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Shifting Fields: Social Media, Religion and Popular Culture in Brazil and the Diaspora

Dr. Martijn Oosterbaan. Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University

Social media are generally regarded as exponents of a new kind of society, the quintessential product of the network society. The rise of these new media begs for a better understanding of their popularity, yet also challenges classical ethnographic methodologies that often favor clearly bounded, localized spaces as point of departure or adopt a perspective that sharply distinguishes offline and online research. The burgeoning of virtual fields of research whose realities intersect with classical fieldwork sites has reminded us that every 'field' is porous instead of hermetic.[1] To understand the relations between them, we need to go beyond the virtual/real dichotomy and adopt a dialectal research praxis that allows us to see and discuss how different fields are related without reducing one to the other. To trace this dialectic Martijn Oosterbaan looks at a number of swiftly emerging fields of research: Brazilian evangelical movements in Brazil and in the Diaspora, social media (Orkut and Facebook) and Brazilian migrants in Europe.

Each of these three fields harbors particular cultural practices and certain modes of association, supported or hindered by particular regimes of in and exclusion. A focus on the interrelations between the fields demonstrates how these cultural practices and modes of association are translated from one field to the other and it shows which new prospects are generated as a result of their conjunctions. As research among Brazilian migrants in Amsterdam and Barcelona has shown, the enormous popularity of Orkut in Brazil allowed for the emergence of virtual communities explicitly dedicated to Brazilian migrants in particular European cities, strongly supporting the organization of social life in these cities (Oosterbaan 2010a). While clearly structured by the architecture of Orkut, these communities maintain their own set of social rules and norms. Similarly, the popularity of Orkut has supported the formation of grass-roots evangelical communities in Brazil and the Diaspora and has given new form to existing translocal networks of congregants, preachers and missionaries, and has opened up new avenues for the circulation of evangelical products (Oosterbaan 2010b). Simultaneously, the rise of online evangelical communities has strengthened the expectation that Brazilian Christians can fulfill their promise to 'preach the gospel around the world' and create a global community of believers, while it has also enforced the perceived circulation of immoral media content (Oosterbaan 2011).

Continuing his investigations related to new media, Brazilian Christianity and migration, Martijn at present is working on a project titled 'Musica Gospel: Transnational Brazilian Gospel Music in Amsterdam', which investigates the digital circulation and territorialization of Brazilian gospel music in light of the mobility of Brazilian migrants. Meanwhile, he continues to investigate the techno-ideologies of one of Brazil's largest and wealthiest evangelical churches, the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus to understand how their religious practices and their prosperity gospel relates to the enormous popularity of social media in Brazil.


Oosterbaan, Martijn.

  • 2010a. Virtual Migration. Brazilian Diasporic Media and the Reconfigurations of Place and Space, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales 26(1).
  • 2010b. Virtual Re-evangelization: Brazilian Churches, Media and the Postsecular City'. In:Beaumont, J, A. Molendijk and C. Jedan (eds.). Exploring the Postsecular: the religious, the political, the urban. Leiden: Brill.
  • 2011. Virtually Global: Online Evangelical Cartography', Social Anthropology 19(1):56-73.

Other publications

Oosterbaan, Martijn.

  • 2003. 'Escrito pelo Diabo: Interpretações Pentecostais das Telenovelas', in Religião&Sociedade 23 (2): 53-76. Rio de Janeiro: ISER.
  • 2008. Spiritual Attunement: Pentecostal Radio in the Soundscape of a Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Social Text 26(3): 123-145.
  • 2009. Sonic Supremacy: Sound, Space and the Politics of Presence in a Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Critique of Anthropology 29(1): 81-104.

Short Bio

Martijn Oosterbaan studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. He acquired his PhD at the Amsterdam School of Social science Research, University of Amsterdam. While finishing his dissertation he obtained a postdoc position at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen, as a researcher in the NWO research project New Media, Public Sphere and Urban Culture. In 2008 he became Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University. Martijn Oosterbaan has published on Pentecostalism and mass media in Brazil and in Europe. At present his research focuses on religious transformations in Brazil as a result of the widespread use of mass media and on Brazilian migration to Europe in relation to questions concerning transnationalism, religion, diaspora and new media. Martijn Oosterbaan is cooperating partner of the international research program Global Prayers (http://globalprayers.info).

[1] I owe this insight to M. Franklin (2007), http://vksethno.wordpress.com/category/working-papers/, accessed 27-3-2012.