The Political Incorporation of Pentecostals in Panama, Puerto Rico and Brazil: A Comparative Analysis

Date of Completion

January 2010


Religion, History of|Latin American Studies|Political Science, General




While the political participation of Pentecostals in Latin America has received significant attention from academics, there is a dearth of comparative research on the historical conditions that make possible such participation. As their ranks of adherents have swollen, Pentecostals have sought to raise their political profile. Like organized labor in the first half of the twentieth century, Pentecostalism is serving as a means to incorporate a significant segment of the population Incorporation is a form of interest group politics, involving interest aggregation for increasing representation and participation in decision-making. ^ Pentecostals have three main long-term goals: 1) to reach a higher profile at the national level and obtain recognition from Catholic political elites, 2) to reach some level of participation in decision-making, and 3) to obtain access to government resources. However, despite the efforts and wishes of Pentecostal religio-political entrepreneurs, these efforts have varied in results across countries. I believe that historical conditions and their interaction lead to the success or failure of such efforts. ^ This study seeks to understand the long-term historical conditions that facilitate the permanent and effective incorporation of Pentecostals into the political system. Through a comparative historical analysis of the cases of Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Panama, and using and the method of similarity and difference, I argue that three historical processes contribute to the permanent and effective political incorporation of Pentecostals. These processes are: (1) the time and method of entrance of missionary Protestantism, (2) the nationalization of Protestantism, and (3) Pentecostal political incorporation. Together, these conditions allow or prevent the Pentecostal leadership, who seek political incorporation, to make an effective entry into the political arena. ^ The the nominal comparison of the cases confirms the hypothesis. The presence of all conditions in Brazil and Puerto Rico made incorporation possible there. Meanwhile the absence of some conditions has prevented in Panama. ^ While this research was limited to three cases, it could have greater repercussions to our understanding of the politics of Pentecostal incorporation in Latin America. It could serve as template for a broader comparative analysis of the process of Pentecostal political incorporation throughout the region. ^