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Redeemed, reborn, forgiven. Conversions to evangelicalism in the context of violence and civil wars in Latin America - Lecture of Ariane Kovac (University of Leipzig)

​21 June 2023, 5 p.m., Iwalewahaus

First Colloquium Latin America

Evangelicals have been on the rise in Latin America for several decades. The fact that so many people are leaving Catholicism and converting to evangelical churches is usually attributed either to intensive missionary efforts by the churches or to the financial and social benefits that can accompany conversion. However, in addition to mission and poverty, conflicts and civil wars in the region are catalysts for the spread of evangelicalism. In Guatemala, conversions to evangelical churches during the civil war offered indigenous people at least a slim hope of protection from attacks by the military. In Peru, it was the other way around: in the Ayacucho region, which was particularly affected by the civil war, entire villages converted, even though evangelicals were in the line of fire of both the guerrillas and the military. In El Salvador, conversion to an evangelical church seems to be the safest way to leave a street gang.
Based on these three examples, in my presentation, I will discuss reasons why evangelical churches seem to be attractive to many people who experience violence and civil war. I am particularly interested in how evangelical theological concepts of conversion as “rebirth” and forgiveness as God's command for all believers shape conflicts, reconciliation, and remembrance. I show that conversions and the forgiveness that accompanies them represent local efforts to find alternative forms of justice in the face of the conflicts’ high civil involvement. I base my presentation primarily on field research and interviews with evangelical conflict victims that I conducted in Peru in 2018.

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