In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Catholicism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Special Journal Issues
  • Ecclesial and Social Activism
  • Immigration
  • Pastoral Ministry
  • Youth
  • Official Statements of the US Catholic Bishops

Latino Studies Catholicism
Timothy Matovina, Michael Anthony Abril
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0010


Spanish-speaking Catholics have lived in what is now the United States for twice as long as the nation has existed. Until World War II, however, Latinos constituted a relatively small and frequently overlooked group among US Catholics. Their numbers and their influence have increased dramatically with an influx of newcomers from such diverse locales as Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina along with ongoing Mexican immigration, all swelling the ranks of an established Latino population previously consisting primarily of Mexican-descent Catholics. Latino Catholic communities, once concentrated in New York, the Southwest, and some midwestern cities, now extend from Seattle to Boston and from Miami to Alaska. In the early 21st century Catholics comprise the largest religious denomination in the United States, encompassing nearly a fourth of all US residents, and Latinos constitute more than a third of US Catholics. Moreover, given the relative youthfulness of Latinos, they will continue to represent an increasing percentage of US Catholics over time. But numbers alone do not define the significance of the Latino presence. The mutual influence of Catholicism and Latinos in the United States is shaping not just the future of American Catholic life but also the life of the nation and of course the lives of millions of Latino Catholics. Latinos approach their Catholic faith in a multitude of ways: as primarily a heritage of devotional traditions, as a marker of cultural identity, as a means to struggle for justice, as a source of spiritual growth and comfort, and as an institution with a defined body of doctrines and teachings. Not surprisingly, a considerable number are involved with Catholicism only nominally or not at all. Protestantism, especially in its Pentecostal and evangelical forms, has expanded rapidly though unevenly among Latinos and indeed throughout Latin America. A growing number of Latinos state that they have no religious affiliation. Yet the 60 to 65 percent of the US Latino population that professes to be Catholic continues the long history of Latino Catholicism in the United States and has a strong social and ecclesial impact through such activities as their activism on immigration, workers’ rights, and other issues; their pastoral outreach; their culturally conditioned expressions of faith; and their analyses of their people’s faith and struggles in publications of history, theology, religious studies, literature, sociology, anthropology, and related disciplines.

General Overviews

Sandoval 2006 is one of a growing number of works on the History of Latino Catholics. It provides the best available short overview of Latino Catholic history. Fernández 2000 presents an overview and assessment of the authors of Foundational Works in US Latino theology. Avalos 2004 is a collection of essays that introduces Latino religion both by particular ethnic groups and by themes. Espinosa and García 2008 focuses on the study of Mexican American religions through the disciplinary lens of religious studies. León 2004 attempts a more synthetic analysis of Mexican American religions, employing what the author calls “religious poetics” as an interpretative tool for understanding those religions more profoundly. Even more broadly, Díaz-Stevens and Stevens-Arroyo 1998, written by two sociologists, presents a comprehensive paradigm for understanding the dynamics and trajectories of contemporary Latino religions and their impact on the wider society. Matovina 2012 examines Latinos within US Catholicism, assessing the multiple ways that the US context, the US Catholic Church, and Latinos mutually transform one another. Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2007 is a frequently cited national statistical study of the state of Latino religion in the United States.

  • Avalos, Hector, ed. Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience. Religion in the Americas 2. Boston: Brill, 2004.

    Multiauthor collection that first analyzes the particular religious experiences of various US Latino ethnic groups then discusses themes in light of these experiences, including art, film, health care, literature, music, politics, and women.

  • Díaz-Stevens, Ana María, and Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo. Recognizing the Latino Resurgence in U.S. Religion: The Emmaus Paradigm. Explorations. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998.

    Comprehensive and bold volume from two eminent sociologists. These authors posit a resurgence within Latino religion beginning in the 1960s, which, in contrast to an assimilationist model, shows how Latino culture and leadership have been reshaping religion and notions of authentic pluralism in the United States.

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

    The book’s six sections include “History and Interpretations of Mexican American Religions,” “Mexican American Mystics and Prophets” (César Chávez, Reies López Tijerina, Católicos por la Raza), “Mexican American Popular Catholicism” (Guadalupe, home altars, pastorelas [dramatic popular expressions of the shepherds who worshipped the child Jesus]), “Mexican American Religions and Literature” (Gloria Anzaldúa, Mary Helen Ponce, Denise Chávez, Sandra Cisneros), “Mexican American Religions and Healing” (Pentecostal and curanderismo [healing]), and “Mexican American Religions and Popular Culture” (pastorela, hybrid art and spiritualities, and Selena).

  • Fernández, Eduardo C. La Cosecha: Harvesting Contemporary United States Hispanic Theology (1972–1998). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.

    Details the emergence of the field of US Latino theology: its early historical roots, the historical situation of its birth, and the development of explicitly contextual theology in general and of US Latino theology in particular. It also analyzes key figures according to their distinct contributions and their categorization within five models of contextual theology: translation, anthropological, praxis, synthetic, and transcendental.

  • León, Luis D. La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

    Comparative study of Latino religion in the US-Mexican borderlands. Author analyzes “religious poetics”—the selective engagement and hybridization of stories, rituals, gestures, bodies, relations, interactions, and sacred figures—in case studies of Guadalupan devotion, the healing tradition of curanderismo, the Mexican-origin religion known as espiritualismo, and Latino evangelical Protestantism.

  • Matovina, Timothy M. Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

    Historical and contemporary analysis of major trends in Latino Catholicism, including key leaders, organizations, and events in Hispanic ministry. Shows how the US Catholic Church and context have affected Latinos and how Latino leadership and culture are transforming the US Catholic Church and wider society.

  • Pew Hispanic Center, and Pew Forum on Religion and 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.

    Extensive national survey on how the growing Latino population is shaping and being shaped by religion in the United States. Key findings include the prevalence of charismatic, spirit-filled religious expressions among Latinos, their preference for ethnic-oriented congregations and worship, and the ways faith shapes their participation in politics and public life.

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

    Succinct overview of Latino Catholic History in the United States, from indigenous roots and Spanish conquest to the US conquest of the Southwest to the religious and political struggles of Latinos in the early 21st century, including civil rights, Hispanic ministry, and immigration. Includes a chapter on US Latino Protestants.

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