Westmont Magazine Religion in Latino Culture

During his academic career, Gastón Espinosa has focused on Latino religious leaders and issues. His work has received widespread recognition, and he spent a year as César Chávez Fellow at Dartmouth College. To date, scholars have paid little attention to his field. But that is about to change.

The Westmont assistant professor of religious studies is directing a national three-year study on Latino religion funded by a $1.3 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

It is the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted on the impact of religion on politics and civic engagement in the Latino community.

Latino political leaders and social movements such as César Chávez, Reies López Tijerina, Dolores Huerta, Pedro Albizo Campos, the Chicano movement and Puerto Rican nationalism all drew on religious imagery, symbols, and rhetoric in their struggle for liberation and social justice. Despite this, almost nothing has been written on the dynamic relationship between religion and civic engagement in the Latino movement.

The Hispanic Churches in American Public Life Program will examine the impact of Latino Catholic, mainstream Protestant, Pentecostal and new religious communities on civic engagement in politics, education, business, social programs and community activism.
Over the course of the study, researchers will conduct a national survey of 2,100 Latino religious and civic leaders and interview key leaders in seven major cities, including Los Angeles, San Antonio, New York, Chicago, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Additionally, 12 scholarly papers will be commissioned on the impact of Latino religious communities on political and civic engagement over the past 30 years. Researchers will hold six one-day conferences in the above cities and a national three-day conference in Washington, D.C.

Questions the study seeks to answer include:
• What impact have Latino churches and religious communities had on American public life and civic engagement?
• How do Catholics differ from mainline Protestants and mainline Protestants from Pentecostals in their level and type of civic engagement?
• How do Latino Catholics, mainline Protestants and Pentecostals differ from their Anglo-American and African-American counterparts?
• How do Latinos from different parts of the country differ in their levels of involvement?
• What role have churches and religious communities played in helping immigrants assimilate into U.S. society?
• What impact have women had on religion, politics and civic engagement, and how do their views differ from men?

In addition to Espinosa as director, two scholars will serve as principal investigators: Dr. Jesse Miranda of the Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales (National Alliance of Evangelical Ministries) and Dr. Virgilio Elizondo of the Roman Catholic Mexican American Cultural Center.

The Tomás Rivera Institute, the nation’s premier Latino think tank affiliated with Claremont Graduate University, will conduct the national random survey of 2,100 Latino leaders.

Espinosa, who is on leave this semester to work on a book on Francisco Olazabal, will direct the study on a part-time basis.