Judaism in Brazil

Brazil’s Jewish community is the oldest in the Americas, with the first American synagogue founded in Recife in 1636 during the brief period of religiously tolerant pre-Portuguese Dutch rule. Brazil’s earliest Jews arrived in the sixteenth century, conversos or “hidden Jews” fleeing the Portuguese Catholic Inquisition. They ran thriving businesses, importing and exporting goods, including slaves. Upon the assertion of Portuguese Catholic power, this original community fled to the West Indies, New Amsterdam (now New York), and to Europe. A second wave of migration occurred during...

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Movimento Negro Unificado

The Movimento Negro Unificado (MNU) was an Afro-Brazilian consciousness movement and umbrella organization founded in 1978 in São Paulo. It encompassed a variety of grassroots anti-racism and Afro-Brazilian pride organizations throughout Brazil’s major cities, and established “struggle centers” in dance studios, Candomblé terreiros, and in other spaces of cultural significance to Afro-Brazilians. The MNU promoted two ideas: that Afro-Brazilians trace their roots to Africa, and that they have shared a common oppressor both in Africa and in the Americas.


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Japanese Brazilians

Beginning in the early twentieth century, Japanese nationals (Nikkei) arrived in Brazil as contract agricultural workers. Most were younger sons from rural areas of Japan facing the economic upheaval that accompanied Japan’s modernization efforts; few intended to emigrate permanently. In the 1920s, when the United States restricted further Asian immigration, the Japanese government assisted emigrants to Brazil under the auspices of the Kaigai Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (KKKK), the Overseas Development Corporation. Brazil’s landowners welcomed the new...

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Islam in Brazil

Islam is practiced by over 200,000 Brazilians—making it the largest Muslim community in Latin America—most of whom are Arab in origin, with smaller but growing numbers of Brazilian converts. The Brazilian Muslim community includes both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

Islam arrived in Brazil with West African slaves, including Hausa, Malinkes, and Yoruba. Muslim slaves...

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The Malê Uprising

The Malê Uprising was a slave revolt in Salvador, Bahia, organized by Muslims—known as Malês—during the last ten days of Ramadan in January of 1835. Captured rebels wore Muslim dress, including head coverings and long white tunics, and carried prayer beans as well as Qur’anic amulets on their bodies for protection. The revolt was organized primarily by Hausa...

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The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus or IURD) is one of the largest and strongest Neo-Pentecostal churches in Brazil with global reach. Founded by Bishop Edir Bezerra Macedo and two other pastors in 1977, the church encompasses 8 million members in over 150 countries, television networks (including the second largest in Brazil), radio stations, newspapers, a publishing house, a record company, and numerous other business enterprises both in Brazil and elsewhere. 


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Assembly of God

The Assembly of God is Brazil’s largest Pentecostal church, claiming more than 14 million members. Part of the first wave of Pentecostal churches, two Swedish missionaries from Chicago introduced the church to northern Brazil in the 1910s and it retains a headquarters in Belém. Unlike other imports, the church empowered Brazilian converts from its first days and relied on Brazilians to evangelize their compatriots. Brazilians served as church...

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Brazilian Conference of Bishops

The Brazilian Conference of Bishops (CNBB) was founded in 1952 by a group of bishops who were deeply critical of the economic and political status quo. This perspective grew out of the bishops’ backgrounds, many of whom were from poorer, rural states, but was also related to independent funding received from European Catholic organizations that allowed for autonomy from the state. The CNBB advanced the adoption of Paulo Freire’s model of “critical consciousness,”...

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Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was a Brazilian philosopher and educator, best known for his model of “critical consciousness,” a forerunner of critical pedagogy. Freire considered education a force for empowerment and liberation. As such, he argued a pedagogical approach should be developed with rather than for the students, especially those who come from oppressed, marginalized populations. Freire’s model, developed to empower the oppressed, encouraged students to critique the educational situation as well as the subject, highlighted the connections between individual problems...

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The Catholic Church in Brazil

The Catholic Church is deeply enmeshed in Brazil’s culture, beliefs, and institutions. The Church arrived with the Portuguese conquest in the sixteenth century and has since been the dominant religion. From 1500 to 1889, Catholicism was the official state religion. Even after disestablishment and the efforts at secularization that began under the First Republic (1889-1930), the Catholic Church retained its...

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Pentecostalism in Brazil

Pentecostalism is the fastest growing sector of Brazilian Protestantism. It is made up of Classic Pentecostalism, founded by European and American missionaries during the first half of the twentieth century, and Neo-Pentecostalism, a later generation of indigenous churches that emerged after 1970. The first group includes such significant denominations as the Christian Congregation, the Assembly of God, Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Brazil for Christ, and God...

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African-Derived Religions in Brazil

African-derived religions in Brazil include, most prominently, Candomblé and Umbanda, as well as Xango, Batuque, Cantimbo, and Macumba, which are regionally associated traditions. African-derived religions have played an important role in the formation of Afro-Brazilian ethnic identities, both historically and today. Such traditions have been both celebrated and denigrated at different times and by different actors, from the Catholic Church in the post-independence era—which characterized them as evidence of “backwards” African culture and Afro-Brazilians as failing to become “true...

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The Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade began in the late 15th century in Nigeria. By 1471, Portuguese navigators hoping to tap the fabled Saharan gold trade had reconnoitered the West African coast as far as the Niger Delta, and traded European commodities for local crafts as well as slaves, the latter which turned out to be highly lucrative. In the early stages, Europeans captured Nigerians in raids on coastal communities, but as the demand grew they relied on slaves to be supplied by local rulers, traders, and the military aristocracy, providing these agents with rum, guns, horses,...

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