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CLALS | Religion and Violence in Latin America

This page is the home for scholarly articles, white papers, news articles, blogposts, and multimedia produced as a result of and in association with the Center's project "Religious Responses to Violence in Latin America," a multi-year research endeavor supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. While recognizing the complexity of such categorization, project documents are posted below based on the chronological themes that structure the project.

The Past

Flyers with photos of disappeared young people are hung in front of a church

Photo credit: pablodf | Flickr Creative Commons

Documents in this section address church and religious actors' responses to largely state-sponsored violence under military dictatorships in the 1960s-1980s. This time period was largely shaped by Vatican II and Liberation Theology, the dominance of the Catholic Church, the global Cold War, and the development of an international human rights movement.

Argentine Catholicism During the Last Military Dictatorship: Unresolved Tensions and Tragic Outcomes

Authored by María Soledad Catoggio, this paper examines how the unresolved tension between institutional discipline and state respression of the 1960s eroded the corporative solidarity and enabled vertical and horizontal ruptures within the Argentine Catholic Church during the country's last military dictatorship. (Download PDF)

Represión estatal entre las filas del catolicismo argentino durante la última dictadura militar: Una mirada del conjunto y de los perfiles de las víctimas

Authored by María Soledad Catoggio, this article examines state repression against Catholic priests, friars, nuns, seminarians, and bishops who were victims of state terrorism during the last Argentine military dictatorship. The hypothesis of this study is that links can be established between the profiles of victims and the modes of repression to which they were subjected. (Download PDF)

Camilo Torres: Fe, Política y Violencia

Authored by Daniel H. Levine, this paper considers meanings of faith and action undertaken by Father Camilo Torres Restrepo in Colombia. (Download PDF)

The Role of the Church in Times of Violence

The following are translated chapters from the abbreviated volume Ser iglesia en tiempos de violencia (versión abreviada), edited by Lupe Jara (Lima: Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas and Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones-CEP, 2007). The chapters below shed light on the role played by Catholic communities in the Andean highlands and the San Juan de Lurigancho district of Lima in defense of human rights during the years of political violence that shook Peru from 1980 to 2000.

  • Álvaro Calado
  • (Download PDF)
  • Luis Mújica
  • (Download PDF)
  • Lupe Jara
  • (Download PDF)
  • Pedro Hughes
  • (Download PDF)

The Present

The religious landscape in Latin America has changed considerably in the last few decades. Evangelical Protestantism has expanded rapidly in many countries, often approaching its social role in a distinct manner from that of Catholic churches.

Violence has also changed. Contemporary democracies are distinguished from their predecessors particularly by the prevalence of non-state violence, often illustrated by the rise of violent transnational criminal networks and gangs. In the current day, "citizen security" is paramount. How do the religious concepts and practices of the past change in this new context? What are the legacies? What are the new shifts and approaches?

The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What was the role of the Catholic Church?

Authored by Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight Crime with reporting by Oscar Martínez of El Faro, this working paper examines the role of the Catholic Church in the truce brokered between rival gangs in El Salvador in March 2012. (Download PDF)

See the May 12, 2013 public statement in Spanish by the Catholic Conference of Bishops questioning the truce and follow InSight Crime's ongoing analysis.

God and Gangs: Criminal Violence and Religion in Guatemala

"God and Gangs: Criminal Violence and Religion in Guatemala" is a series of three short videos that sketch the context of gang violence in Guatemala and highlight the role of religion as a potential source for both individual and social transformation. The series profiles the work of sociologist Robert Brenneman as he interviews former gang members who have exited the criminal world by converting to Pentecostalism. These videos were produced and directed by American University School of Communication Professor Bill Gentile and are now available on YouTube.

Central American Migrants in Mexico: Implications for U.S. Security and Immigration Policy

Authored by Amelia-Frank Vitale, this working paper describes how members of the Catholic Church are stepping in to protect and advocate on behalf of Central American migrants attempting the hazardous trek through Mexico. The result is a humanitarian crisis that strengthens criminal organizations—one of the unanticipated consequences, as seen by the Church and human rights advocates, of both U.S. and Mexican security and border patrol policies. (Download PDF)

Las iglesias ante las violencias en Latinoamérica: Modelos y experiencias de paz en contextos de conflicto y violencia

Authored by Claudia Dary Fuentes, this working paper is a compilation of the issues and key points discussed during a seminar on the role of Christian churches in facing violence in Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. The seminar was held in Guatemala City in July 2013 with the participation of 39 grassroots activists representing two-dozen faith-based ministries to share experiences ministering to victims of the region’s rampant violence. This document summarizes and analyzes the experiences and perspectives of the participants around diverse forms of violence, including state-sponsored violence, gender-based violence, domestic violence, and gang violence, among others. (Download PDF)

Pentecostal Human Rights Activists? Religious Motives in Gang “Rescue” Programs in Central America

In addition to drug cartels and organized crime, key actors in the growing street violence in northern Central America include thousands of members of the transnational youth gangs such as la Mara Salvatrucha and la Mara Dieciocho. Recent research by Robert Brenneman shows that Pentecostal congregations in Northern Central America have engaged in a great deal of ministry aimed at “rescuing” gang members from the gang and from the consequences of increasingly popular “social cleansing” campaigns on the part of police and vigilante groups. Such work constitutes one form of human rights work. The author goes on to discuss some of the factors that propel Pentecostals into such risky work. (Download PDF)

Religion and Violence in Central America

On July 11, 2012 CLALS and the Woodrow Wilson Center convened a panel of scholars and practitioners to discuss how religious institutions in Central America interact with and respond to the unprecedented levels of violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The panel discussion is a available as a podcast.

Related Links


  • Discussion of how Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is trying to harness some of Pope Francis' unprecedented approval presented in the AULA Blog (March 10, 2014).
  • Growing evidence of a potential shift in how Evangelicals engage in social issues in Brazil discussed in the AULA Blog (October 3, 2013).
  • Reflections on Pope Francis I's fresh and personal vision of the Catholic Church and Christian faith in the AULA Blog (September 24, 2013).
  • Insights from a meeting of faith-based activists in Guatemala City are highlighed in the AULA Blog (July 24, 2013).
  • The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis I, the first pope from Latin America is considered by project participants and discussed in the AULA Blog (March 18, 2013).
  • Initial findings of the Religion and Violence in Latin America project are featured on the AULA Blog (February 11, 2013).
  • CLALS Research Fellow Fulton Armstrong examines Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba in March in his article "A Failure to Communicate."