5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Religion and Violence in Central America

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The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) cohosted the seminar "Religion and Violence in Central America."

Violent crime in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala has reached unprecedented levels.  While scholars and policy makers struggle to understand and address issues of violence, impunity, transnational crime, and youth gangs, it is frequently religious organizations that are on the front lines of efforts to reduce gang violence and get young people out of gangs. 

We were joined by anthropologist Jon Wolseth of Luther College (author of Jesus and the Gang: Youth Violence and Christianity in Urban Honduras, University of Arizona) and sociologist Robert Brenneman of St. Michael’s College (author of Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America, Oxford, 2011) who have conducted extensive research in Central America.  Their work provides insights into the role of religion in the lives of current and former gang members and those who seek to survive in a context of escalating violence. While tough military and police enforcement measures are frequently popular with policy makers and the public in the region, Brenneman and Wolstheth present another side of the story—one which points toward more personal interventions and choices as a path toward surviving and potentially breaking individual and local cycles of violence.  We also heard from Josué Alvarado, who founded the programTrabajemos Por la Paz to rehabilitate and reincorporate ex-gang members. Alexander Wilde, Latin American Program senior scholar and director of CLALS’s project on religion and violence, supported by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, and Timothy J. Steigenga, professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College, will provide comments. 


  • Jon Wolseth

    Assistant professor of anthropology at Luther College
  • Robert Brenneman

    Assistant professor of sociology at Saint Michael’s College
  • Timothy Steigenga

    Public Policy Scholar
    Professor of Political Science, Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University