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Religious Institutions and Collective Action: The Catholic Church and Political Activism in Indigenous Chiapas and Yucatán

  • Christopher W. Hale (a1)

Why do religious organizations facilitate secular political activism in some settings but not others? I contend that where religious institutions are characterized by decentralized local governance, they are more likely to facilitate political activism. Drawing on nine months of field research and 60 interviews, I conduct a qualitative comparison between the Mexican states of Chiapas and Yucatán. I argue Chiapas exhibits highly decentralized governance by the Catholic Church whereas Yucatán exhibits centralized clerical management. This difference accounts for why Chiapas experiences high levels of indigenous political activism while Yucatán experiences very little political activism.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Christopher W. Hale, University of Alabama, Department of Political Science, 739 University Blvd., Box 870213. Tuscaloosa, AL 35487. E-mail:
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I would like to extend my gratitude to Professors Carolyn Warner, Michael Hechter, David Siroky, Magda Hinojosa, Reed Wood, Stephen Walker, Thorin Wright, Paul Djupe, Andrea Molle, Laurence Iannaccone, Christopher Bader, Christopher Butler, Rosario Aguilar, Rafaela Dancygier, Sean Mueller, and several anonymous reviewers. I also appreciate feedback from participants at the First Annual Graduate Student Workshop of the Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Society at Chapman University as well as participants at the 2014 Midwest Political Science Association Conference. Additionally, I appreciate feedback from various participants at the 2015 Ethnic and Religious Conflict Conference. Finally, I would like to convey my thanks to faculty and staff at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, including Dr. Luis Várguez Pasos, Dr. Francisco J. Fernández Repetto, and Lic. Gabriela Quintal Avilés. I also wish to thank my research assistants, Laura Carrillo, Amra Morquecho, Alma Medina, and Jasset Puc. I particularly want to express my gratitude to all of my interview respondents. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1159485, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and both the Graduate and Professional Student Association and the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University.

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Politics and Religion
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