Accepted paper:

The tactical work of play in a Brazilian Catholic prayer group

Author:

Steven Engler (Mount Royal College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes the rituals of a women's prayer group in Brazil. It argues that negotiations over the play/non-play distinction itself are fundamental to the "like but unlike" of syncretism.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on recent fieldwork, this paper describes the rituals of a women's prayer group in Brazil. At two levels, the play/non-play boundary helps maintain the social space of this "Catholic" group that practices "a little of everything." (1) The diocese accepts this syncretistic lay group as Catholic because its unorthodox elements are seen as playing at religion: false doctrine and infantile spirituality, but good practice. (2) Moments of laughter and fun diffuse potential tensions arising from the group's diversity. I define syncretism in terms of meaning making and intelligibility, where social/religious boundaries offer leverage for relations of power. In this context, Droogers argues that the "as-if" of play allows religious actors to combine disparate domains of meaning. I extend this by arguing that negotiations over the play/non-play distinction itself are fundamental to the "like but unlike" of syncretism, and in religion's work at boundaries more generally.

panel W118
Ritual and reflection: tropes In transformation and transgression (Wenner-Gren workshop)