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In search of a tradition: What traditions to the Brazilian culture?

The Brazilian civilization is relatively new in world history. Built on a mix of cultures - Portuguese, Indigenous, African, and other European and Asian people - we can say, not without astonishment, that Brazil still suffers from a cultural identity. The tension that involves the formation of identity emerges in times of social crisis or crisis of moral values, as seen in the current context of the country, undermined by constant allegations of corruption at all levels, by increasing violence, and lacking in a row established policy. So, Brazilian society has appealed to discourses that seek, in the ideologies of the past, an answer to the present problems. These speeches oscillate between the globalization discourse, the rescue of religious traditions, and the resurrection of old policies theories. This condition creates a complex plan to debate political and social questions, whose paradigms do not depart from a critical and cultural consciousness formed, but rather the attempt to assert a vision of what is 'traditional', without having an exact idea of their extent and origins or real influence. In this communication, therefore, our purposes are: to try to understand, through the analysis of Stuart Hall and Zygmunt Bauman, the reasons why the Brazilian society has claim for a 'return to tradition', even if they do not know exactly what is sought in return: and a second moment, map, albeit briefly, what are the cultural matrices involved in this debate, with some recent cases in which the question of tradition has been placed with a response to legal and social situations.

Beijing, 07/2012


Brazil has won recently a prominent place among the major world economies, forming the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), group of countries whose influence will be decisive in the 21st century. Together, Brazil was also able to host a soccer World Cup and the Olympics. However, these indicators of apparent success have not been accompanied by a balanced social change. Brazil is faced with increasing cases of corruption contained, there is unemployment, deep social inequality, and arise at any time explosions of ethnic’s, religious and sexual violence’s. A conflict exists between the shocking image of a great and rich country against the daily life of population, which is not affected, positively, by all these economic changes.

In our communication we will not discuss the political and economic issues that shape this crisis, but the way it has been read by the Brazilian society. In search of an ideological solution that can save the country's development, various groups within society have sought, in the ancient traditions of the past, a possible answer to the moral dilemmas facing Brazil. However, Brazil is a country of very recent history, which was constructed from cultural matrices (today) foreign - mainly African and Portuguese, and then, with immigration, received contributions from Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe and Japan. The native Indigenous culture contributed in this process, albeit much less present than in the case of the civilizations of Spanish America. In addition, the 20th century represented a dramatic change in cultural orientation of Brazil, began to receive from the USA an influence on their consumption patterns and in the field of political and religious ideas. In today's globalized context, Brazilians feel relatively lost in their ideological choices, and try to rebuild their guidance from the teachings which, in his view, can only restore a balance that would have existed in the past.

Initially, therefore, we will try understand how Brazilian society are reading this cultural crisis, and then, we will map some of the main lines of thought that has gained strength with this crisis of moral and social values.

‘Liquid Modernity’

The Polish thinker Zigmunt Baumann (2010) pointed out, properly, that the contemporary world is undergoing a phase of "liquid modernity". With the apparent demise of socialism in Eastern Europe, and the supposed victory of capitalist theory, the promise of a new world, more balanced and economically rich, did not materialize. Instead - and in the case of Brazil - the victory of capitalism was a step back in working relationships, a deepening economic crisis and rising inequality. From 1964 to 1984, Brazil was ruled by a military junta that had kept increasing levels of development, but artificially sustained (VENTURA, 2000). This caused a devastating economic crisis in Brazil after the military government, although clear signs that this could happen were already seen before the return of full democracy. The "defeat" of socialism was understood as the end of a historical context, in which the concessions made to the workers, could be abolished; after all, was no longer necessary keep these concessions. The "danger" of the labor system of socialism “ended”. This created the opportunity for the great Brazilian economic groups abolish the social commitments, established during the “Cold War”, between workers and employers.

The desolation caused by the disruption of this compromise, incited entire societies, as Brazil, a reflection on the moral and cultural values. After all, if the capitalist world appeared to be a bad option, which would then be the alternatives? Let us, then, to Baumann. We live in a historical context in which human relations are governed by uncertainty, an existential emptiness, an uncompromising attitude caused by "liquidity" in the human relationships: impossible to control, and they do break up with incredible rapidity, seeking only immediate benefits and profit possible. This would occur because some societies without cultural paradigms are set to respond to this values crisis. There are no major systems, such as at the time of dualism "socialism x capitalism," to guide us. So, what can substitute these "big absences"?

The reading by Baumann is quite appropriate for the case of Brazil, with has also difficulty to building their cultural identity. Countries like China, India and Russia have ancient traditions that serve to build a solid cultural reference. The case of Brazil is quite different: the Brazilian cultural traditions are relatively recent, and are usually imported from the civilizations that colonized the country. They formed a no cohesive and inconsistent identity. Stuart Hall's analysis (1997) is appropriate here to guide us in trying to understand the difficulties of building a Brazilian cultural identity - especially now, in the context of modernity.

Until the 19th century, Brazil was a colony of Portugal, and its basic cultural guidance was grounded in Portuguese culture. The Indigenous and African cultural additions were fundamentals in conquer of space and in development of economic activities. However, indigenous participation in Brazil was restricted by numerous ethnic massacres, even so, the culture brought from Africa was submitted to the system of slavery, which was only finished in 1888 - that is, both the cultures, indigenous and African, were conditioned by the cultural Portuguese matrix. The independence of Brazil in 1822, this situation has not changed radically: the African slaves continued to come as long, and indigenous people were getting shorter and shorter. From the early 20th century, attempts to formulate a Brazilian cultural identity, required the integration of the country, created the theory that Brazil would be composed of the "harmony of the three races," ie, that the Brazilian people was composed by the “egalitarian” union of three cultural sources - Portuguese, African and Indigenous. There would not be in Brazil, for example, racial discrimination, and yes, social discrimination caused by disparity of riches and social origin. Great Brazilian authors like Gilberto Freire (1935, 1954) and Darcy Ribeiro (1995) defended this theory for years, but it proved wrong. Brazil, during the 20th century, continues to speak Portuguese, to be catholic in its majority, and maintain a series of social, ethnic’s and intellectual’s tensions.

The cultural situation of Brazil became even richer and more complex with the arrival of large waves of immigration coming from Europe and Japan, which diversified the cultural landscape of the country. However, a substantial part of the European immigrants who came to southern Brazil was not integrated with this existing cultural landscape, maintaining certain autonomy in relation to the dynamics of cultural exchanges.

If you look up and see here, so, that the construction of Brazilian culture was made ​​continuous additions and disorganized, as is natural in a process of cultural exchange. However, the existence of these different cultural matrices formed a society largely divided between different groups, whose orientations vary along ethnic, religious, cultural or economic. Now, in times of political and social crisis in Brazilian society, these groups seek in their cultural origins possible ideological orientations to meet in order the demands of modernity. There is a desire to return to an old cultural tradition, based on a utopian past, where the society was stable and had solid moral values. It is a constant presence in political and social discourses that surround the discussion of the Brazilian identity in the contemporary world. There is a moral (or mental) that could re-educate people to follow a path of "order and progress"? Consider, then, a map of the main trends that now operate in Brazilian cultural life.

Proposals for cultural traditions

Cultural Diversity

For methodological reasons, the first of the proposals presented here is the one advocated in general terms, so, by the Brazilian government official. Based on guidance (in some points, influenced by a "socialist discourse") the Brazilian government assumed that Brazil is formed by a great cultural diversity. In theory, the society has the right to free expression and independent, and the cultural maturity is still under development. This proposal does not refute the Portuguese cultural traditions, but puts them in the background in order to strengthen indigenous and Africans cultures. It admits, though, the presence of globalization is a real and permanent effect, which directly influences the process of building and exchange of cultures. Seeing therefore the proposal of the Brazilian government is not concerned directly with the rescue of ancient cultural traditions (with the exception of Indigenous and Africa), but that the formation of Brazilian identity is a dynamic phenomenon of absorption of other cultures, creating an identity. This discourse has created deeper tensions within society. Many groups believe that these transformations are responsible, in fact, by the social crisis that the country now passes. The Brazilian government, for example, failed to distribute a handbook on sex education and social inclusion which proposed, among other things, the acceptance of homosexuality as something natural. Similarly, university quotas were created for African-descendents and indigenous peoples who are heavily criticized by various segments of society. Brazilian schools retook the teaching of religion (which had been suppressed during the military government), in order to promote religious tolerance in diversity, however, the proposal has been openly tampered with, and many fundamentalists have used the lessons of religious education as opportunity of preaching in the schools. Finally, communities of immigrants from Europe in a more recent period of history (especially the 2nd World War), dispute the notion that diversity is harmful to society, culture and economy, and occasionally suggesting the isolation or the separatism. Another criticism of this view of cultural diversity is that it did not include immigrants from Latin America. A large number of Bolivians have come to Brazil looking for work because of the severe economic situation in Bolivia, and the Brazilian government did not wave with any inclusion policy in this case.

Therefore, we note that the point at which to target our discussion is that the Brazilian government can not, in principle, to build an inclusive cultural idea, although that is its intent. The attempt to create a modern image, aggregating, tolerant and inclusive is hampered by economic and political crisis, which takes a substantial portion of the population to believe that these factors are interrelated. Thus, it creates a lot of confusion around the idea of a "moral degeneration": for example, a corrupt government official is associated with the affirmation of gay rights because they are both considered "degenerate" in front of a Christian morality that opposes both things. This frame of mind is extremely simple and perverse, and so has a big impact. The establishment of university quotas for African descents was treated by some of these social groups as a threat, created by the government, which would strengthen racial discrimination - when in fact, discrimination existed, but was masked by the myth of the "harmony of the three races ".

The difficulty that the public policy of cultural diversity is to affirm is further increased by the educational system inefficient that Brazil has, which has been unable to meet the demands of both the market and the formation of citizens capable, and self-conscious. With this, the government makes room for discourses that seek to regain the ancient traditions as a way to resolve the current issues. However, these cultural variety shows that Brazil allows, therefore, a variety of different proposals.

Resumption of Catholicism

Brazil is the largest Catholic nation in the world in numbers terms. Catholicism is traditionally associated with the state, but their political influence and moral plummeted near the end of the 20th century. Several reasons are given for this: an elitism of Catholicism, the constant complaints of sexual crimes in the church, the gap that has arisen in relation to poor communities because of the occasional welfare policies promoted by the Brazilian government. The fact is that Catholicism has suffered, as a discourse, a major weakness in their ability to opine on social issues such as birth control, labor, etc. The survival of Catholicism in Brazil is due, in large part, by the resistance of communities living in small towns, outside the big cities. The apparent defeat of socialism in Eastern Europe in 1989 renewed the spirits of Catholicism to become an ideological and moral option for the Brazilian people, bringing the unit of Brazilian civilization around religion imposed since colonial times by the Portuguese. However, the return did not occur as expected. First, Catholicism began to suffer competition from evangelical churches, who worked in the blanks left by the Catholic Church next to the poorest communities. With a Christian message simplified and more accessible, the evangelical churches showed that the models seemed to overcome the Roman Catholic liturgical and not very able to reawaken the religious sentiments in the population. The Brazilian Catholic Church devoted itself, so investing in a vulgarization of the doctrine, seeking closer ties with the public. Self-help books, new Catholic music, and other media, be used to attract the lost faithful.

The discourse of the Catholic Church in Brazil is closely linked, however, the guidelines of the Vatican. Thus, the forms of popularization of modern Catholicism are only superficial, since the essence of the speech remains conservative and moralizing. However, this device has achieved a relative success in recent years, since, as stated, Brazilian society believes to be living a moral crisis, a crisis of values ​​that can only be overcome by the revival of ancient traditions. But: what traditions, if Brazil is not ancient? This point is crucial for the recovery of a history of Christianity that culminates in Brazil, the most Catholic country in the world. Several Christian-themed films, made ​​in Brazil, had a huge success, promoting a revival of Catholicism in the society.

The challenge that the Catholic Church will face, however, is: how to reconcile the discourse of renewal of a Christianity that advocates chastity, simple material life, the traditional family consisting of the heterosexual couples, in a world where the demands, increasingly, the participation in a competitive, technological and multifaceted society? The Catholic renewal works well in the inner cities of Brazil, smaller, and where social relationships are closer; but, how to face the dilemma of modernization in large urban centers? If on one side the conservative discourse, involved in a modern guise, is attractive in the current context of crisis, by other, how can be sustained without any political or economic possible improvement?

Evangelical Churches

“Evangelical churches” (term used in Portuguese to describe, in general terms, Christian’s churches non-Catholics, as Gospel, Pentecostal, Evangelic, etc.) have had a great grown in the last two decades in Brazil. Directly threatening the dominance of Catholicism, evangelical churches invest in the speech of a reinvented Christianity, based on a unique interpretation of Christian antiquity. The speech of these churches, in general, is simple and accessible to the lay public, and based on the idea of immediate salvation in the world. The attainment of material wealth through work,is encouraged as a way of spiritual growth. The services rely on a biblical knowledge, based on ancient wisdom, which would serve as a guide to modernity. Strongly influenced by the churches of the USA, the Brazilian Evangelical churches have been able to greatly expand thanks to its presence in communities neglected by Catholicism, occupying the void "spiritual" and moral. Evangelical churches would also count with the advantage of being decentralized, and expand their networks were much more flexible and dynamic to the Catholic churches. Working with open doors day and night, providing direct assistance to the population, and claiming that the material gain is evidence of spiritual success, evangelical’s managed a rapid diffusion in Brazil.

Their proposals are based on moral interpretations of the Bible themselves, ranging from church to church. However, their lines of action are decidedly conservative. Evangelical ideology is defend that the cultural diversity idea is responsible for the moral and social crisis in Brazilian society. To quote again a few examples: evangelicals are against the discussion of abortion or euthanasia, have "programs for the recovery of sexual disorders" (gays and lesbians), and advocate a radicalization and deepening of religious discourse in education (in Brazil, as well as elsewhere in the world, they are absolutely against the Charles Darwin’s Theory of evolution, believing that it goes against the concept of creation of the world by God). Too, they are structured in economic organizations that help each other; but exclude or ignore those who are outside of his church. In an attempt to deepen the moral imposition of these cultural practices, many evangelicals have participated in the Brazilian political life, applying for office and getting a relative success with the public.

Such as Catholics, evangelicals preach a return to an old moral discourse, derived from early Christianity. However, the evangelicals accept the possibility of achieving social and material richness; that is not provided for in Catholicism. One person well-succeeded is a “good Christian”. But, he or she must accept a certain group of religious dogmas present in the discourse of these churches, which are strictly monotheistic and intolerant of other religions. For evangelicals, basically, one person is respected and accepted to enter your community, allowing unequal treatment to other social segments. Again, some examples: the evangelical churches in general, tend to be against the government inclusive policies, because they think they encourage racial-ethnic conflict. On the other hand, they have their own inclusive policies. There is great number of black evangelical preachers in Brazil, and his personal success is attributed to its entry into the church and community, not the policies of the government's social inclusion. So for them, discrimination and racial quotas create conflict, when the ideal would be that they got in their churches. There are even evangelical groups that promote persecution and attacks on African-Brazilian religious cults, destroyed their places of worship, and attack their practitioners. There existed, in this view, no a racial discrimination, but rather, 'religious and cultural'.

The same goes for gays who are "welcomed" in the church to be "cured", based on fragment of the Bible, in Leviticus, which says that homosexual couples is inappropriate. When some of these evangelicals can reach government offices, it is not unusual to propose public health policies to "cure homosexuality" as if it were some kind of disease.

Many evangelical churches have faced accusations of corruption and abuse of power, which puts in question the gap between their moral discourses and practices that some preachers have done. However, the evangelical churches are a striking example of speech that would be necessary for the 'teaching' - or maybe 'salvation' - a Brazilian identity to appeal to a moralizing Christianity, fundamentalist, based on a restrictive interpretation of the history of Christianity primitive. Evangelicals have increasingly sought to participate in public life in Brazil, through public office and government, believing that this is an appropriate means to promote their views. The unification of the Brazilian identity would be made ​​by a religious means, not an ethnic, racial or cultural. This speech, very attractive to many, yet is loaded with intolerance of cultural differences and clashes directly with the idea of diversity. By this theory, an identity is created by the annulment of difference; just as there was, in the history of Christianity, the 'election of a people chosen by God' to promote the Christian faith.

The search for the "Other Traditions"

But religion is not only that Brazilians seek inspirations to understand their own culture and to reform it. There are "other traditions"; other political and cultural discourses are occasionally glimpsed as ideological valid for the solution of problems affecting Brazil.

Recently, Gustavo Ioschpe (Brazilian economist and educator) visited China to meet its educational system, which had excellent results in Shanghai (2011). In a lengthy report made ​​to the Veja (known Brazilian magazine, with a conservator character), Ioschpe praised the Chinese education system and suggested, emphatically, that it was adopted in Brazil. Interestingly, the conservative groups of Brazilian society like the idea, while the current government understood that the Chinese educational system was “extreme disciplinarian”, incompatible with the reality of the Brazilian culture, and against the cultural diversity. If we pay attention to the glaring contradiction of this discourse, we perceive a tension that has long been developing in Brazilian intellectuals circles: the attraction and inspiration in the Asian models, especially China and Japan

Considered models of public administration, work systems and successful economies, the experiences of Japan and China, although different, have been discussed and admired as alternatives to solve the crises in Brazil. With a millenary experience, the Chinese and Japanese culture could provide subsidies for the construction of an educational system and more efficient business. However, criticism of these systems defend the 'supposed Brazilian cultural identity' has notable problems with the ideas of 'order' and 'discipline'; and refute, "naturally," elements from “stranger’s cultural traditions”, or, no “European - African - Indigenous matrix” by the Brazilian culture. There is an obvious contradiction in that speech: the Brazil country offers the image of a cultural diversity, but selects the cultures which can be part of the 'Brazilian culture'?

Similarly, the absence of a sense of "tradition" in Brazil means that the term is used erroneously. It is not uncommon for Brazilian advertisements to indicate, for example, that a particular store or company has "three years of tradition," trying to create an image of antiquity as a quality certificate. This type of analysis allows us to understand the reasons why, for example, another model that has been advocated by some segments of Brazilian society: the resumption of Soviet communism, mixed with psychoanalysis, represented by the proposed of intellectual Slavoj Zizek (2007). This model claims that communism still reappear in the world, based on a model of reformed communism of the former USSR. However, the deviance of the human being could be solved by psychoanalytic therapy, a support to former a new 'communist moral'. For many Brazilians that seems a throwback total: however, for its defenders, socialism and communism have been able to create their "own historical traditions," able to illustrate the points right and wrong of Marxist theories. The important thing, however, is the concept that there is a 'communist morale', secular, rational and non-religious, able to overcome the problems of today and ignore religious tensions.

One has to wonder if indeed the Marxist theory can be framed with a "tradition" in the cultural sense of the word. However, this discourse is considered opposing the resumption of religious traditions in the country, establishing a plan to debate which is difficult to achieve.


This brief presentation sought to draw a map on the current situation of Brazilian culture, and the necessity of proposals to diminish the tribulations which society faces. Although corruption, violence and abuse can be attributed indiscriminately to market economy and poor educational background, Brazil suffers from a moral framework that serves as inspiration for social reform. The revival of Christian traditions, reinterpreted through the light of modernity, the search for a different cultural identity or even the use of alternative traditions, such as Asian, presents to us a portrait that proves the very diversity of opinion in Brazil. Unanimous, in fact, is recognizing a crisis of values, which has called for an urgent solution based on ancient beliefs and theories. Without having a proper set of traditions that are absolutely rooted in the imagination, at a time, says Baumann, the very idea of tradition does not seem to make much sense. But, the Brazilian society is seeking in this 'concept of tradition' the foundation of a 'new culture' capable of resolving the dilemmas of modernity - even if the conception of a 'new culture' take their roots in ancient traditions, whose antiquity seems to ensure its efficiency.


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Beijing, julho de 2012.

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