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Pomona College

Publication Date

Fall 2005

Program Name

Mexico: Grassroots Development and Social Change


The religious conflict in Chiapas can hardly be called religious; politics, poverty, and indigenous identity issues are a few of the many factors that have shaped the cultural climate here, and have contributed to the violence and tensions. The deeply divided communities, thousands of people displaced from their towns, and the gruesome murders of the past 40 years have all been attributed to the Catholic-Protestant rivalry. But the reality of political power struggles, US and Mexican government involvement, economic need, and the influence of indigenous community organizing/uprising are all informing the current religious climate. The culture wars are as much Protestant-Catholic as they are indigenous-Western, or government-Zapatista. This situation is too complex for four weeks and a short paper.

Thus, this is not a paper about conflict in Chiapas. It is more of an exploration of the spaces created within religious communities for dialogue, intercultural understanding, and peace-making. I came to Chiapas hoping to see how Protestant evangelization efforts are eroding indigenous cultures and causing conflict, and ended up finding out how evangelization can uphold these cultures and work for peace. The most promising path to conflict transformation, if anything can solve these social problems, is inter-religious understanding. I have found that ecumenical understanding is two-fold: Catholic-Protestant (and Protestant inter-denominational), and Western-indigenous.

I have first included background religious history on the leftist Catholic movement and its Protestant response in Chiapas. I go on to explain, to the best of my ability, the nature of the religious conflict, and lastly I describe the work of two organizations that are simultaneously evangelizing and working for dialogue. What distinguishes these faith-based organizations, Instituto de Estudios e Investigacion Intercultural (INESIN) and the Centro Intercultural Mayanse , is their emphasis on retaining the Mayan, the indigenous, in their approach to faith formation. I believe that this is crucial to creating an ecumenical dialogue; a shared understanding of, and respect for, the synthesis of Western and indigenous cultures within all the religions in Chiapas provides a platform for discussion, a common ground.


Peace and Conflict Studies | Religion


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