Events

Religion and Values in the Formation of a Democratic Public Space in Latin America

March 22, 2010 // 12:30pm1:30pm

In the 1980s and ‘90s, Peru experienced one of the longest economic and political crises of its history. The debt crisis and hyperinflation of the 1980s coincided with the growth of terrorist violence by Sendero Luminoso, followed by the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). Peruvian democracy continues to grapple with the legacies of the recent past. According to Catalina Romero, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Peru's Catholic University and Public Policy Scholar under the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, religion and values have played a significant role in the expansion of democracy in Peru over the last ten years. Peruvians have low levels of inter-personal trust and indicators of democratic culture in Peru are weak. But while trust in the government and institutions is low, Peruvians exhibit high levels of trust in the Catholic Church. Romero argued that public spaces within and outside the Church have offered opportunities for the development and expression of civil society.

Culture and Values
According to the World Value Surveys, citizens are ascribing greater importance to religion in their daily lives. But just as Peruvians are becoming more religious, they are also becoming more autonomous. "Just because you're Catholic, doesn't mean you're going to do what the church says," observed Romero at a March 22, 2010, seminar. Moreover, on social issues such as divorce and homosexuality, Peruvian attitudes have become increasingly tolerant, but not so within the Church.

Influence of Religion in Politics
Romero posited that even though it is difficult to make generalizations about the role of the Church, religion itself has had a strong influence on politics in Peru. Religious figures supported authoritarian governments like that of Alberto Fujimori, but also were deeply involved with popular sectors in the defense of social and human rights. The Peruvian Catholic Church is not fragmented, she argued, but exhibits stronger and stronger pluralistic tendencies. Constitutional reform has led to a re-thinking of Church-state relations, and the Church's separation from the state has made it not only part of civil society, but a kind of civil society unto itself, composed of different spheres and tendencies.

Public Spaces and Religious Pluralism
The Church's possibilities of contributing to democratization in Peru are related to both internal and external spheres. The multiplication of public spaces within the Church and the practice of dialogue with different groups outside the Church are two aspects of the Church's democratizing role. For example, on several occasions in the recent past, members of the Church have participated in such major national entities as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (investigating human rights violations during the war) and the National Agreement (dealing with gender), without representing the Church in a formal capacity.

Romero indicated that different spheres within the Church—clergy and laity—possess different degrees of latitude when it comes to the freedom to speak and express opinions. For example, it is easier for a nun or priest to "openly discuss demands which are coming from society or interest groups" than for a bishop, who cannot openly go against Church doctrine. Romero contended that "the differentiation of spheres within the Church…[provides a place for] laity and priests to discuss… social and political issues, with freedom of expression." This building of civil society within the Church, she concluded, "opens the door for a stronger relation with democracy."

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