Conference Report

Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones (ALER), Sao Paulo, Brazil
By Sylvia Marcos

"Mundos Religiosos: Identidades y Convergencias" (Religious Worlds: Identities and Convergentes) was the theme of the XI congreso of the Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones (ALER) which had its XI Latin-American and Iberoamerican meeting in Sao Paulo, Brasil from the 3 to the 7th July 2006.

More than 500 participants attended from the Latin American countries like Argentina, Brasil, Perú, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile,Uruguay,Bolivia, Guatemala, etc. A significant number of Spanish scholars participated also.

Among the 370 presentations the "Gender and Religion: A Feminist Reading from the Latin American Perspective" was organized in six separate symposia. Drs. Sandra Duarte and Sylvia Marcos were co-coordinators. The 28 presentations included scholars as Ana Maria Bidegain, Maria José Rosado-Nunez, Maria Das Dores Machado, Cecilia Mariz, Luiza Tomita, and a series of Latin American historians, theologians, and sociologists of religion. Several of the works - presented by both male and female scholars - were field research reports on the work in progress and on-going research by each of the participants. Several presentations dealt with the Afro-Brasilian religious configurations like Candomblé and Umbanda where women appear as powerful "maes de Santo" and "pombagira" - an ambiguous gender role adscription. Catholic and other Christian and Pentecostal, Evangelical associations were also objects of study and the research results were shared.

In general this series of panels was almost a congress within a Congress, which reminded me of the XVII congress of IAHR in Mexico City in 1995 where Rosalind Hackett and myself coordinated 51 presentations!

What is important to signal is that the issues concerning gender are very much at the forefront of the interests of researchers now. Using gender - as Rosalind Hackett and myself emphasized in 1995 - as a parameter for analyzing data, suddenly illuminates areas of knowledge about religious belief and practice that had previously been hidden. It is a "newly" found focus that increases the depth of findings. In addition, the term "feminist reading" in the title of our symposia also managed to entice a good number of scholars who took issue with us.

Three other symposia under the title "Ser hombre, Ser Mujer y su Relación con Dios : Genero, Religion y Modernidad en America Latina" - (Being a man, being a woman and their relationship to God: Gender, religion and modernity in Latin America ) - were coordinated by Virginia Avila from ENAH (Escuela Nacional de Antrpologia e Historial) Mexico.

Although the focus of this report is on Gender at the ALER meeting, it is important to signal that during the Congress we had a full day session for the EIR (Enciclopedia Iberoamericana de Religiones, Trotta, Madrid), co-ordinated by an Iberoamerican editorial committee. This project, which has just published its fifth volume, plans to produce a total of 40 volumes. The Third volume was edited by Sylvia Marcos under the title: "Religion y Genero". This demonstrates, one more time, that the issues of gender and religion have come to be an essential part of in-depth analysis of religious universes. Also during this extended session at the Congress we did a collegial presentation of work done and proposals for the next three volumes: Nahua (Aztec) religions, shamanisms and theologies of liberation.

Spanning many relevant issues in today´s Latin American social and political context, the XI Congress of the Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones, included many contributions that advanced our knowledge of the nuanced, ambiguous, fragmented and sometimes conflictive religious realities that we live in now.