From Fanatics to Folk

Brazilian Millenarianism and Popular Culture

From Fanatics to Folk

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 27 b&w photos, 2 maps Published: January 2004

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Religious Studies

From Fanatics to Folk rejects conventional understandings of Brazilian millenarianism as exceptional and self-defeating. Considering millenarianism over the long sweep of Brazilian history, Patricia R. Pessar shows it to have been both dominant discourse and popular culture—at different times the inspiration for colonial conquest, for backlanders’ resistance to a modernizing church and state, and for the nostalgic appropriation by today’s elites in pursuit of “traditional” folklore and “authentic” expressions of faith. Pessar focuses on Santa Brígida, a Northeast Brazilian millenarian movement begun in the 1930s. She examines the movement from its founding by Pedro Batista—initially disparaged as a charlatan by the backland elite and later celebrated as a modernizer, patriot, and benefactor—through the contemporary struggles of its followers to maintain their transgressive religious beliefs in the face of increased attention from politicians, clergy, journalists, filmmakers, researchers, and museum curators.

Pessar combines cultural history spanning the colonial period to the present; comparative case studies of the Canudos, Contestado, Juazeiro, and Santa Brígida movements; and three decades of ethnographic research in the Brazilian Northeast. Highlighting the involvement of a broad range of individuals and institutions, the cross-fertilization between movements, contestation and accommodation vis-à-vis the church and state, and matters of spirituality and faith, From Fanatics to Folk reveals Brazilian millenarianism as long-enduring and constantly in flux.


“[A]s a study of the complex interactions between the various actors engaged in the construction of millenarianism at Santa Brígada this work represents a remarkable achievement.” — Martha S. Santos , Luso-Brazilian Review

“[I]t is an ethnography but one that is enriched by [Pessar’s] use of archival materials and her comparative framing of the movement in the context of studies of millenarianism more broadly, including the more famous late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Canudos, Contestado and Juazeiro movements.” — Christopher L. Chiappari, Latin American Research Review

“In From Fanatics to Folk, Patricia Pessar succeeds admirably in her analysis of the relatively unknown 20th century millenarian movement that was inspired by a man named Pedro Batista in Brazil’s storied northeastern backlands.” — Edward Wright-Rios , EIAL

“Pessar’s most convincing and enlightening arguments are found in chapter three, where she uncovers the intricate network of relations between the political powers of Santa Brígida and local and national politicians.” — Lucy Blaney , Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

“Pessar’s scholarship is careful, sound, yet refreshingly reflective and motivated by genuine curiosity. It incorporates historical survey, theoretical grounding, and ethnographic fieldwork; it would be a useful resource for both specialists and newcomers to the field.” — Dorothy F. Lane , Religious Studies Review

"[A] cultural tour de force. . . . [A] thoroughly researched and appealing book. . . .Pessar’s knowledge of the subject is extensive, and her assertion of the centrality of millenarian traditions offers a fascinating insight into the potentialities of cultural narratives in an age of hybridism." — Akinbola E. Akinwumi , The Latin Americanist

"[A] richly detailed and intriguing topic. . . . [N]icely written and forcefully argued. . . ." — Todd Diacon, The Americas

"[A]n outstanding work in which folk sensibilities are understood in their own terms, as well as seamlessly inscribed within larger regional, national, and international contexts. In short, this book is a landmark in new forms of ethnographic writing." — Natasha Pravaz, American Anthropologist

"[I]n shedding light on a long over looked religious community, Pessar has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of research on religion and society in Latin America." — R. Andrew Chesnut , American Historical Review

"Patricia Pessar is already well known for her work on migration and the Dominican Republic. In her new book, she returns after an absence of three decades to the topic of Brazilian millenarianism and the field sites of her dissertation work from the mid-1970s. We should be glad she did." — Paul Christopher Johnson, Journal of Religion

No one has written to any significant extent on Pedro Batista before this book, and Patricia R. Pessar’s detailed explanation of what has become of Batista’s movement following his death is fascinating. Her interdisciplinary use of history, anthropology, and political science is exemplary.” — Paul J. Vanderwood, author of The Power of God against the Guns of Government: Religious Upheaval in Mexico at the Turn of the Nin

“From Fanatics to Folk is a remarkable study of a Brazilian millenarian movement that—because of the extended time-frame and combination of fieldwork and archival research—blends the best features of historical and anthropological interpretation. Patricia R. Pessar is attentive to the ways in which the state, the political sphere, and the institutional church influenced the course of the movement. At the same time, she never loses sight of the role of religious beliefs and personal interactions.” — Barbara Weinstein, author of For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in São Paulo, 1920–


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Patricia R. Pessar is Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University. She is the author of A Visa for a Dream: Dominicans in the United States and a coauthor of Between Two Islands: Dominican International Migration.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1 The World Turned Upside Down: The Origins of the Canudos, Contestado, and Juazeiro Movements 15

2 The Povo Make a Saint 37

3 The Coronel and the Beato 67

4 “Work Like You’re Going to Live Forever and Pray Like You’re Going to Die Today” 97

5 Pedro Batista “Moves On” and the King Attempts to Claim the Throne 135

6 A Romaria Se Acabou (The Romaria Is Over) 153

7 Constituting the Romeiros into “Traditional” Folk 185

Conclusion 225

Postscript 233

Notes 235

Bibliograaphy 251

Index 263
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3264-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3275-6
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