Internationally Recognized Scholar Joins Baylor ISR, Expands Research into Latin America

Aug. 14, 2008

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

Dr. Paul Freston, an internationally recognized scholar who conducts research on religion and society in a number of different countries, has accepted the position of Distinguished Senior Fellow and director of the Program for Studies of Religion in Latin America at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR).

In this capacity, Freston will conduct new research on multiple fronts in Latin America and will be central to ISR's plans to increase its presence as a leader in global research on religion and public life, particularly in the global south.

Freston has been affiliated with the Federal University of São Carlos in Brazil, where he has lived for much of the last 30 years. He is a professor in the university's post-graduate program in sociology.

Born in England and educated at Cambridge University, Freston also has a master's degree in Latin American studies from the University of Liverpool and a master's degree in Christian studies from Regent College in Vancouver. He earned a doctorate in sociology at the University of Campinas in Brazil. His research specialties are in the sociology of religion, politics and globalization.

Drawing upon his own field work, interviews with religious leaders and activists, and aided with the help of a network of contacts in different countries, Freston offers keen insights into the struggles of indigenous Christians who are seeking to attain a secure place for themselves and their witness in rapidly changing countries. Freston points continually to the need for further research to understand the implications of religion - and especially evangelicalism - on democracy, nationalism, economic development and the growth of civil society.

"We at ISR are excited to have a scholar of Paul Freston's stature to join our team. He is widely recognized as one of the top scholars on the social scientific study of religion in Latin America," said Dr. Byron R. Johnson, professor of sociology and co-director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. "Rod Stark [Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor and co-director of ISR] and I are looking forward to a time in the not-too-distant future when we will have the opportunity to support ISR non-resident scholars with active research agendas like Freston has, in many other parts of the world where our knowledge of the role of religion in contemporary society remains woefully underdeveloped - a problem that Baylor's ISR is uniquely positioned to address."

In his book Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa and Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Freston presents the findings of his groundbreaking study of contemporary evangelical political engagement, examining developments in 27 countries spanning three continents.

"The book represents an extensive and thorough cross-cultural comparative study of the political dimensions of the new mass Protestantism of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia," said political scientist Anthony Gill, an internationally recognized scholar on the role of religion in Latin America.

Freston's most recent book, Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2008), argues evangelical Protestantism in Latin America poses an increasing challenge to Catholicism's long-established religious hegemony.

"Freston's conclusions about the ever-expanding role of evangelicals in Latin America agree with those of the highly-respected British scholar, David Martin (also an ISR fellow)," Stark said. "They both see that the most significant contribution of evangelicals in the Third World will be to dramatically expand the presence and reach of religion in social as well as political arenas."

The book "offers a nuanced analysis of one of the most important newer actors on the Latin American state: evangelical Protestantism," said R. Andrew Chestnut, a leading international authority on the history of religion in modern Latin America, especially Brazil and Mexico.

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