Surprisingly Unsurprising: How Brazilian Evangelicals Work Jiu Jitsu into their Worship Services

By Jessica Rivers.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Brazilian evangelicals promote jiu jitsu, on the one hand, as a response to young, modern congregants’ desire for flexibility of religious expression and sociability, and on the other hand, as an avenue for individual corporeal, psycho-spiritual, and mental empowerment. Both function as metaphors for spiritual, interpersonal and socio-religious survival strategies in twenty-first century city-living in Brazil. Yet they grow the church in potentially paradoxical ways. The former, epitomized by Bola de Neve, whose flagship is located in São Paulo, diversifies who all could be in the congregation by turning them into a mediatized, anonymous congregation – like any other audience – there for a good time. This strategy casts the net widely for potential followers and offers varying degrees of commitment to all. Conversely, for the actual jiu jitsu practitioners there can be no question of commitment. This requisite level of dedication is central to the work of Igreja Batista Betânia of Rio de Janeiro. For this congregation, daily practice, instruction, and corporeal conditioning test and require individual commitment, which feeds off of and back into the collective support of the church. Based on these churches’ websites, blogs and online forums, this paper moves through a series of tensions exposed in evangelicals’ choice to incorporate jiu jitsu in their daily programming: first, the author contemplates the social, religious and economic efficacy of choosing jiu jitsu over capoeira; then she shows the primary difference between the audience-congregation and the jiu jitsu fighters to be their relationships to the mat as a space for working through the everyday threat of violence in Brazil; and lastly, she suggests these churches’ heavy-handed wooing of men and youth may not be as bad for their women congregants as it first appears.

Keywords: Evangelicals, Jiu Jitsu, Brazil, Media, Urban Consciousness, Violence, Sociability, Gender Dynamics

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 757.949KB).

Jessica Rivers

Doctoral Student, Department of Communication and Culture, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

is a Performance and Ethnographic Studies doctoral student in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. Her interests include transnational evangelical movements in the Americas, embodiment and knowledge production, social uses of media, and class, stigma and reputation management. Working toward her dissertation project, she spent summers 2010 and 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, interviewing pastors, congregants and jiu jitsu fighters and training with Bola de Neve, Igreja Batista Betânia, and Academia Marcelo Ferreira.