Findings & Footnotes- May 1028

  • The open-access Serbian journal Politics and Religion (not to be confused with the journal of the same name published by the religion section of the American Political Science Association) devotes its current issue (Vol. 12, No. 1) to the growth of Christian, mostly evangelical, parties and political mobilization in Latin America. Articles include an examination of the way evangelical political mobilization in Colombia has shifted from its previous stress on fighting for Protestants’ religious freedom to focusing on culture war issues, particularly gay rights and abortion. Another article finds a similar pattern in Brazil, with a coalition of Pentecostals and Catholic charismatics having considerable impact, challenging the human rights platform of the Worker’s Party, particularly on “gender ideology” and reproductive rights. Other articles cover the role of religious parties—Catholic and Protestant—in Argentina and the unexpected emergence of Catholic and evangelical politics in Mexico. This issue can be downloaded at:

  • The hypothesis that alleged crypto-Jewish practices in New Mexico might actually be the remnants of missionary work by an Adventist Christian group should be considered seriously, writes Michael B. Carrroll (Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada) in an update on the debate, published in Religion (April). A debate has been raging since the 1990s between scholars claiming that many early settlers of New Mexico were crypto-Jews and those who see no solid evidence for this thesis. Carroll’s article pays special attention to scholarly reviews of two books published in the 2000s by proponents of the crypto-Jewish thesis. Even positive reviews point to a number of uncertainties and missing links, such as the lack of evidence of crypto-Jewish practices in the 18th and 19th centuries. While “some of the early colonists in New Mexico were descended from crypto-Jewish families and so may have been crypto-Jews themselves,” many scholars hardly see convincing evidence of crypto-Jewish family traditions in modern New Mexico.

    The Adventist hypothesis had been dismissed by scholars advocating the crypto-Jewish explanation, due to the low numbers of Adventist believers in the area. However, writes Carroll, this fails to take into account the impact of Adventist missionary activities and literature spread by Adventist colporteurs among Hispanos who heard the message without embracing it in the 1920s and 1930s. The claims of a crypto-Jewish descent during the 1970s and 1980s were made at a time when various identity claims and the rediscovery of roots became popular across various population groups. It may have been used for articulating a rejection of Catholicism and “to explain practices that had always made them or their families feel different.” Carroll is convinced that, whatever the evidence (or lack of it) is, the crypto-Jewish hypothesis will remain popular, not least because it has been become part of an attractive vision of New Mexico as a proud multicultural society. For more information on this article, visit: Religion,

  • Recent research continues to confirm that it is not economic fears as much as a range of cultural and moral concerns that led to the surge of support that ushered Donald Trump into the White House. In his new book The Left Behind (Princeton University Press, $24.95), sociologist Robert Wuthnow draws on decades of research in rural America to drive home the point that moral and socio-religious concerns fed the widespread disenchantment with establishment politics and the embrace of populism among small-town and rural Americans. Such an argument has been used to support the view that mainly white rural voters were reacting against the increasing ethnic and racial diversity of the U.S. But Wuthnow does not see racial animus as the main motivator of the “left behind.” Rather, he argues that the fear over the dissolution of their “moral communities”—a social life defined by relationships and obligations to neighbors—has led to a rising tide of populist sentiment.

    The moral aspect of small-town and rural discontent can be seen in residents’ criticisms and protests of the Washington establishment, which they feel prefers regulatory and distanced solutions to community problems that politicians have little knowledge about. The norms of small towns centered on first-hand assistance and personal responsibility as often modeled in church life are seen by the people Wuthnow interviews as being eroded by elites and big government. Wuthnow argues that the idea that rural Americans are not voting in their self-interest by focusing on concerns such as gay rights and abortion ignores how these and other moral issues are part of the moral consensus of their communities and churches and thus do involve self-interest. Wuthnow concludes that too much reporting on the “left-behind” is about private resentments and personal attitudes on a range of hot-button issues and that more attention needs to be paid to the communal nature of small-town life and how that shapes their views.