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Native Evangelism in Central Mexico

Native Evangelism in Central Mexico

A foundational work by a revered pioneer in the study of native evangelism, this book illuminates the psychological, theological, and pragmatic elements of conversion to two of Mexico’s pivotal Protestant evangelical sects, La Luz del Mundo and Amistad y Vida.

August 2014
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213 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |

Evangelical Christianity is Mexico’s fastest-growing religious movement, with about ten million adherents today. Most belong to Protestant denominations introduced from the United States (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists), but perhaps as many as 800,000 are members of homegrown, “native” evangelical sects. These native Mexican sects share much with the American denominations of which they are spinoffs. For instance, they are Trinitarian, Anabaptist, and Millenarian; they emphasize a personal relationship with God, totally rejecting intermediation by saints; and they insist that they are the only true Christians. Beyond that, each native sect has its distinctive characteristics.

This book focuses on two sharply contrastive native evangelical sects in Central Mexico: Amistad y Vida (Friendship and Life) and La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World). The former, founded in 1982, now has perhaps 120,000 adherents nationwide. It is nonhierarchical, extremely egalitarian, and has no dogmatic directives. It is a cheerful religion that emphasizes charity, community service, and personal kindness as the path to salvation. It attracts new members, mainly from the urban middle class, through personal example rather than proselytizing. La Luz del Mundo, founded in 1926, now has about 350,000 members in Mexico and perhaps one million in the hemisphere. It is hierarchically organized and demands total devotion to the sect’s founder and his son, who are seen as direct links to Jesus on Earth. It is a proselytizing sect that recruits mainly among the urban poor by providing economic benefits within the congregations, but does no community service as such.

Based on ten years of fieldwork (1996–2006) and contextualized by nearly fifty years of anthropological study in the region, Native Evangelism in Central Mexico presents the first ethnography of Mexico’s native evangelical congregations.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Analytical Framework of the Study
  • 2. The Theology and Teleology of Amistad y Vida (Cristianos)
  • 3. Cristianos: The Structure and Material Organization of the Congregation
  • 4. La Luz del Mundo: Theology, Teleology, and Ideology
  • 5. La Luz del Mundo: Structure and Ritual-Ceremonial Organization of the Congregation
  • 6. The Process of Conversion: Antecedent Factors and Results
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Hugo G. Nutini (1929–2013) was University Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. He authored numerous articles and books on central Mexico, including The Mexican Aristocracy: An Expressive Ethnography, 1910–2000; Social Stratification and Mobility in Central Veracruz; and Social Stratification in Central Mexico, 1500–2000 (with B. L. Isaac). Jean F. Nutini, who holds the Maestría en Antropología Social from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, has conducted extensive ethnographic research in Mexico. She has published in anthropology with Hugo G. Nutini and in public health with colleagues in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was Research Associate (2002–2013). Earlier, she taught anthropology and traditional medicine at the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social in Córdoba, Veracruz (1983–1987).


“The Nutinis demonstrate their bona fides as anthropologists of Mexico with straightfoward and incisive description and analysis throughout.”
Latin American Research Review

“A brilliant book. . . . This volume is a major breakthrough in the study of change in cultural systems. . . . Nutini is considered the number one scholar of Mexican ethnography. His books on the topic of religious systems, community organization, and differences are the best researched.”
Douglas White, Professor of Anthropology and Social Science, University of California, Irvine


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