A conference on new religious expressions in Mexico and the rest of Latin America in New York finds the growth of both syncretistic and transplanted faiths. RW attended the Columbia University conference in early April where Graciela Mochkofsky, a visiting scholar at New York University, presented the case of a rising new Judaism in Latin America. In last 15 years, she finds that impoverished Christian men and women without any Jewish ancestry have converted to Judaism in Latin America. These people, in almost all cases, were born in Roman Catholic homes, and joined evangelical or Pentecostal churches and then found Judaism. Even when they were still Christians, they learned Jewish laws and customs with the help of books and Internet. Later, they sought help from rabbis and organizations from America and Israel. During the past 20 years, several hundred Latin American converts have migrated en masse to Israel. She argues that this mass conversion, mostly made up of mestizos, may shed a new light on the questions of Jewish identity and Israeli citizenship.
Renĕe de la Torre Castellanos, an anthropology professor at CIESAS Occidente in Guadalajara, Mexico, presented a paper on Neomexicanismo, a spiritual-cultural movement based on the recovery of pre-Hispanic cultures. She explained that this New Age movement is represented by two overlapping groups: 1) Reginos, which combines a holistic interpretation of the New Age movement influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, with the recovery of Mexico’s indigenous tradition 2) The rainbow tribes, which are the environmentalist hippie circuit. She claims that New Age movement in Mexico has created a series of new expressions, networks and spiritual movements that are the results of an apparent fusion and hybridizing between New Age and religious folk, and ethnic traditions of Mexico.
Claudio Lomnitz, Columbia University professor of anthropology, dealt with the problems of communitarianism and religion in the drug wars in the state of Michoacăn. He argues that La Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar, two drug cartels, gained popular support by adopting hierarchical and familial structures when the local state no longer functioned properly and the family unit broke down. They became quasi-cults or religious groups, which protect local society and viewed themselves as members of a family that included local citizens. For example, local citizens canonized Nazario Moreno, the leader of the Knights Templar, as a saint. – By K.T. Chun, a New Jersey-based sociologist and writer.