While most Brazilians declare to be Christians, there are many popular religions in the country
By plus55 on Dec 07, 2016
Christmas in Brazil is a big deal. Catholics and Evangelicals make up nearly 90 percent of the population. However, in addition to Brazil’s growing Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist populations, these Brazilian religions are also worth getting to know this Christmas.
The 2010 Brazilian Census reported 167,393 followers of Candomblé, representing 0.09 percent of the national population. While this number seems small, the Census doesn’t account for the thousands of Brazilians who regularly solicit the spiritual services of Candomblé leaders. In fact, candomblé has as many as 2 million followers worldwide. Candomblé, meaning “dance in honor of the gods”, celebrates the orishas common to Cuban Santeria and Haitian Vodou.
African slaves brought the Yoruba, Bantu, and Fon religious traditions to Brazil and incorporated aspects of Catholicism. Indeed, Candomblé is primarily practiced in the northeastern state of Bahia, the destination of approximately 1.2 million slaves before abolition in 1888. The first candomblé temple in Salvador, Bahia dates back to the 19th Century.
Umbanda incorporates aspects of Candomblé, most notably its reverence of orishas syncretized with Catholic saints. Although culturally similar, Umbanda carries a clear Christian narrative of goodness. In contrast, Candomblé follows an amoral destiny set by the orishas. Many confuse the two for their common use of all white clothing, spiritual leaders, and percussion-heavy rhythms. Practiced among slave descendants in 20th Century Rio de Janeiro, Umbanda today accounts for 0.2 percent of the population with 407,331 followers.
Of all Brazilian religions (besides Catholicism and Protestantism), Kardecism is the most popular. Nearly 4 million Brazilian espíritas make up the world’s largest existing community. Some know the religion as “Kardecism” due to the 19th-century French educator Allan Kardec who first defined the religion in his work, The Spirit’s Book. Followers of this religion believe humans are immortal spirits that reincarnate as necessary to obtain intellectual and moral improvement.
Seicho-No-Ie is a unique blend of Buddhism and Catholicism largely practiced by the Brazilian-Japanese community. Created by Japanese spiritual leader Masaharu Taniguchi in 1930, followers of Seicho-No-Ie claim to transcend religious sectarianism in reverence of the gift of life and nature itself. Today, the largest Seicho-No-Ie community exists in Brazil.
A Time for Religious Tolerance
Many Brazilians practice multiple religions, often mixing Catholicism with Espírita, Umbanda, and even Candomblé. Although many followers of these Brazilian religions don’t recognize the religious aspects of Christmas, many still exchange gifts as a cultural practice.
But despite a culture of religious plurality, rising numbers of conservative Christians have denounced other religions as “satanic.” As a result, religious intolerance increased by 3,706 percent in the last five years. Furthermore, racism links into religious tolerance with 7 in 10 victims being of African descent. Consequently, many Afro-Brazilians avoid dressing in white, a marker of Candomblé and Umbanda, to avoid violent attacks.
Hopefully, with Christmas around the corner, Brazilians will take the opportunity to celebrate its religious diversity.
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