Disaster Evangelism: Religion as a Catalyst for Change in Post-Mitch Honduras

August 2003 (VOL. 21, NO. 2)

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Although religion clearly plays an important role in framing the way people interpret and cope with disasters, religion is virtually absent in policy debates and disaster reconstruction planning. Researchers have also tended to neglect the role of religion as a source of emotional and social support, and a vehicle of community building and group and individual identity for affected populations. This paper examines the connection between post-disaster resettlement and reconstruction, and the changing religious beliefs and practices of the women and men of Morolica, a town in southern Honduras swept away by the floods caused by Hurricane Mitch in October 1998. In Morolica, rates of conversion to Evangelism increased after the disaster, as several Evangelical missions collaborated with the local population on the reconstruction of their community. My data indicate that women and men had different reasons for being attracted to Evangelism, and that conversion entailed a transformation of the social norms and proper behavior that was different for each gender. Furthermore, these conversions can be understood as gendered survival tactics in a context of dislocation and catastrophic loss. Given the multiple and complex processes taking place in Post-Mitch Honduras in general, and Morolica in particular, I suggest that survival strategies and religious conversions are gender-differentiated, and need to be explored within a framework of shifting political ecological conditions, religious pluralism, and displacement.