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Date of Award

8-1985

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Supervisor

Professor Robert Blumstock

Abstract

In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil has attracted a good deal of attention within social scientific and religious circles. Traditionally seen as being synonymous with wealth and privilege, it is now viewed as one of the most politically progressive Churches in Latin America, owing to the position it has adopted in favour of the poor and oppressed. Of particular interest to students of the Church are the comunidades eclesiais de base (basic ecclesial communities) commonly known as CEBs. These predominantly lower-class, often politically oriented lay groups are coming to be seen as the most visible expression of the Brazilian Church's new-found commitment to the masses. To many, the CEBs are a renovating force which will have an irreversible impact on both Roman Catholicism and Brazilian society generally.

Within the literature, there currently exist two contrasing interpretations of the CEB phenomenon. The first approach, which is rooted in an action-oriented religious current known as Liberation Theology, borrows heavily on Marxian terminology and interprets the groups as a spontaneous expression of the emergent class consciousness of the poor. The second approach, drawing upon the work of Weber and other organizational theorists, stresses the fundamental diversity of the CEBs, and the role which the Church as an institution plays in shaping their basic characteristics an aims.

To date, few empirical studies of the Brazilian CEBs have emerged which point conclusively to the validity of one or the other of these approaches. The present study helps remedy this deficiency. Specifically, we seek to test the two theories currently in vogue through an in-depth investigation of a select sample of groups situated in the Archdiocese of Sāo Paulo.

Briefly stated, the principal finding of the dissertation is that the CEBs are best understood within the context of the institutional as opposed to the Liberationist perspective. In essence, the data demonstrate that the groups are an extremely heterogeneous collectivity, and that their organizational structure and orientation are dependent not upon social location, but the quality of their ties to the Church hierarchy.

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