Amy Erica Smith on Politics and Religion in Brazil
Play • 57 min

Political Scientist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote, “A person who knows only one country doesn't know any country because you're not sensitized to what is unique, what is different, what is special about your country.” Brazil offers a parallel to the United States because it has a populist President who is active on social media and has been indifferent to the pandemic and hostile to the environment. But it also has differences in culture, development, and religion. 

The past week has largely been about the American Presidential Election for me. Like most of you my attention was focused on the results until this past weekend when Joe Biden was officially declared the winner. But now I am exhausted talking about American politics, so I invited Amy Erica Smith to discuss politics in Brazil. She is the author of Religion and Brazilian Democracy: Mobilizing the People of God and a Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University. 

My conversation with Amy Erica is about Brazil, but in many ways, it is illuminating about the United States. Everyone will have theories about American politics after a consequential election. But an examination of other countries tests those assumptions in different contexts. Populist leaders have found success in many parts of the world, but Jair Bolsonaro feels eerily similar to Trump in so many ways. And yet, “Bolsonaro is a Brazilian invention.” Brian Winter writes in Foreign Affairs, “He is a product of the singularly awful economic and political crisis the country has endured over the last decade and, just as important, of Brazil’s long tradition of being ruled by conservative white men of military background.”

The most striking of those similarities and differences is the way religion has interacted with politics in Brazil. Amy Erica’s research is amazing. She is a political scientist’s political scientist but also part of a new generation of scholars who combine field research with statistical analysis to give anecdotal observations new meaning.

We cover a lot of ground in our conversation. We talk about Jair Bolsonaro. We discuss the Workers’ Party. We talk about Catholics, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals and... you really just need to listen.

This episode marks the start of my second season. Each episode stands alone so there is no theme or topic for each season. But I do feel the podcast has grown in its production and sophistication over the past 20 episodes. And the new election gives me a chance to mark this growth with a new season of episodes. Next week begins the three part series "Liberalism, Capitalism, Communism" about the global ascendance of China. Stay tuned!

Thanks to Apes of the State for permission to use their tracks "The Internet Song" and "Bill Collector's Theme Song." You can find their music on Spotify or their Bandcamp.

Please visit my blog at I have written 80 reviews of both classic and contemporary works of political science with an emphasis on democracy. This week I reviewed Tom Ginsburg's Judicial Review in New Democracies. Please visit the website and read my book reviews. And don't forget to subscribe to keep up with future episodes.

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