Promised Land

Base Christian Communities and the Struggle for the Amazon

By Madeleine Cousineau Adriance

Subjects: Social Movements
Series: SUNY series in Religion, Culture, and Society
Paperback : 9780791426500, 202 pages, August 1995
Hardcover : 9780791426494, 202 pages, August 1995

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Table of contents

List of Tables

Map of the Region



List of Portuguese Terms

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

Introduction: Religion and Rural Conflict

Part I. The Context of Change

1. The Military Regime and Agrarian Policy

Part II. Six Cases

2. Arame: The Town Named for Barbed Wire

3. São Luís: The Great Aluminum Disaster

4. Santa Rita: Where the Buffalo Roamed

5. Northern Tocantins: Blood in the Parrot's Beak

6. Rio Maria: Tragedy and Hope in the Land of Canaan

7. Bye-Bye Brazil: Along the Transamazonic Highway

Reflections on the Case Studies

Part III. Analysis

8. Help and Hindrance: The Institutional Church

9. Base Communities: Link between Religion and Agrarian Activism

10. CEBs, Rural Unions, and the Struggle for Land

11. Daughters of Judith: Women in the Land Struggle

Part IV. Conclusion

12. Beyond the Amazon: Religion and Social Change

Appendix: Gaining Access and Gathering Data




Examines the relationship between grassroots Catholic Church groups (base Christian communities) and the mobilization of peasant farmers in the fight for control of Amazon lands.


Using information gathered from more than one hundred interviews with farmers, activists, and church people in northern Brazil, the author shows how the present conflicts over land in the Amazon, as well as the destruction of the rainforest, are rooted in specific policies of the Military Government that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, and how the effects of those policies continue to be felt. Presented here are six present-day case studies that not only give evidence of the direct links between peasant farmers' participation in grassroots church groups and their activism for land reform, but also, through rich local detail and quotes from the interviews, give a human face to sociological data.

Madeleine Cousineau Adriance is Associate Professor of Sociology at Mount Ida College.


"Promised Land provides first-hand information about a situation where human rights are terribly violated, but which has not been brought to the attention of international media, or readers, or government and religious leaders. The brutal oppression of the peasants is atrocious. This story must be told.

"This book establishes the involvement of religious groups (the comunidades de base) in the movement for land reform and advocacy for human rights, and the manner in which the small communities operate. Some of the literature presents the basic Christian communities as dominated by a Marxist influence; some writers criticize them as simply a transition from religious motivation to political motivation. Adriance establishes that they are political movements motivated deeply by religious commitment. This is an important finding. The complicated relationship to the larger ecclesiastical establishment is very interesting and important. The small communities—explicitly Catholic—function effectively even in situations of opposition by some of the hierarchy. " — Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, Fordham University