Thursday, January 15, 2009

Black Puerto Rican Identity and Religious Experience

Loiza is a Puerto Rican town known for best representing the African traditions, a community of a mostly black population affected by profound racial discrimination and poverty. But many Loiza residents strongly identify themselves in religious terms, strategically managing their individual, familial, gender, generational, local, national, and racial identities through a spiritual prism that effectively helps them cope with and transform their difficult reality.

Based on twelve months of fieldwork, this study shows how believers experience their religion in its various dimensions. Writing as a native ethnographer, the author offers the personal religious histories of many of Loiza’s residents, some of whom she follows northward to the United States as they re-create regional and political boundaries. Hern├índez Hiraldo plays the role of participant observer, a social scientist with affection for her subjects, who shared the most important aspects of their spiritual lives with her. Her narratives reveal an unusually nuanced understanding of the role of faith in the lives of Loiza’s people.

Arguing that understanding and respecting the power of religion in this community is essential to addressing and remedying its social problems, Hern├índez Hiraldo contests the characterization of Puerto Rico as a culturally homogeneous country with a monolithic church. She analyzes the changing nature of Catholicism on the island and the challenges it faces from the community’s other denominations, especially the Pentecostal churches, many of which are struggling to preserve their congregations. [Description provided by the publisher]


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