Walking with the dead : transit, transfer, and transformation in São Paulo's devotion to souls

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2024-02-05

Authors

Amoruso, Michael Benjamin

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Abstract

On Mondays—widely known as “the day of the souls” in Brazil—devotees across São Paulo visit cemeteries and Catholic churches to pray to the souls of the dead. But not all practitioners are Catholic, and some are Catholic and something else too. For this reason, observers call the devotion to souls syncretic. While some scholars have criticized the term for positing essential religious forms degraded through mixture, in Brazil, it is part of the vernacular. There it is wedded to a national racial ideology that characterizes Brazilians as a mixture of Portuguese, African, and indigenous peoples. According to this logic, Brazilians mix religions because they themselves are racially mixed. This dissertation considers this devotion to souls as a vector for religious movement. Turning syncretism on its head, it attends to how souls, living and departed, move and mingle. It argues that the devotion to souls is a point of transit and transfer between realms—that is, it connects devotees to departed kin and other souls in the spiritual world—and between religious theologies, identities, and institutions. Put more plainly, it suggests that devotees move across religious boundaries, and that movement changes religious spaces.

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