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Gender, Catholicism, and Morality in Brazil

New book by Edinburgh anthropologist Maya Mablin

Through the ethnography of a Catholic community in Northeast Brazil, Maya Mayblin offers a vivid and provocative rethink of gendered portrayals of Catholic life. For the residents of Santa Lucia, life is conceptualized as a series of moral tradeoffs between the sinful and productive world against an idealized state of innocence, conceived with reference to local Catholic teachings. As marriage marks the beginning of a productive life in the world, it also marks a phase in which moral personhood comes most actively—and poignantly—to the fore. This book offers lucid observations on how men and women as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, negotiate this challenge. As well as making an important contribution to the ethnographic literature on morality, Christianity, and Latin America, the book offers a compelling alternative to received portrayals of gender polarity as symbolically all-encompassing, throughout the Catholic world.

This theoretically sophisticated book is at the leading edge of a number of currently important anthropological discussions.  It is, for example, one of the first and most finely argued studies of the role of morality in social life that we have.  It is also one of the first studies of Catholicism to unfold in dialogue with contemporary work in the anthropology of Christianity, moving beyond former preoccupations with syncretism and folk religiosity to give us fully-realized portrait of Catholicism as lived religion.  But even as one needs to read this book for the fresh, challenging ideas that are there on almost every page, its also true that Mayblin supports her claims with the kind rounded, pitch-perfect ethnography that makes one remember why one ever thought anthropology was a good way to address major human issues in the first place.  This is a book people will be reading for a long time to come.

Joel Robbins

Professor and Chair of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego

The village of Santa Lucia, tucked away in the northeast of Brazil, is brought to life in this wonderful ethnography. Mayblin's prose is pointed and poignant, and draws the reader in not only to the village but some of the most important theoretical discussions at the intersection between kinship and religion: on morality, on perfection and imperfection, and on how men and women relate. This book will appeal to a wide audience, and garner great respect.

Matthew Engelke

author of A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church

Freshers 2013