Peruvian Culture

Religion

Religion, especially Roman Catholicism, has played a significant role in social and political life throughout Peruvian modern history. Catholicism was introduced in Peru in the 16th century by Spanish missionaries. The Catholic Church was constitutionally the state church until the 1970s. Today, there is freedom of religious choice and various other denominations of Christianity have emerged. Most of the population identify with some form of Christianity (93.8%), with the majority identifying as Catholic (81.3%) followed by 12.5% identifying as Evangelical. Of the remaining population, 3.3% identify with some other religion, and 2.9% identify with no religion.


Catholicism in Peru

Since its introduction to the country by Spanish missionaries, Catholicism continues to be the most popular and influential religion in the country. For example, although the government is officially secular, Catholic leaders continue to participate in the decision-making process of laws by influencing votes related to contentious moral topics.


Concerning social influence, Catholic practices vary across Peru, usually depending on one's socioeconomic status. For instance, those in middle-class urban areas adhere to many traditions of the Catholic Church while those from more impoverished urban areas practise a more liberal interpretation (such as Liberation Theology). There are, however, common Catholic practices conducted regardless of one's social position. For example, Catholic rites related to the life cycle such as baptism, confirmation and marriage are widely practised.


Celebrations of Catholic holidays and patron saints are also popular throughout the country. An especially important event in Peru is El Señor de los Milagros, which commemorates a particular painting of Jesus Christ believed to have miraculous qualities, such as the power to heal. The image itself is painted on a church wall in the capital city of Lima, and many replicas of the painting are used in street processions throughout the country in October. Catholic imagery and icons are found throughout the country year-round, as exemplified by the many churches and statues of saints that dot Peru’s landscapes.


Indigenous Worldviews and Syncretism

Ancient Peru had a variety of polytheistic and pantheistic religions. The focal point of these religions was reverence towards natural phenomena. Each culture created temples to honour its local deity. The introduction of Catholicism in Peru drastically changed indigenous worldviews and practices. Many of the original traditions that were perceived as contrary to Christianity gave way or were adapted to create a syncretism of Catholicism and local worldviews.


This syncretism is most prominent in religious festivities. For instance, the indigenous feast of the summer solstice (Inti Raymi), which commemorates the god Inti (the god of the Sun), is celebrated in many Peruvian communities as the feast days of Saints Peter and Paul. There are other ways indigenous worldviews and Catholicism are amalgamated, particularly in the Andes. For instance, fiestas patronales (celebrations to commemorate the patron saint of a village) often feature many Andean mystical elements.

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