This presentation examines how younger generations of indigenous women in Ecuador confront, contest, and embody the gendered promises of evangelical Christianity in the long-term aftermath of conversion. Scholarly research on the rising phenomenon of evangelical Christianity in Latin America touts the benefits that conversion accords to women; some scholars even hail the religion as a “feminist utopia” (Lorentzen and Mira 2005). In Ecuador’s Chimborazo Province—the site of a widespread conversion of indigenous peoples from Catholicism to evangelical Christianity in the 1960s and 1970s—local narratives stress the promise of conversion’s so-called rupture with the past to “liberate” and “empower” women. In this presentation, I challenge the problematic assumptions about conversion, religious subjectivity, and feminism that underlie these “feminist utopia” tropes. Using an analytics of generation, and drawing on fourteen months of ethnographic research in Chimborazo, I show how second- and third-generation believers negotiate the unmet promises and perils of conversion while remaining committed to the church. I analyze how younger women’s modes of evangelical practice, including Biblical teachings and liturgical dance, intersect with generational identifications to challenge Evangelical patriarchy. This presentation provides insights on religious change in Latin America as a deeply contested, gendered, and inter-generational process.
Kathleen C. O’Brien is adjunct faculty in the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona.