship, according to Gebara. Interdependence expresses both the way people know and the way they should act in the world and thus is core for Gebara's ecofeminist epistemology and ethics. This insistence on la cotidianidad allows Gebara to criticize linear paradigms of history, dualistic approaches to matter/spirit, reason/body, while helping her build an ethics of solidarity with others and with creation. Her holistic approach to ecology based on la cotidianidad stems from the interdependence that emerges from the “simple fact of sharing life.”38 Ress writes, “Ecofeminism's greatest insight is the … notion that everything is connected and therefore everything is sacred. Ecofeminists make the connection that oppression of women by a system controlled by ruling-class males and the devastation of the planet are not only two forms of violence that reinforce and feed upon each other, but that they come from a terribly misguided sense of the need to control, to dominate the Other, that which is different.”39 Interdependence and interrelatedness do not stop with other humans but encompass nature, yielding an holistic epistemology. Ecofeminists share liberation theology's suspicion of mainstream economic and development models. Gebara criticizes the “religion of the market,” which reduces suffering and questions of existence to technical problems.40 She writes, “All this makes clear who is the most responsible for the catastrophic destruction of the ecosystem. The poor do not (p. 523) destroy natural springs or watersheds; these have long since been taken away from them. The poor don't use powerful electric saws to cut hundred-year-old trees, because they don't own the chainsaws.”41

The Con-spirando women's collective started in 1991 to create a network of women concerned with the themes of ecofeminism; it remains the most visible movement reflecting ecofeminist theology. The collective publishes a quarterly journal, Con-spirando: revista latinoamericana de ecofeminismo, espiritualidad y teología (“Con-spirando: A Latin American Magazine of Ecofeminism, Spirituality, and Theology”), offers a summer school and workshops, and sponsors a year cycle of rituals. A diversity of class, race, age, and culture characterizes collective members, although most come from the Christian tradition. Many members considered themselves liberation theologians at some point in their development and were active in Christian base communities (some remain involved), although all criticize the patriarchal underpinnings of Christian theologies, including liberation theology. Con-spirando self-consciously shapes rituals that mix Christian and indigenous practices. Cofounder Mary Judith Ress writes of ecofeminist rituals, “Sensitive to the indigenous roots of Latin America, we have present in the circle's center the four elements and always salute the four directions. Many rituals concentrate on reconnecting with our ancestors and with the broader community of life.”42

The collective works on environmental issues with grassroots groups and women's centers in slums, Christian base communities, and universities. A network of collectives similar to Con-spirando exists throughout Latin America, connecting active ecofeminist movements in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chile. The ecofeminist groups address a range of environmental issues. In El Salvador and Honduras, popular ecological resistance by women's groups stemmed directly from the need to provide their families and communities with basic sustenance.43 Gebara writes that working with poor women in slums shapes the issues addressed by a “social ecofeminism.” Garbage that overflows the streets, inadequate health care, and the struggle to find potable water—all daily survival crises faced by poor slum women as they provide for families—are central issues addressed by ecofeminist activism and theology.

Protestants in Latin America

Missionaries from mainline Protestant denominations did not arrive in Latin America until the end of the nineteenth century. Many governments welcomed (p. 524) them, believing that they would assist with the liberal project of modernization. Indeed, Protestant missionaries built schools and clinics and encouraged development projects. Their efforts at evangelization, however, remained largely unsuccessful until late in the twentieth century when a new group of Protestant missionaries arrived on the scene. Fresh waves of evangelical Protestants had arrived in Latin America in the 1950s, laying the groundwork for the rapid expansion of evangelical Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism, in the late twentieth century. The rapid expansion of Pentecostalism in Latin America has been well documented, and most agree that its current growth is homegrown rather than a “northern invasion” as was assumed in the 1980s. Scholars try to account for the rapid growth of Pentecostalism by pointing to economic marginalization, globalization, rapid social change, displacement, and failed modernization.44

Recent scholarship on evangelical Protestantism cautions against generalizations, given the variety of forms it takes. What evangelical Protestant groups hold in common, however, are two major tenets: the Bible is the authoritative guide for faith and life, and individual salvation comes through recognition of Jesus as savior. Most evangelical Christian groups do not use nature-based symbols or rituals in worship; religious practices generally do not reflect connections to the natural world. Protestants in general rarely speak of sacred spaces or connections to animals, especially in their spirit forms.

Latin America's Protestants are not uniformly politically conservative, as is often assumed. In Venezuela, for example, evangelical Protestants tended to support Hugo Chavez in elections.45 Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Salvador, El Salvador, consistently promotes an activist, leftist brand of evangelical Christianity. The Progressive Evangelical Movement of Bahia, Brazil, unites progressive evangelical activists in their struggles against racism and construction of an ethnoreligious identity. The activism is grounded in the two tenets of evangelical Protestantism; for Brazil's black progressive evangelicals “Jesus was a leftist,” and members “stress the scriptural basis for their progressive politics.”46 These examples, while demonstrating the diversity among evangelical groups, may be exceptions. Stephen Selka writes in the Brazilian case, “As progressive evangelicals'constant efforts to distinguish themselves politically from Pentecostals suggests, most evangelicals in Brazil are conservative.”47 Active Protestant involvement in environmental struggles, for example, is not characteristic.

Evangelical Protestantism has grown rapidly among indigenous communities, especially in Central America. Indigenous evangelical Protestants tend to abandon traditional nature-based religious practices as they adopt Protestant doctrines and theologies concerning nonhuman nature. Virginia Garrard-Burnett writes, “While Mayan Protestants officially subscribe to the biblical teaching that God gave humankind dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28), Mayan Protestants are likely to interpret this‘dominion’as a benign guardianship.”48 Garrard-Burnett (p. 525) claims that in spite of their dominion ecotheology, indigenous Christians must still work in the natural world and therefore are likely to protect it.

Evangelical Protestant groups, however, are generally not actively engaged in environmental struggles. Exceptions exist, of course, including Floresta, an evangelical Protestant nonprofit environmental organization. Floresta started in the United States but now boasts locally run projects in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. A local church or evangelical organization invites Floresta to a region and then runs environmental and agricultural projects locally. Floresta's twin aims are reforestation and sustainable agriculture; to date they claim to have planted 2.8 million trees. The Evangelical University of El Salvador is a member of the Salvador Ecological Union, an activist group of nineteen organizations in El Salvador. Mayan evangelicals joined the Zapatista movement to protest the impact of North America Free Trade Agreement on native lands.

Mainstream Protestant groups are more likely to articulate an environmental ethos than their evangelical counterparts however. The most notable example is Roy H. May Jr. of Costa Rica's Instituto Biblico Latinamericano (Latin American Biblical Institute). The institute began as an evangelical Protestant seminary. When key faculty became influenced by liberation theology and started teaching a Protestant version of liberation theology, the institute was asked to leave the local evangelical association. The institute continues to train Protestants (and some Catholics). Institute faculty member May wrote a Protestant ecotheology from a liberation perspective. His ecotheology is Bible based: “For the poor, the land is a major concern, and they want to know what the church and the Bible have to say about it.”49 May looks at Christian scripture and finds a biblical tradition that depicts land as both site of struggle and God's presence.

Land in Latin America becomes an important hermeneutic tool by which May understands current socioeconomic reality: “The biblical tradition of land as inherited soil that signifies God's presence, and therefore hope and future, is what makes that tradition meaningful to Latin American peasants. Seen from their context of marginalization and struggle, they discover in the Bible a historic dimension of the land. At the same time, the biblical story of struggle for land becomes their struggle for land even today.”50 May also links land explicitly to conversion and redefines salvation from an ecological perspective: “Without land, peasants and Amerindians have nothing. Land means future, and for them, salvation. The identification of the land with salvation can be explicit. As a Mexican peasant said following a conflict with a large landholder, ‘Jesus saves me when they give me land.’”51 May takes the two central tenets of Protestant Christianity, biblical authority and salvation, and reinterprets them utilizing his land-based hermeneutic. When Latin American Protestants are environmentally active, they generally employ a biblically based hermeneutic to argue for ecological stewardship.

(p. 526) Diaspora Religions

Millions of African slaves were brought forcibly to the Americas, carrying their religions with them. African religions merged with indigenous and Christian practices in their new countries, yielding religious syncretic practices. These “diaspora religions” include Candomblé and Umbanda in Brazil, Voodoo in Haiti, Rastafarianism in Jamaica, and Santería in Cuba. Candomblé grew in the early nineteenth century in Brazil as a blend of Yoruba religion and Christianity. Umbanda emerged in Brazil in the early twentieth century as a mix of African religions, indigenous practices, Roman Catholicism, and spiritism. It shares features with Candomblé, such as the importance of axé and orixâs, although its most important spirits come from Brazil itself. Haitian Voodoo mixes west and central African religious practices with Roman Catholicism. Santería, which grew in Cuba, maintains to this day, religious symbols and divination systems stemming directly from west Africa. The Rastafari movement grew in the early twentieth century among the poor of Jamaica. Slaves from central and west Africa added Christian symbolism to earlier practices as a means of maintaining traditional African religions, demonstrating a remarkable “cultural flexibility and adaptability that allowed Africans and their descendents to forge a novel African-derived belief system in the Americas.”52

Given the diverse beliefs and practices that arose in contexts as far flung as Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti, we should be slow to make too many generalizations. Yet, as Terry Rey writes:

In spite of the wide diversity of Caribbean religious cultures, taken as a whole the region's peoples generally share a deep sensitivity to nature as an expression of and gift from God. … Caribbean believers have always viewed God, spirits (or the Holy Spirit, the laws or the orishas) and the dead as manifest in nature. Understanding, communing with, and living in harmony with the sacred is thus only possible because of nature and the eternal living force, or ashé that inhabits it.53

Diaspora religions frequently use natural symbols in their ritual practices and images. For Candomblé, orixâs (the gods and goddesses who interact with humans) are frequently associated with a natural element such as water or vegetation that gives them their power or energy, axé. The force axé flows through all things, animate or inanimate, and thus links all beings in the cosmos. Each orixa is identified with a Christian saint and offers followers help with daily problems such as health or money.

Nature is revered as a place inhabited by spirits and ancestors. Practitioners of Voodoo believe that ancestors and spirits inhabit the natural world, which is thus revered. Practitioners must take care to preserve harmony with the spiritual and ancestral world; natural elements such as trees or the herbs used for healing are (p. 527) believed to maintain balance with nature. Santería also features worship of the spirits and ancestors found in the natural world. Voodoo and Santería both believe that one communicates with spirits or ancestors through sacrifices, divination, or possession.

The natural world is seen as good and sacred, inhabited as it is by spirits and ancestors. Rastafarianism claims that Jah (God) created nature, thus affirming its goodness. It holds the hope of a return to Zion, the promised land, which is envisioned as a place of nature, forests, and freedom. Babylon, on the other hand represents, according to Rey, “the city, the West, the colonized world, the U.S. and Britain, and other locations of suffering.”54 Trees and the forest are central in Haitian Voodoo religious imagination and mythology, revered as the residence of spirits and ancestors.

A norm of balance or harmony with nature and its deities characterizes Latin America's diaspora religions. For Santería, humans must pursue harmonious relations with the orishas (“deities”) who reside in nature, especially in the “wildest” parts of the natural world. All of creation is full of the life force, ashé...; humans must take care to perform rituals and dances to honor and maintain harmony with the ashé of the ocean, the mountain, the forest. Manuel Vasquez claims that Umbanda “has at its core a relational ethos that tightly links humans, spirits, and the natural world.”55

Although diaspora religions acknowledge ties to nature, practitioners other than Rastafarians are not known for a high level of environmental activism. Umbanda's environmental ethic, for example, is mixed; it tends toward anthropocentricism as its practitioners manipulate elements of nature for personal gain, even as it reveres aspects of the natural world. On the other hand, the Rastafari movement possesses a direct lived environmental ethic. The ideal Rasta lifestyle promotes an organic vegetarian diet, traditional farming, and a life lived as close to nature as possible. Rastafarians have been involved in environmental movements, including Earth First!, Green Parties, Friends of the Earth, the Wild Greens, and other green activist and anarchist groups.

Common Themes


Environmental struggles in Latin America emerge first and foremost out of a desperate need for survival. May writes: “Quite simply, ownership and control of land determines who lives and who dies.”56 Environmental problems directly (p. 528) affect human survival in ways not always so visible in more affluent nations. Contaminated water causes gastrointestinal illnesses and cholera; deforestation means that the poor lack fuel and food and that mudslides and flooding are more likely; soil erosion leads to poor crop yields and inadequate food supplies; and air pollution contributes to respiratory problems. Environmental issues in Latin America revolve around the struggle to provide basic human needs in the context of environmental destruction. This is not to say that religious motivations are not important; rather that religions articulate their vision of the natural world in the context of a damaged environment. Bron Taylor writes: “To acknowledge that basic human needs provide the most decisive impetus to ecological resistance (especially in less affluent countries) is not incompatible with recognizing that moral and religious idea motivations are deeply intertwined with the material motivations or that popular ecological resistance cannot be accounted for if moral and religious variables are overlooked … human motivations are embedded both in material interests and in ideal factors.”57 The U'wa claim that disharmony with nature signals the end of the world. Although not always expressed this graphically, most religious groups link environmental deterioration with spiritual disease.

The Legacy of Conquest

All groups, with the possible exception of evangelical Protestants, highlight the ongoing effects of colonization. Boff writes: “This violence was planted in Latin America with the sixteenth-century standard of labour and a relationship with nature that implied ecocide, the devastation of our ecosystems.”58 Contemporary views of the human relationship with nonhuman nature can only be understood in the context of colonization, as Gebara notes: “We can state without fear of contradiction that the domination of women and nature accelerated under colonization, as part of its political ideology.”59 The nature of environmental struggles and religious responses to the environment clearly reflect a postcolonial posture. Most groups criticize the neoliberal model of development as a new form of colonization by more affluent nations. Boff writes: “The avid search for unlimited material development has led to inequality between capital and work, creating exploitation of workers and the accompanying deterioration in the quality of life.”60 Nearly all religious traditions surveyed in this essay agree that the neoliberal model pursued by Latin American governments yields overexploitation of both humans and nature. They utilize religious symbolism, theologies, and practices to provide alternative ways of thinking about development and the land, claiming that the land itself provides a lens with which to understand sociohistorical reality.

(p. 529) Religious Syncretism and Sacred/Secular Blurring

Most groups mix elements from various religious traditions. Christian symbols take on indigenous characteristics, native religions adopt Christian saints, African practices borrow from Christianity, and so on. In some cases this happened over the course of centuries, in others, such as the mixing practiced by the ecofeminist collective Con-spirando, it happens quite self-consciously in the present as they incorporate indigenous myths with Christianity (the religious background of most members). Gebara calls this an “ethics of biodiversity” in which religions, regions, and cultures are connected to give a larger vision. Not only are religious traditions mixed together, a blurring occurs between the sacred and the secular as well. Ingemar Hedstrom writes: “It isn't possible to construct a separation between the environmental and human problem on one side and the theological on the other.”61 Many members of Latin America's secular environmental movements claim that their inspiration came from liberation theology, for example. In the offices of Centro Salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada, a secular environmental organization in El Salvador, one finds pictures of Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for his defense of the poor.


Epistemology and Hermeneutics

Liberation theology begins with the poor as its underlying hermeneutical principle. Liberation ecotheologies stem from a methodology in which the poor become the center of ecological discourse. The underlying epistemology and hermeneutics then lead to particular modes of environmental activism, including land reform, participation of Christian base communities, political activism, and other environmental issues that relate directly to social systemic problems. Ecofeminist theologies begin with women, the oppressed within the oppressed, as its guiding hermeneutic principle. Women's corporality and daily life experiences are the center of its methodology; from this vantage point it criticizes the androcentrism found in paradigms and systems, including those of liberation theology.

Ecoindigenous religions often begin with nature itself or with the indigenous as colonized and oppressed subjects. Religious syncretism is also characteristic, as most groups combine indigenous and Christian values. Indigenous religions are relatively more eco- or biocentric than either liberation or ecofeminist theologies. Evangelical Protestantism on the other hand, utilizes a hermeneutic based in (p. 530) Christian scripture and argues for biblical authority and the centrality of individual salvation. Its ecotheology is thus anthropocentric and theocentric.

The various religious traditions clearly disagree over which hermeneutic principles and epistemologies offer the most environmentally friendly theologies, myths, rituals, religious symbols, and practices. The differing methodologies may also result in greater weight being placed on particular environmental issues and struggles.

The Link between Environmental Ethics and Action

It should not be taken for granted that the high regard for nature expressed in religious thought and practice necessarily translates into positive environmental actions or sustainable ways of life. Brandt Peterson writes:

For the most part, anthropology, ecology, and other disciplines remain ambivalent about the links between spirituality or religion and ecological sustainability in indigenous communities. While many indigenous traditions express respect for non-human life or “the environment,” the extent to which these expressions predict ecologically wise and sustainable practices is uncertain. Understanding the natural world as sacred does not necessarily call for an ethic of environmental protection or stewardship. … Specifically religious responses may not address ecological problems in some cases, and the “ecological balance” that many see expressed in indigenous religious traditions may be the result rather than the cause of particular practices that are ecologically sustainable and sensible.62

A sustainable lifestyle may simply be due to lack of access to destructive technologies, rather than to particular religious beliefs. If scholars look primarily to religious beliefs to explain indigenous relations with the natural world, for example, we overlook a complex history, in which indigenous people have been excluded from development due to racist policies rather than indigenous choice. Furthermore, localized religious practices do not necessarily provide resources to deal with environmental issues (such as global warming) that reach beyond a particular sacred grove, mountain, or river. And, the poor everywhere are forced into antiecological practices in order to survive even when their religious practices evidence a reverence for nature. Rey writes that in Haiti peasants have been forced to cut trees for charcoal, deforesting most of the land, even though Voodoo is “deeply sensitive to nature.”63

Ecofeminist Principles

Scholars and activists who consider themselves feminists and environmentalists still may disagree with the principles of ecofeminism as outlined in this essay. The debate centers on the core conceptual claim that women are identified with nature (p. 531) and that both nature and women are devalued in the process. It is not the case that all indigenous groups who value nature also highly value women. It also may be difficult to maintain the notion of poor women's greater care for nature vis-à-vis men. Women may indeed suffer disproportionately from environmental damage. However, theorizing certain groups as being closer to nature runs the risk of essentializing women (and nature) and replicating the dualism that ecofeminism hopes to overcome. In fact, “claims made about indigenous and Third World women may actually serve to reassert patriarchal beliefs about women.”64

Recommendations for Further Study

The Religious Attitudes and Environmental Action Connection

As noted above, too often scholars in religious studies and/or theology emphasize worldviews, myth, narrative, and ritual and do not take the further step of linking religious teachings to concrete behaviors, including participation in environmental struggles. Conversely, social-movement theorists rarely consider religion when they look at environmental movements. Rey writes that “this rooting in and respect for nature of Caribbean religious cultures has not, however, ever inspired broad environmental activism anywhere in the Caribbean.”65 Rigorous case studies should be conducted to study the connection between religious teachings and practice and concrete environmental action.

These case studies could include comparisons of anthropocentric and bio- or ecocentric worldviews. Many environmentalists claim that bio- or ecocentric worldviews are the most pure and thus most likely to lead to the strongest environmental actions. Latin America's liberation theology, however, has an anthropocentric approach based in the survival of the poor that has led to activist struggles on behalf of the environment, including some of the most sustained environmental struggles of the last three decades.

Understudied Religions

Little research has been conducted on the environmental attitudes and actions of Latin American evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals. The same could be said for diaspora religions. Although the use of natural elements has been studied in (p. 532) diaspora religions, the role of these traditions in Latin America's environmental struggles remains understudied.

The poor of Latin America face severe environmental crises. In the face of deforestation, desertification, and a desperate struggle for survival, they look to religious traditions for guidance. Taking religious traditions and actors into account deepens our understanding of environmental movements within Latin America and the Caribbean. Although religion may play a role in environmental struggles, the poverty of much of the region may undermine efforts to consider ecosystem health a primary concern.


(1.) Edward L. Cleary and Timothy J. Steigenga, “Resurgent Voices, Indians, Politics, and Religion in Latin America,” in Resurgent Voices in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization, and Religious Change (ed. Edward L. Cleary and Timothy J. Steigenga; New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 1–24.

(2.) Brandt Peterson, “Indigenous Activism and Environmentalism in Latin America,” in ERN 838.

(3.) John Bierhorst, ed., History and Mythology of the Aztecs: The Codex Chimalpopoca (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992), 146– 47.

(4.) Dennis Tedlock, trans., Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1985), 181.

(5.) Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón, Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions That Today Live among the Indians Native to This New Spain (trans. and ed. J. Richard Andrews and Ross Hassig; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984), 70.

(6.) Leslie E. Sponsel, “Amazonia,” in ERN 38.

(7.) Henrietta Fourmile, “Indigenous Peoples, the Conservation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and Global Governance,” in Global Ethics and Environment (ed. Nicholas Low; London: Routledge, 1999), 219.

(8.) Juan Carlos Galeano, “Amazonian Folktales,” in ERN 41.

(9.) Lisa Maria Madera, “Andean Traditions,” in ERN 62.

(10.) Javier Galicia Silva, “Religion, Ritual, and Agriculture among the Present-Day Nahua of Mesoamerica,” in Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community (ed. John A. Grim; Cambridge: Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2001), 319.

(11.) John A. Grim, “Introduction,” in Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community (ed. John A. Grim; Cambridge: Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2001), xxxvi.

(12.) Cleary and Steigenga, “Resurgent Voices,” 17.

(13.) Anna Peterson, “Roman Catholicism in Latin America,” in ERN 1408.

(14.) Eduardo Mendieta, “Casa, Bartolomé de las (1495–1566),” in ERN 271.

(15.) Gustavo Gutierrez, Las casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993).

(16.) See the history of the Roman Catholic church's relationship with Latin American governments in Jose Miguez Bonino, Toward A Christian Political Ethic (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983).

(17.) Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1973).

(18.) Leonardo Boff interviewed by Mev Puelo, The Struggle Is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).

(19.) Eduardo Bonnin, “La problemâtica del ambiente en el documento de Puebla,” in Volveran las golondrinas? La reintegracion de la creación desde una perspectiva latinomericana (ed. Ingemar Hedstrom; San Jose, Costa Rica: Departamente Ecuménica de Investigaciones, 1990), 241.

(20.) Heidi Hadsell, “Profits, Parrots, Peons: Ethical Perplexities in the Amazon,” in Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmental Movements (ed. Bron Raymond Taylor; Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 77.

(21.) Iain S. Maclean, “Christianity-Liberation Theology,” in ERN 358.

(22.) Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Bread and Soil of Our Dreams: Women, the Environment, and Sustainable Development-Case Studies from Central America,” in Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmental Movements (ed. Bron Raymond Taylor; Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 64.

(23.) Leonardo Boff, “Social Ecology: Poverty and Misery,” in Ecotheology: Voices from the North and South (ed. David G. Hallman; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 244.

(24.) Ricardo Navarro A., “Urge desarrollar una teologia ecologica y la iglesia se vuelve ecologista,” in El pensamiento ecologista (ed. Ricardo Navarro, G. Pons, and G. Amaya; San Salvador: El Centro Salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada, 1990), 64.

(25.) Quoted by Ingemar Hedstrom, Volveran las golondrinas? La reintegracion de la creación desde una perspectiva latinomericana (San Jose, Costa Rica: Departamente Ecuménica de Investigaciones, 1990), 44.

(26.) Tony Brun, “Social Ecology: A Timely Paradigm for Reflection and Praxis for Life in Latin America,” in Ecotheology: Voices from the North and South (ed. David G. Hallman; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 82.

(27.) Boff, “Social Ecology,” 244.

(28.) Leonardo Boff, Ecology and Liberation: A New Paradigm (trans. John Cumming; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995 [orig. 1993]), 7.

(29.) Iain S. Maclean and Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Boff, Leonardo (1938–),” in ERN 208.

(30.) Boff, “Social Ecology,” 239– 40.

(31.) Heidi Hadsell, “Brazil and Contemporary Christianity,” in ERN 213.

(32.) Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Radical Catholicism, Popular Resistance, and Material Culture in El Salvador,” in Technology and Cultural Values: On the Edge of the Third Millennium (ed. Peter D. Hershock, Marietta Stepaniants, and Roger T. Ames; Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003), 259.

(33.) Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Gebara, Ivone (1944–),” in ERN 689.

(34.) Ivone Gebara, Intuiciones ecofeministas: ensayo para repensar el conocimiento y la religion (trans. Graciela Pujo; Trotta, 2000), 18.

(35.) Mary Judith Ress, “The Con-spirando Women's Collective: Globalization from Below?” in Ecofeminism and Globalization: Exploring Culture, Context, and Religion (ed. Heather Eaton and Lois Ann Lorentzen; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 152.

(36.) Gebara, Intuiciones ecofeministas, 25.

(37.) Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (trans. David Molineaux; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 61.

(38.) Ivone Gebara, “Women Doing Theology in Latin America,” in With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology (ed. Virginia Fabella and Mercy Amba Oduyoye; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 126.

(39.) Ress, “Con-spirando Women's Collective,” 156.

(40.) Gebara, Intuiciones ecofeministas, 101.

(41.) Ibid., 5.

(42.) Mary Judith Ress, “Con-spirando Women's Collective (Santiago, Chile),” in ERN 419.

(43.) Lorentzen, “Bread and Soil of Our Dreams.”

(44.) Lois Ann Lorentzen, “El milagro estâ en casa: Gender and Private/Public Empowerment in a Migrant Pentecostal Church,” Latin American Perspectives 32.1 (Jan. 2005): 58.

(45.) David A. Smilde, “Contradiction without Paradox: Evangelical Political Culture in the 1998 Venezuelan Elections,” Latin American Politics and Society 46.1 (2004).

(46.) Stephen L. Selka, “Ethnoreligious Religious Identity Politics in Bahia, Brazil,” Latin American Perspectives 32.1 (Jan. 2005): 80, 77.

(47.) Ibid., 86.

(48.) Virginia Garrard-Burnett, “Mayan Protestantism,” in ERN 1086.

(49.) Roy H. May Jr., Poor of the Land (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), xii.

(50.) Ibid., 50.

(51.) Ibid., 106.

(52.) Robert Voeks, “Candomblé of Brazil,” in ERN 264.

(53.) Terry Rey, “Caribbean Cultures,” in ERN 269.

(54.) Terry Rey, “Rastafari,” in ERN 1345.

(55.) Manuel Vasquez, “Umbanda,” in ERN 1675.

(56.) May, Poor of the Land, 5.

(57.) Bron Taylor, “Popular Ecological Resistance and Radical Environmentalism,” in Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmental Movements (ed. Bron Raymond Taylor; Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 336.

(58.) Boff, “Social Ecology,” 239– 40.

(59.) Ivone Gebara, “Ecofeminism: An Ethics of Life,” in Ecofeminism and Globalization: Exploring Culture, Context, and Religion (ed. Heather Eaton and Lois Ann Lorentzen; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 169.

(60.) Boff, “Social Ecology,” 240.

(61.) Hedstrom, Volveran las golondrinas? 43.

(62.) Peterson, “Indigenous Activism and Environmentalism,” 835.

(63.) Terry Rey, “Trees in Haitian Vodou,” in ERN 1659.

(64.) Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Indigenous Feet: Ecofeminism, Globalization, and the Case of Chiapas,” in Ecofeminism and Globalization: Exploring Culture, Context, and Religion (ed. Heather Eaton and Lois Ann Lorentzen; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 67.

(65.) Terry Rey, “Caribbean Cultures,” in ERN 268.