Brazilian Culture


Brazil’s religious landscape is as diverse as it’s and geographic diversity. Accordingly, the majority of Brazilians in the country identify as Roman Catholic (64.4%), thus reflecting it’s historical relationship with Portugal and the Catholic Church. Of the remaining population, 22.2% identify with a Protestant tradition, including Seventh Day Adventist (6.5%), Assembly of God (2.0%), Christian Congregation of Brazil (1.2%), Universal Kingdom of God (1.0%) and other forms of Protestantism (11.5%). There is also a small number of people who identify with another form of Christianity (0.7%), ‘Spiritist’ (2.2%), other (1.4%), none, (8.0%) and unspecified (0.4%) (est. 2010).

Catholicism in Brazil

Catholicism was introduced to Brazil during the early period by the Portuguese. However, other Jesuit missionaries from Europe sought to actively bring the teachings of Catholicism to the local populace, especially the indigenous population. In the 19th century, Catholicism was made the official religion of Brazil and was formally institutionalised into the country’s political and social system. Whilst this formality has loosened greatly, Brazil has one of the largest Christian populations in the world.

The Catholic Church in Brazil is divided into three major groups. In descending order of the number of followers, these groups are: the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. Despite the large proportion of the Brazilian population following one of these three branches of Catholicism, followers of the Catholic Church in general have been in decline. Simultaneously, the number of Brazilian Protestants has increased since 2000, yet it is unclear whether former followers of the Catholic Church are converting to Protestantism. According to the 2010 census data of Brazil, over three-quarters of Brazilians who live in rural areas identify as Catholic.

Numerous significant events in Brazil revolve around the Catholic faith, such as Brazilian festivities hinging on events in the Catholic calendar, or relate to Christian saints. Influences of the religion can also be seen throughout the country through Catholic iconography and buildings. One of the most known examples is the Christ the Redeemer statue located in Rio de Janeiro. Respect for and adherence to Catholic holidays and seminal life events also continue to be very important for many Brazilians, such as baptism, religious weddings and celebrations dedicated to patron saints.

Liberation Theology
Also known as ‘teologia da libertaçā’, Liberation Theology emerged in the 1960s as a response to the oppression, injustice and institutionalised violence that pervades South America. It is difficult to characterise the notion, but it is commonly seen as a branch of Catholicism. Liberation Theology offers a radical interpretation of the Gospel that echoes Marxist theory of class struggle. Endorsers of Liberation Theology consider the movement to reimagine theology as context-based by paying attention to the lived experiences and needs of the society at a particular time and drawing upon the Gospel to answer such needs. The grassroots movement attracted between one to two million followers to its ‘ecclesiastic base communities’ (‘communidad(e) ecelsial de base’). Since its emergence, Liberation Theology has faced various struggles, such as being opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and the persecution of religious leaders advocating the movement by the military government.

Spiritism (also known as Kardecism)
The practices of Spiritism are based primarily on ancient cultures, as well as African cultures that were introduced in Brazil through the introduction of indentured labourers from Africa by the Portuguese. One of the central notions of Spiritism is the belief in reincarnation, and the continual improvement of the soul with the end goal of perfection. According to the 2010 census data, a majority of Spiritists are middle to upper class, with approximately 98% of followers being literate. Moreover, most followers of Spiritism reside in urban areas. In contemporary Brazil, followers of Spiritism face prejudice, particularly from Christians who believe that Spiritism is related to 'witchcraft' – a common stigma attached to African religions. Aspects of Spiritism are also present in Afro-Brazilian faiths such as Umbanda and Candomblé.

Umbanda is a distinctive religion native to Brazil that draws upon beliefs and practices of Spiritism, indigenous and African religions. The central teachings of the religion are fraternity, charity and respect. Manifesting from the teachings of Umbanda are practices of pursuing a peaceful life predicated on respecting humanity, nature and Zambi (the supreme God). Followers of Umbanda are small in number due to historically being targets of religious persecution. Umbanda followers are mainly concentrated in cities with a greater number of Brazilians with African descendants, such as Rio de Janeiro.

Candomblé is an African-derived religion that has become a symbol for the Afro-Brazilian cultural identity. It is one of the only African cultural institutions that has remained strong in Brazil. Candomblé is a belief system that worships ‘orixás’ (‘deities’), which differ depending on the nation. In attempts to escape religious persecution, African slaves often incorporated elements from Catholicism into the practices of the religion. Although it was thought to conceal the worshiping of their own deities, the faith has carried a stigma of being thought of as ‘witchcraft’ in Brazil. The faith is often classified as Spiritistic, though this is an incorrect categorisation.

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