In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mexican-American and Latino Religions

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Historiography
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Primary-Source Readers and Anthologies
  • Autobiographies
  • Journals
  • Documentaries and Movies
  • Theory and Method
  • Religion and Political, Civic, and Social Activism
  • Religion and Electoral Politics

Latino Studies Mexican-American and Latino Religions
Gastón Espinosa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0007


This bibliography traces the origins and historical development of Mexican American and Latino religions in the United States and then discusses some of the most important publications in the field. The Spanish established the first diocese in the Americas in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1511. Catholic missions and parishes were then established in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565, four decades before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Throughout the 16th century, Spanish Catholic explorers traveled through the entire region, from Florida to Missouri, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and California. In 1598 they reached the site of the modern-day town of El Paso and that same year established a mission outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1769 they established the first Catholic mission in San Diego, California. The first English Catholics established Maryland in 1634. After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, Mexico ceded the Southwest to the United States, and the Mexican Catholics living there were granted US citizenship. The United States acquired Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War (1898–1899). Latinos have faced discrimination in the United States because of their mixed race, Spanish language, and popular Catholic and “superstitious” traditions. Because the Euro-American Catholic hierarchy often replaced retiring native Latino priests with non-Latino priests, the Latino community was often left without outspoken Latino civil-rights advocates. As a result and unlike in the African American community, in which black churches were the base of political activism, Latinos created largely secular organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, until the rise of faith-based organizations, such as the Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales (AMEN) in 1992 and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) in 2001, both Latino Protestant Evangelical organizations. The academic study of Mexican American and US Latino religions can trace its origins to 1968, through the writings and intellectual ferment of César Chávez, Reies López Tijerina, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Enrique Dussel, Carlos Castañeda, and Virgilio Elizondo, although important historical, sociological, and anthropological writing on the topic stretches back more than a century. The Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), cofounded by Virgilio Elizondo in 1972, published many of the first academically oriented histories, biographies, and studies in the field of Mexican American and US Latino religions. The study of Mexican American religions received a boost in 1987–1988, with the publication of the work of feminist-informed Chicana/o literature and theologies. The next major turning point came in 1994–1996, with Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo’s four-volume series on US Latino religions published by the Program for the Analysis of Religion among Latinos (PARAL), Jay P. Dolan’s three-volume series on the history of Latino Catholicism, and Gastón Espinosa and Mario T. García’s 1996 conference “New Directions in Chicano Religions” at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Espinosa and García subsequently published Mexican American Religions: Spirituality, Activism, and Culture (Espinosa and García 2008, cited under Introductory Works).

Introductory Works

Carrasco 1990 provides one of the most brief and concise introductions to Mesoamerican Mayan and Aztec traditions, from the perspective of the history of comparative religions. Sandoval 1983 and Sandoval 2006 are the best historical overviews of US Latino religions, despite being liberationist in orientation and focused primarily on Catholicism. Espinosa and García 2008 includes chapters on Latino Catholicism, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, healing, and religion and political activism. De La Torre and Aponte 2001 contains a useful introduction to Latino theology that is pluralistic and diverse in nature. Espinosa and García 2008, Avalos 2004, and Aponte 2012 provide more intentionally pluralistic interpretations of Mexican American and US Latino religions than most works. Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2007 provides an important sociological and political-science overview of Latino religiosity, political and social engagement, and political participation.

  • Aponte, Edwin David. ¡Santo! Varieties of Latino/a Spirituality. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2012.

    Examines Latino Catholic, Protestant, and interreligious approaches to Latino/a spirituality. Chapters discuss Latino spirituality on the margins, santos in Southwestern piety and art, alternative Christian visions of the holy, Latinidad, marriage, death, stages of spiritual development, home altars, and Spanglish spirituality.

  • Avalos, Hector, ed. Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience. Boston: Brill, 2004.

    This edited volume includes brief ethnic-subgroup-oriented chapters on the Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and Central American (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) religious experiences and thematic essays on religious experience, health care, literature, music, politics, and women.

  • Carrasco, Davíd. Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990.

    After summarizing the historiography on Mesoamerican religions, Carrasco analyzes the history and cosmovision in Mesoamerican religions, the religion of the Aztecs, Mayan religion and Mesoamerican religious motifs and symbols in colonial Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the peyote hunt, Día de los Muertos, and the Fiesta de Santiago.

  • De La Torre, Miguel A., and Edwin David Aponte. Introducing Latino/a Theologies. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.

    Introduces students to the study of Latino/a theology, with chapters on US Hispanics, including who they are. Includes common cultural themes in a community-based theology, Latino theological perspectives, foundational thinkers in Latino/a theology, popular religion and alternative traditions, and emerging theological concepts and issues.

  • Espinosa, Gastón, and Mario T. García, eds. Mexican American Religions: Spirituality, Activism, and Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

    This interdisciplinary book examines the history, theories, and interpretations of Mexican American religion, in the chapters “Mexican American Religions” (pp. 17–85), “Mexican American Mystics and Prophets” (César Chávez, Reies López Tijerina, Católicos por la Raza; pp. 57–153), “Mexican American Popular Catholicism” (Guadalupe, home altars, los pastores [nativity plays]; pp. 153–223), “Mexican American Religions and Literature” (Gloria Anzaldúa, Ponce, Chávez, Cisneros; pp. 223–263), “Mexican American Religions and Healing” (Pentecostal, curanderismo [folk healing]; pp. 263–325), and “Mexican American Religions and Pop Culture” (La Pastorella, hybrid artistic spiritualties, Selena; pp. 325–359).

  • Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007.

    This study draws on a 2006 national telephone survey of 4,016 US Latinos, including 2,000 non-Catholics, for comparative analyses with Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity. The study analyzes religion and demography, religious practices and beliefs, renewal movements, conversion and views of the Catholic Church, the Latino ethnic church, religion and politics, ideology and policy issues, and party identification and ideology.

  • Sandoval, Moises, ed. Fronteras: A History of the Latin American Church in the USA since 1513. San Antonio, TX: Mexican American Cultural Center, 1983.

    The book is broken into five parts and seventeen chapters, including chapters on the early evangelists of North America (1513–1808), the church in conflict (1809–1898), the beginnings of the Mexican and Puerto Rican migrations (1899–1945), the Protestant presence, and the reawakening of Hispanic Catholics (1946–present). The most-insightful chapters are “Missionary Beginnings in Spanish Florida” (pp. 3–55), “Hispanic Protestants” (pp. 279–338), and “The Church and El Movimiento” (pp. 377–412).

  • Sandoval, Moises. On the Move: A History of the Hispanic Church in the United States. 2d ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006.

    This is an updated 168-page summary of the 469-page anthology Sandoval 1983. It includes the chapters “Indigenous Heritage” (pp. 3–13); “Conquest, Settlement, and Evangelization” (pp. 13–37); “A New Conquest (1848–1890)” (pp. 37–55); “Growth and Conflict (1890–1946)” (pp. 55–77); “Struggle for Rights” (pp. 77–109); “Minister and Ministry” (pp. 109–133); “The Church and Immigrants” (pp. 133–145); “Hispanic American Protestantism and the United States” (pp. 145–163); and “The Future Hispanic Church” (pp. 163–169).

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