An overview of my areas of research: Christianity and related religions in Brazil and theories of religion.
Religion in Brazil
I study Catholicism in a small city in the interior of the state of São Paulo. This leads me to pay attention first to the history of Christianities in Latin America more generally: Iberian Catholicism in slave-holding colonies, between normative church and popular traditions; Indigenous, African and esoteric/Spiritist influences; and Protestantisms of immigration, mission and conversion. The history of Christianity in Latin America is characterized both by polarities (ecclesial/popular, urban/rural, Colonial/indigenous, branco/negro, elites/the poor, Catholic/Protestant, Christian/non-Christian) and by fluidity and hybridity (the blurring of these and other lines). This led to my methodological choice to study religion through fieldwork, emphasizing local social and cultural context, and bracketing textbook views of what Christianity and Catholicism “are” or “should be.” The Catholics that I talk to participate frequently in two other Brazilian religions: Kardecism (a nineteenth-century off-shoot of French Spiritism that is still growing in Brazil, currently at 2% of the population) and “white” Umbanda (the less African-oriented end of a spectrum of traditions that began as an early twentieth-century mixture of Kardecism and Candomblé; Umbanda is about a tenth the size of Kardecism in membership, but with many more clients than members). Both of these religions have significant Catholic elements. Several areas of interest have emerged to date: (i) close relations between religions and cura (healing); (ii) the importance of understanding religions and ‘religion’ in terms of national, historical and cultural contexts, especially in light of issues of race, class and gender; (iii) the centrality of formal (indexical) aspects of ritual in shaping participant attitudes to agency and intentionality; and (iv) the value of indigenous concepts as elements of theoretical frames. More generally, I am interested in multiple adherence and religious boundary crossing: i.e., the extent to which Brazilians share beliefs and practices with religions other than that with which they identify (e.g., Catholics who believe in reincarnation and Presbyterians who visit Umbanda terreiros for healing). My fieldwork is conducted mainly in a small city in the interior of the state of São Paulo.
Theory of Religion and Semantics
Mount Royal philosopher Mark Gardiner and I are exploring the mutual implications of theory of religion and philosophical semantics (theories of meaning). Scholars (even theorists) of religion rarely pay explicit attention to the issue of meaning: how is it that religious language and practice mean anything? Our work (i) reviews the literature in this area (Lawson/McCauley, Penner, Godlove, Frankenberry, Jensen, Davis etc.), critiquing and clarifying some of the philosophical work, (ii) extends the discussion by engaging more specifically with the implications of the work of philosopher Donald Davidson, (iii) explores the implications of an attention of semantic theory for specific areas of theory of religion (e.g., cognitive theory, theory of ritual and the insider/outsider problem), (iv) asks what a semantically grounded empirical study of religion would look like, and (v) asks what critical questions the case of religion raises for philosophical semantics.