Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Religious groups tend to be absent in discussions on participatory democracy. And, yet, they too have been swept into the fervor and excitement over participatory democracy’s political potential. I suggest in this paper that analyzing such religious engagements with participatory democracy provides a fruitful perspective for exploring the malleability and limits of participatory democracy as a political form, and by extension, the ways in which its practical realization is ordered and conditioned by the larger political agendas and structures to which it is connected.
To develop this argument I analyze a religious activist project developed in Brazil in the early 2000s: the Forum Nacional de Religiões de Matriz Africana, which aimed to construct a permanent forum structure for Afro-Brazilian religions on the model of Brazil’s famed experiments with participatory democracy. My analysis traces how activists behind the project adapted participatory democratic political technologies and values to a religious politics that otherwise positioned respect for religious and age hierarchies at its core. I focus on two discursive and interactional innovations through which they worked to create a sense of a religiously ordered discursive environment in which all practitioners irrespective of their religious or activist backgrounds could participate equally: a discursive emphasis on a collective "we," and the modification of religious blessing requests. As I show, these practices not only contributed to the construction of the Forum Nacional as a religiously inclusive space, but they also complicated the broader hierarchically grounded politics of respect to which the activists subscribed.