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Fr. Morello Organizing Study of Religious Life in Latin America

Asst. Prof. Gustavo Morello, SJ (Sociology)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: July 23, 2014

The election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as pope has focused increased attention on the Catholic Church in Latin America, says sociologist and Jesuit priest Gustavo Morello, SJ, but there is little data about the state of Catholicism in a post-modern, urbanized Latin America.

To deepen the understanding of the lives of Latin American religious people, Fr. Morello, a native Argentinian who is an assistant professor in the Sociology Department, has gathered together an international group of scholars to assess the transformation of Latin American religiosity.

The group met at the Faber Jesuit Community on Brighton Campus earlier this summer to outline their project, which will be an interdisciplinary effort reflecting their combined expertise in sociology, history and theology. The other researchers are Nestor Da Costa of Catholic University of Uruguay, Hugo Rabia of Catholic University of Cordoba in Argentina, and Catalina Romero of Pontifical Catholic University in Peru. Each will lead a team that will conduct qualitative research in his or her respective country, and Fr. Morello and School of Theology and Ministry student Erick Berrelleza, SJ will compare and contrast the results between the countries.

The conventional wisdom, explained Fr. Morello, is that as modernization occurred, Europe became less religious and the United States became more religiously diverse. “We don’t know what the outcome in Latin America is. We’re hoping this study will show us.”

The researchers will conduct interviews in their respective countries with three generations of people – those aged 20-25, 40-45 and 60-65 – on what being religious means to them.

Fr. Morello expects the study to last three years. The findings will be published in a book and lead to talks with religious leaders throughout Latin America. With initial sponsorship by the Jesuit Institute, Fr. Morello is working with the Office of Sponsored Research to secure the necessary funding.

He says the areas selected for the study are often not the ones that first come to mind when people speak about Latin America. “They think Mexico, Brazil or the Buenos Aires section of Argentina. We have chosen less well-known areas that will offer interesting results. Peru, for example, is a very pluralistic society,” said Fr. Morello, who teaches a course on Faith & Conflict: Religion & Social Change in Latin American Societies.

He said he expects to find that the crossover between Catholic practices and indigenous or other faith practices is commonplace. “Our focus will be on how the religiosity and spirituality faith are lived by people in Latin America in the present day.”