Sergio Corcuera Angulo


Together with nationalism, religiosity plays a crucial role in the nowadays’ social life of Latin America communities. This phenomenon is used to be linked to cultural given features or to a lack of educational preparation. But, isn’t there more factors to be considered? In this occasion, we are going to take a look at the Christian Church (evangelical and roman-catholic) social capital’s development during the internal conflict in Peru, back to the 1980-90’s. We believe that actions deployed both by the ecclesiastical institutions and local personalities throughout this period, helped to reformulate their political paper in local communities and to build up a new popular catholic tradition.


Structural and Cognitive approach: Church and rural organization in the recent history.

Concerning to Church’s amount of social capital, it relied on a widely popular support (above 95% of Peruvians were religious back to 1993) (INEI, 2008), which was mainly due to the historical embedding of priests and nuns in local communities (Arellano 2014, 78). As some scholars have stated, Church was already fully integrated in the different social contexts of the three sociocultural regions (Tur 2003, 57). On the other hand, the Second Vatican Council, celebrated on 1959, appealed to Church’s implication on social problems. Since then, local parishes had not only temples, but also education centres and popular dining rooms (Klaiber 2015, 172).

As Durkheim explained, the increasing specialization of different productive sectors prevent society from working spaces with common-shared values. As a result, individuals will not sacrifice in times of social necessity (Durkheim 1987). Nonetheless, rural collective action in Peru –which still maintained a preindustrial form of social organization- still displayed efficient ways of self-organization. A good example of this is rondas campesinas: groups originally constituted to deter animal hustlers (abigeato) but which then would build additional social capital by fighting against terrorism –together with comités de autodefensa (self-defence committees) (De Silva, Harpham, Huttly, Bartolini and Penny 2007, 23). This is the reason why is still important to take into consideration the rural/urban cleavage when analysing a nation’s social capital. In the particular case of Peru, between the rural highlands and the coastal urban areas (De Silva et al. 2007, 38)

In few words, Churches and local organizations had an essential role to the development of communitarian awareness. It constituted, unintentionally, the material and psychological preparation to face terrorism (Klaiber 2015, 174)


Bridging effect in a traditional bonding society

We can identify two main factors that fostered the critical institutional situation at the beginning of the 1990 decade. First, an economic and social crisis derived from terrorism and hyperinflation. It has been stated that the number of deceased due to the actions of Shining Path and the official armed forces reach 70,000 (Klaiber 2015, 165). Considering only the year 1993, just in the capital city, the digit of dead people reached 600 (CVR 2003, 90). Secondly, there was a notable breakup in the power balance because of the empowerment of the National Army carried out during Alberto Fujimori’s legislature (1990-2000). This governmental logic was set up in detriment of the police body, thus resulting in the increasing of lack of public safety (CVR 2003, 116).

The State, then, seemed to be more present than ever in its fierce commitment to the national defence. But, while the government’s counter-subversive actions enjoyed popular legitimation, the link between the first one and its citizens was far from being solid. Paradoxically, Peruvians were more vulnerable than ever because it had to cope with violent actions coming from the two principal actors of the conflict.  The battle between these two giants –State and the terrorist group Shining Path- left an empty space of governability that will be eventually covered by Church. The latter one had a high level of popular approbation due to structural features, as it has been explained before.

Although it is the informal-based bonding dynamics the main source of social capital in Peru (De Silva et al. 2007, 27), actions carried out by Church during the studied period enforced bridging synergies (trusting links established outside ones community). The fight against violence from local bishops, priests and laymen included both material and psychological assistance. Firstly, the creation of spaces and activities where communitarian solidarity is encouraged: e.g.: Jornadas de Ayuno y de Oración (CVR 2003, 400). Secondly, the victim’s accompaniment and legal consultancy for free.  Thirdly, formative activities on human rights that aimed to organize collective action into a single voice of denounce: the Peruvian Episcopal Conference became the chief organism of human rights violation denounce (CVR 2003, 399). At last, the constitution of broader identities by articulating around themselves an ensemble of different civil society’s actors, such as peasants, parishes, professionals or mother’s clubs.


Some conclusions: understanding nowadays’ perception

To summarize, the Church’s involvement in local protest activities can be understood as the result of four processes: merging together with local organizations (e.g. rondas campesinas or self-defence committees); a spirituality’s reformulation that made emphasis in local communities viewpoints –encouraged by the Second Vatican Council-; the political advising in local interests; and the ability to extend a social rescindable discourse (Arellano- Yanguas 2014, 61). This constitutes a very good example of what Laclau understood by the community’s ethico-political moment (2016, 138), this is, a hegemonic process that is not restricted to the public sphere, but that affects to the whole reality’s configuration of a collective psyche.

In order to conclude, we are going to focus on both nowadays’ institutional vacuity perception and religion acceptance in Peru. The fusion of religion and social ideas by Church –rooted to the final stages of the last century- causes to appear in its incorporation of a wider range of social demands in their own discourse, such as the environmental and the human right ones. By this action, they have succeeded in getting enough legitimacy as to represent the official popular denunciation voice, mainly in the rural world, where govern institutions are even weaker. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that more than 90% of Peruvians describe themselves as religious, according to the last registered national census (INEI 2008). Another question that might deserve our attention is its implication in the political life: Catholic Church is perceived as the second most trusted institution in Peru (49,5% of reliability), only surpassed by RENIEC, the National Registry (56,8%). Thus, overcoming other important institutions such as the National Army (31,8%), Judiciary (14,4%) or even the Peruvian Parliament (8,1%) (INEI 2017) (Figure 1). It is important to keep investigating the political implications of the Church’s high social capital level in the Latin-American country.




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