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When Clergy are Threatened: Catholic and Protestant Leaders and Political Activism in Brazil

  • Amy Erica Smith (a1)

In the past three decades, observers have noted a steady rise in religious leaders’ engagement in Brazilian politics. What motivates this new activism? One prominent theory focuses on threat from religious competitors; other scholars point to church-state relations or theologically-driven political grievances. I argue that because of institutional and theological differences, Catholic and Protestant clergy are motivated into political action by different kinds of threat. I draw on two question order experiments embedded in a face-to-face survey of clergy prior to Brazil's 2014 election to examine how clergy react to threats from religious competition and from elected politicians. Threat from religious competition is associated with changes in topics of preaching among Catholics, who substitute social justice for personal morality messages. Protestant clergy instead react to ideological, policy-based threats, and secularization; these latter threats explain the much higher political engagement among Pentecostal and evangelical than Catholic clergy in 2014.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Amy Erica Smith, Iowa State University, Department of Political Science, 503 Ross Hall, Ames, IA 50011-2011. E-mail:
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