Liberate, Inculturate, Educate! Brazilian Black Catholics, Racial Justice, and Affirmative Action from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia

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2022

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Abstract

The poor and overwhelmingly non-white Baixada Fluminense, on Rio’s urban periphery, saw Black Catholic priests and lay people engage in religiously-informed activism and grassroots educational initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s. Thus began the nationwide campaign that, by 2012, led to the adoption of racial and ethnic quotas in higher education admissions, the civil service, the diplomatic corps, and the military. As part of raising Black consciousness, they drew on a global theology of inculturation and joined others in pioneering a reform of the Catholic liturgy through “Afro Masses” that taught Catholics to respect Africa, its cultures, and its descendants. In doing so, these Catholic activists made common cause with ‘secular’ organizations ranging from trade unions, black movements, NGOs, and political parties that were often formed and led by Catholics. This dissertation suggests that post-Second Vatican Council Catholicism, especially threads that combined Latin American liberation and decolonial African and Asian theologies, is essential if we are to understand how Brazil came to adopt a bold quota system despite the vast under-representation of Blacks and the poor in the political system. Rather spouting class-only Marxism, liberation theology in its Brazilian heartland was a journey in pursuit of personal, spiritual, and collective liberation that contributed decisively to the country’s secular but nonetheless Catholic-informed legal and political culture in the 21st century.

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Knoll, Travis K. (2022). Liberate, Inculturate, Educate! Brazilian Black Catholics, Racial Justice, and Affirmative Action from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25245.

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