Updated November 4, 2018: A few days after I posted the essay below, Jair Bolsonaro was elected as the next president of Brazil. He received 55% of the valid votes to Haddad’s 45%, although a record 30% of the electorate abstained from voting or annulled or blanked their votes. While Fernando Haddad staged a spirited and upbeat campaign and surged in the final two weeks, he did not succeed in mobilizing a broad democratic front against Bolsonaro. Many public officials, intellectuals and celebrities rallied to the cause of democracy and declared votes for Haddad (including some of the prominent jurists involved in anti-corruption proceedings who had previously critiqued and prosecuted the PT). However, key political leaders on the center to center-right spectrum remained silent, or offered ambiguous or tepid support.
Scholarship over the last fifteen years has demonstrated why religion is so useful to people trying to mobilize for change. A number of scholars have made what I would call “social organization” arguments – congregations are physical places that allow for meetings among like-minded participants who have established leaders and communication networks. Further, for many congregations, denominational ties provide built-in connections between the local and national. Other scholars focus more on the “cultural” dimensions of religion and mobilizing – religious ideas are easily adapted to the moralized meanings that form “injustice frames.” A sense of religious duty can get people to internalize the idea that remedial action concerning that injustice is up to them, and motivates them to get personally involved. The stakes can be ultimate – religious people may feel their souls are at risk. And the “narrative turn” in social movement study can easily show how religious stories – ranging from those that recount the perseverance of persecuted people to those that reassure the faithful that the Almighty will guarantee their success – can be fitted to almost any situation a social movement faces. Continue reading