To Endure or Ignore?

Two Priests’ Responses to Hierarchical Discipline in a Guatemalan Religious Field


  • C. James MacKenzie University of Lethbridge



networks, hierarchy, inculturation, charismatic Catholicism, Maya


In the context of an increasingly centrist hierarchy, the fate of various progressive Catholic post-Vatican II evangelizing movements is unclear. I consider here how two progressive priests in Guatemala have dealt with hierarchical discipline. I examine the role of these priests and their superiors in a vertically and horizontally structured religious field. While one priest, a proponent of Charismatic Catholicism, feels alienated from the hierarchy and his congregation and imagines alternatives in terms of schism, the other, a proponent of inculturation theology, found practical freedom from both grassroots and hierarchy through the development of networks, which I analyze using models derived from Castells. Together, these cases demonstrate how religious power, while strongly centralized in the context of the Catholic Church, can adapt—if imperfectly—to different organizational structures simultaneously.

Author Biography

C. James MacKenzie, University of Lethbridge

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology


Annis, Sheldon. 1987. God and Production in a Guatemalan Town. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Berryman, Philip. 1994. Stubborn Hope: Religion, Politics, and Revolution in Central America. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

———. 1991. “Genesis and Structure of the Religious Field.” Comparative Social Research 13: 1–44.

Brintnall, Douglas E. 1979. Revolt Against the Dead: The Modernization of a Mayan Community in the Highlands of Guatemala. New York: Gordon and Breach.

Cahn, Peter S. 2005. “A Standoffish Priest and Sticky Catholics: Questioning the Religious Marketplace in Tzintzuntzan, Mexico.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology 10 (1): 1–26.

Calder, Bruce J. 2004. “Interwoven Histories: The Catholic Church and the Maya, 1940 to the Present.” In Resurgent Voices in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization, and Religious Change, edited by Edward L. Cleary and Timothy J. Steigenga, 93–124. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Carlsen, Robert S. 1997. The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Castells, Manuel. 1997. The Power of Identity. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

———. 2000. “Materials for an Exploratory Theory of the Network Society.” British Journal of Sociology 51: 5–24.

Chesnut, Andrew. 2003. Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CONAPI (Comisión Nacional de Pastoral Indígena). 2004. “La Pastoral Indígena en la Iglesia de Guatemala” Unpublished MS. Guatemala.

Cook, Garrett. 2007. “Heterarchy and Homoarchy in Maya Village Politics.” In Third International Conference: Hierarchy and Power in the History of Civilizations. Selected Papers I. Alternativity in Cultural History: Heterarchy and Homoarchy as Evolutionary Trajectories, edited by Dmitri M. Bondarenko and Alexandre A. Nemirovskiy, 67–78. Moscow: Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies of the RAS.

Csordas, Thomas J. 1997. Language, Charisma, and Creativity: Ritual Life in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Berkeley: University of California Press.

DeBernardi, Jean. 1999. “Spiritual Warfare and Territorial Spirits: the Globalization and Localisation of a ‘Practical Theology’.” Religious Studies and Theology 18(2): 66–96.

Dionne Jr., E.J. 2005 “Cardinal Ratzinger’s Challenge.” The Washington Post. April 19: A19.Fernández, Marcela, and César Pérez. 2008. “Obispos suspenden actividad religi-osa.” Prensa Libre. Jan 23, 12.

Fuchs, Christian. 2007. “Transnational Space and the ‘Network Society’.” Twenty-First Century Society 2: 49–78.

Garrrard-Burnett, Virginia. 2004. “ ‘God was Already Here when Columbus Arrived’: Inculturation Theology and the Mayan Movement in Guatemala.” In Resurgent Voices in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization, and Religious Change, edited by Edward L. Cleary and Timothy J. Steigenga, 125–153. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Goldin, Liliana. 1996a. “Economic Mobility Strategies among Guatemalan Peasants: Prospects and Limits of Nontraditional Vegetable Cash Crops.” Human Organization 55: 99–107.

———. 1996b. “Models of Economic Differentiation and Cultural Change.” Journal of Quantitative Anthropology 6: 49–74.

———, and Brent Metz. 1991. “An Expression of Cultural Change: Invisible Converts to Protestantism among Highland Guatemala Mayas.” Ethnology 30: 325–338.

Koser, Khalid. 2007. “Refugees, Transnationalism and the State.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33: 233–254.

Kovic, Christine. 2005. Mayan Voices for Human Rights: Displaced Catholics in Chiapas. Austin: University of Texas Press.

MacKenzie, C. James. 1999. “The Priest, the Shaman and ‘Grandfather Judas’: Syncretism and Anti-Syncretism in Guatemala.” Religious Studies and Theology 18 (2): 33–65.

———. 2009. “Judas off the Noose: Sacerdotes Mayas, Costumbristas, and the Politics of Purity in the Tradition of San Simón in Guatemala.” The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 14: 355–381.

———. 2010. “Of Networks and Hierarchies: Pan-Mayanism and Ethnic Ambivalence in Guatemala.” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 5: 27–52.

McDonald, Kevin. 2006. Global Movements: Action and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Mendelson, E. Michael. 1965. Los Escándalos de Maximón: Un Estudio Sobre la Religión y la Visión del Mundo en Santiago Atitlán. Translated by Julio Vielman. Guatemala: Semenario de Integración Social Guatemalteca.

Miller, Daniel, and Daniel Slater. 2001. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. London: Berg.

Neal, Zachary P. 2008. “The Duality of World Cities and Firms: Comparing Networks, Hierarchies, and Inequalities in the Global Economy.” Global Networks 8 (1): 94–115.

Norget, Kristin. 2004. “‘Knowing Where we Enter’: Indigenous Theology and the Popular Church in Oaxaca, Mexico.” In Resurgent Voices in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization, and Religious Change, edited by Edward L. Cleary and Timothy J. Steigenga, 154–188. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Pagels, Elaine. 2003. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Random House.

Redfield, James. 1994. The Celestine Prophecy. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Rey, Terry. 2004. “Marketing the Goods of Salvation: Bourdieu on Religion.” Religion 34: 331–343.

Ruel, Malcolm. 2002. “Christians as Believers.” In A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Michael Lambek, 99–113. Oxford: Blackwell.

Schmitt, Carl. 1998. Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Translated by G.L Ulmen. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Stevenson, Nick. 2006. “Technological Citizenship: Perspectives in the Recent Work of Manuel Castells and Paul Virilio.” Sociological Research Online 10 (3),

Tedlock, Dennis. 1996. Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition Of The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life And The Glories Of Gods and Kings. New York: Touchstone.

Tomás García, Santos Gambino. 1993. Evangelización Desde la Cultura Maya-Quiché. Quito: Abya-Yala.

Urban, Hugh. 2003. “Sacred Capital: Pierre Bourdieu and the Study of Religion.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 15: 354–389.

Warren, Kay B. 1989. The Symbolism of Subordination: Indian Identity in a Guatemalan Town. Revised Version. Austin: University of Texas Press.



How to Cite

MacKenzie, C. J. (2011). To Endure or Ignore? Two Priests’ Responses to Hierarchical Discipline in a Guatemalan Religious Field. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 5(3), 317–336.