Environmental Justice, Belief Systems, and Aesthetic Experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean

Environmental Justice, Belief Systems, and Aesthetic Experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean

Project Directors: Vicky Murillo, Ana Ochoa
Graduate Assistant: Maria Fantinato

Struggles around environmental conflicts have increased dramatically in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past few decades, affecting and displacing indigenous populations, Afro-descendants, women, children, and peasants. Communities have to confront the transnational increase of agribusiness, hydroelectric projects,
mining corporations, systematic food injustice, and their entanglement with the drug war and localized armed conflicts. Such struggles are taking place amidst dramatic events provoked by climate change as well as the rise of extremist governments in the Americas, supported by the evangelical right, increasing the number of climate, alimentary, and war refugees and asylum-seekers.

The presence of evangelical missions among indigenous peoples, especially among recently contacted groups in need of assistance, is pervasive in the Amazon, in Colombia, and in Puerto Rico, and has augmented exponentially during the last decades. In reaction to persistent attempts at conversion by native and foreign missionaries, a new shamanistic movement and alliance has taken shape in several regions of Northwestern Amazonia, in Colombia, Peru and Brazil, and new transnational configurations of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian religions have emerged. A potent cosmopolitical alliance is taking shape, one whose ritual efficacy consists in
the creation of new shared artistic forms.

Our group proposes to study current struggles for justice that are articulated through the expressive cultures and aesthetic experiences of local communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The resurgence and mobilization of what have historically been called traditional, indigenous, and Afro-descendant expressive forms-- songs, rituals, images, objects, feasts, culinary arts, and ceremonies -- has been dramatic. Since the mid-1980s, we have also seen the rise of an indigenous film movement in different countries in Latin America. Technologies such as loudspeakers, microphones, hard drives, and other media are changing public and private space. New alliances between artists, scholars, and ritual specialists like shamans or babalaos (e.g. in Colombia, Cuba and Brazil), and between sound artists and activists (e.g. in Puerto Rico and Cuba) are informing these aesthetic expressions. Our working group contends that these forms of aesthetic experience – in narrative form, through visual images, through sounds, through unexpected alliances –give shape to new ways of imagining justice and of imagining the relation between humans and non-humans, including deities and other religious entities.



Image: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace

Image: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace

For more from the Environmental Justice working group listen to Latin America @ Columbia, a podcast hosted by working group co-director Professor Vicky Murillo, discussing major themes around Latin American history, culture, and politics.


The Environmental Justice, Belief Systems, and Aesthetic Experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean working group is funded by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life.


Affiliated Faculty

Graduate Fellows