Forging Ethnic Identity Through Faith: Religion and the Syrian-Lebanese Community in São Paulo
Pitts Jr., Montie Bryan
Since 1871, approximately 150,000 Syrians and Lebanese have immigrated to Brazil, struggling to preserve their Arabic culture and identity even as they have assimilated to Brazilian society. Previous scholars have acknowledged the role of a variety of community institutions in maintaining Syrian-Lebanese identity but have largely ignored the role of religious institutions in this process. My thesis addresses this substantial gap in scholarship by researching and analyzing the role religion plays in creating and maintaining ethnic self-identification in the Syrian-Lebanese colony. I focus on the Orthodox Church, Melkite and Maronite Catholic churches, and Muslims, examining the varied ways in which each group participates in this process today. I discuss the ways religious institutions have changed in response to Brazilian culture and the expectations of the Syrian-Lebanese colony, as well as the relationships between the various religious groups. In contrast to many previous scholars, who de-emphasized religious institutions in the community or argued that they have lost their relevance in contemporary Arab Brazilian culture, I argue that religious institutions, so important in the creation of identity in Syria and Lebanon, have also served as vital arenas in which Syrian-Lebanese in Brazil create, maintain, and contest self-identification. I further demonstrate that although the role of Syrian-Lebanese religious institutions has lessened somewhat in modern Brazilian society, religious groups, each in their own way, continue to reinforce Syrian-Lebanese identity and culture, struggling to maintain the Arab nature of their churches and mosques, even as they welcome Brazilian converts to their faith.