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Home› Cultures› Brazil› Cultural Differences› Religion


The importance of religion (Fernandes, 2005c) in the daily lives of Brazilians cannot be overstated. From the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500 until the end of the 19th Century, Brazil was officially a Catholic country, and its laws proscribed the practice of any other faith (Fernandes, 2005c). Today, many faiths are represented among the Brazilian people and even though Catholicism continues to be the dominant religion, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are not adhered to in a strict or uniform fashion.

In practice, the devotions of Brazilian Catholics are guided by the liturgical calendar. With or without a priest, every day is a saint's day, presenting itself as an opportunity for festivities and every kind of private devotion. Shrines in the home, chapels by the roadside, processions, pilgrimages, vows, recitations of the rosary, sisterhoods, all these customs could be practiced under lay leadership and led by local revelers.

Fernandes, 2004c

Interestingly, only 17% of Catholics attend church on a regular basis. This is indicative of the importance of saints in the everyday lives of Brazilians, as opposed to the organized rituals of the Church hierarchy.

Another important concept in religiosity in Brazil is that of syncretism the blending of seemingly dissimilar beliefs and practices to create a new religion (Syncretism, n.d.). It is this process that has resulted in the evolution and spreading of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé among others (Fernandes, 2005a). Candomblé is a blend of Catholicism and African spiritual traditions brought to Brazil by Africans with roots in the ancient societies of West, Central, and Southwest Africa.

Accordingly, there “is a strong belief in the magical and a corresponding respect for the magician” (Watson, 2000, p. 243). Since the 19th century, Kardecist Spiritualism, a blend of Christianity, communion with the souls of the dead and a belief in reincarnation has also gained a wide following (Fernandes, 2004b). Religious belief does not follow the lines of economic or racial strata in society: rituals are performed and shared by black and white, and the beliefs that originated among the slaves are now held by the middle-class.

Comparison of religion between Brazilian and U.S. majority cultures.

Brazilian Culture American Majority Culture
Roman Catholicism is the majority religion in Brazil. However, many other religions are represented in the country, including Evangelical-Protestantism, Candomblé and Kardecism.
Although Protestantism is the majority religion, many religions are represented in the United States. There is separation between church and state.
Religious symbols are displayed in public school buildings, such as classrooms. Religious symbols are not displayed in public buildings, including public schools.
Religion in public schools is not only taught as a subject, but its symbols are displayed and many teachers emphasize religious principles. Religion in public schools is studied as a subject in the upper grades, but its symbols are not displayed.
©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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