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Title:After conversion: gender, modernity, and the regeneration of Christianity across three generations of indigenous evangelicals in highland Ecuador
Author(s):O'Brien, Kathleen Carey
Director of Research:Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Abelmann, Nancy A.; Moodie, Ellen; Gottlieb, Alma; Greenberg, Jessica
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
indigenous peoples
Abstract:This dissertation is an ethnography of the contested process of religious change across three generations of indigenous evangelicals in the Ecuadorian Andes. This process, which I term re-generating Christianity, involves negotiating the legacies of mass conversion in shifting sociocultural contexts in and through generational and gender relations. Based on fifteen months of anthropological fieldwork conducted in the Colta Lake region of Chimborazo Province, this dissertation reveals how the dramatic social transformations generated by conversion in one historical context spur continually-emergent religious tensions over time along the lines of generation, gender, family, and community. In the 1960s and 1970s, Colta was the setting of a mass conversion of Kichwa-speaking indigenous peoples from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism at the hands of North American missionaries. Coinciding with Ecuador’s watershed period of agrarian reform, religious conversion signified collective liberation from socio-economic, ethnic, and gendered oppression for first converts. It meant adopting a set of "modern" promises that only future generations could fully realize. This dissertation focuses on the first converts' children and grandchildren—men and women of the "second" and "third" generations—in today's fully indigenized evangelical movement. Combining discourse analysis with an examination of ritual performance, this dissertation explores how younger evangelicals in Colta today experience, narrate, and embody indigenous Christianity in relationship to collective memories of the pre-conversion "sad life," the expectations of their elders and pastors, and the pull of the contemporary "world." Raised evangelical in an era of rising identity-based politics, higher rates of schooling and social mobility, engagement with Western feminist ideologies, and heightened exposure to global, consumer culture, members of the "second" and "third" post-conversion generations in Chimborazo have begun to challenge the religious movement from within. Increasingly critical of the unmet promises of their elders' conversion, younger believers negotiate their ongoing commitment to the Kichwa Church by re-defining "threats" to Christianity as opportunities to re-vamp local evangelical practice and, in the process, contest age and gender hierarchies. In these ways, younger evangelicals play a crucial role in re-generating Christianity, or imbuing an inherited religion with renewed relevance in ways that enable its central tenets to be both re-worked and re-lived in a post-conversion era. Drawing on three main bodies of scholarship—anthropology of Christianity, gender and feminist studies, and Andean ethnography—my longitudinal and cross-generational approach to mass-converted religious identity contributes to anthropological understandings of the lasting social effects of religious conversion in Latin America. Re-generating Christianity, I show, is an ongoing, non-linear, uneven, and intergenerational process that challenges scholarly assumptions about the nature of evangelical conversion as individuating, monolithic, and static, and as entailing clear temporal and social breaks. Finally, my work illuminates the ways in which shifting evangelical practices in the Andes intersect with the rise of local feminisms, the internal politics of indigenous movements, and the social construction of youth and generations.
Issue Date:2016-07-13
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Kathleen C. O'Brien
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-11-10
Date Deposited:2016-08

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