Living and believing in need. a quantitative study of religious beliefs and practices of the buenos aires slums’ population

Lopez Fidanza, Juan Martin (2018). 'Living and believing in need. A quantitative study of religious beliefs and practices of the Buenos Aires slums’ population' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Research on religious experiences of poor sectors in Latin America has made important improvements from cultural perspectives focused within qualitative research works. These research tended to be ethnographies and case studies, framed in terms of “popular religion” (English for ‘religiosidad popular’ in Spanish), without generalizing or overarching pretensions about the phenomenon which they want to describe. Very few quantitative studies address their religious beliefs and practices through studies based on representative samples. This few studies are tended to be partial and very narrow in terms of the items included. We propose an quantitative investigation focused on Buenos Aires City’ slums. This research helps us to understand the diversity of its population, diversity which responds to the variety of places of origin of its inhabitants and the creative strategies of daily survival that encourage the enormous issues of living in these slums. Also, the study of the religiosity of these popular sectors is relevant to deepen the comprehention of the religious phenomenon transformation in general and of the religious field in Argentina in particular. Furthermore, an approach to the religious beliefs and practices of a particular social sector allows to the empirical evaluation of theoretical perspectives that rules in the Argentine academy (pluralization of the religious field, the individualization and subjectivation of the beliefs, deinstitutionalization, etc), allowing to perceive how these perspectives are adjusted to our local reality.

As a result of the first quantitative research focused on Buenos Aires City slums´ religious believes and practices, this paper helps to understand the diversity that includes and express its religious expressions. The survey focused on a representative sample of households living in seven precarious neighborhoods of the city that represents 85% of the slum population of the city.

This paper pretends to focus, firstly the studied universe, methodology and instruments applied, but also discussing its possibilities and limitations. Then, a glimpse of the results taken from indicators of self-description, beliefs, practices and religious participation in general and disaggregated according to different sociodemographic dimensions as age, sex, level of education, place of origin; reviewing statistical relationships between variables.

The main findings of this investigation focus on the evidence of diversity of religious belongings of the BA slums’ population in CABA villas, its strong mobility and porosity and the fluidity of exchanges within the religious world -and between it and the social political. But this religious "vitality" must be conjugated with another contrast: the isolation in which the inhabitants of these territories tend to live in relation to the rest of the City, a certain ghettification. Fluidity and blurred boundaries on the one hand, and isolation and little integration on the other, are coordinated whereby the territory inhabited by the most marginalized urban sectors, whom build their own religious identity, their symbolic world and their matrix of meanings.

Through our investigation, we can perceive how the relations with the sacred -for these inhabitants- form a vector of enormous capacity of orientation of the daily practices. The symbolic world and its expressions in religious practices find religious institutional arrangements and habilitations (in the two main affiliations, Catholic and Pentecostal) that give continuity and legitimate institutional channels to their cultural presuppositions. The type of Catholic institutional presence in the slum neighborhoods -flexible, broad, with emphasis on the valuation of "popular wisdom" -and Pentecostal institutionalism tends to enable channels to expand and recreate popular religion. They recognized and support it, and they offer -within certain limits- several ways to express them. Catholics and Pentecostals coexist in the same territory. The borders of these two Christian worlds are permeated, diluted. In the slums, the believers select and regroup elements of traditional religious culture in a combination that accompanies the sensitivity which that culture sedimented for decades. The sacred, the holistic understanding expressed in popular religiosity, blurred the boundaries of religious traditions. These religious traditions are agency givers, helping to face the difficulties of living in these precarious neighborhoods. Religion plays a large role in shaping poor people´s agency, feeding a positive spiritually that has social impact.

scroll to top