While scholars look the other way, a religious revolution is sweeping Latin America, says sociologist David Martin.

David Martin, a sociologist, teaches at the London School of Economics and at Southern Methodist University. His studies of Latin America have been funded by a grant from the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture, headed by Peter Berger. In Tongues of Fire, published by Blackwell, he focuses on the growth of evangelicalism in Latin America.

You have used the term revolution to describe what is happening in Latin America today. Why that word?

Well, it is a revolution. This has been the most Catholic region in the world, and people have assumed that it’s never going to be anything else unless it turns toward secular radicalism, and particularly toward Marxism.

What nobody took into account, and what is quite revolutionary, is this enormous growth of what I call radical primitive Protestantism. Perhaps 10 percent of Latin Americans are now Protestants. If you take into account that the number of people actively involved in the Catholic church may not be more than 15 percent of the population, you have a situation where the active adherents on either side are not so very different in number. There would be some parts of the continent where those people who are involved in the church are more Protestant than Catholic.

Now that is a revolutionary situation. Nothing like it had been anticipated. It’s as extraordinary in its way as the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, or the totally unanticipated events that have occurred in Eastern Europe.

While we have read a good deal about those phenomena, most Americans have not heard much about the growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America. Why is that?

People tend to believe ...

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