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Between ethics and spirit

Flávio Pierucci was one of the greatest interpreters of contemporary Brazilian religiousness


Pierucci, in 2004: analysis of the Pentecostal and Catholic movementsTUCA VIEIRA / FOLHAPRESS

Being one of his specialties, he understood Weber’s “disenchantment of the world” like few others. With his death on June 8, he enhanced this disenchantment at the age of 67. Sociologist Flávio Pierucci worked in the field of religious sociology using Max Weber as a reference. In recent times, he discussed the phenomenon of Brazilian religiousness based on data from various demographic censuses. He was especially interested in the growth of Pentecostalism and its various aspects, the predominance of the Catholic Church despite the falling rate of church members, and lamented the decline of the followers of African religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé as a result of the neo-Pentecostal expansion.

He specialized in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University (1970), graduated in philosophy (1973), and obtained a Master’s degrees in social sciences in 1977 with the thesis “Catholic Church and Human Reproduction in Brazil,” defended at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). In 1985, he completed his PhD in sociology on “Democracy, the Church and the Vote: the Involvement of Catholic Clergy in the 1982 Elections;” this was followed by his post-doctoral thesis in 2001, “The Disenchantment of the World: the Stages of Max Weber’s Concept.” The latter was presented at the University of São Paulo, where he became a senior professor and head of the sociology department until his death. Between 1971 and 1987, he was a researcher at the Brazilian Analysis and Planning Center (Cebrap).

Between 1978 and 1985, he taught in the sociology department at PUC-SP. Later, between 1992 and 1996, he was the executive secretary of the National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in the Social Sciences (Anpocs). From 2001 to 2012, he was secretary-general of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).

Among his dozens of publications, the book A realidade social das religiões no Brasil e a Igreja: contradições e acomodação [The Social Reality of Religion and the Church in Brazil: the Contradictions and Accommodation] stands out. One of his works analyzes the relation between the growth of neo-Pentecostal churches and their involvement with politics. It was one of the pioneering studies on this topic.

In Pierucci’s view, Brazil is witnessing a surfeit of religions. As such, stating that religion today is a business would not be an error. Moreover, according to Pierucci, churches use marketing strategies just like companies to attract more followers, or customers. People no longer seek salvation after death; their desires are now instant. And this is what the new religions aim to offer. Those that do not provide this lose their customers.

“People are looking for a new kind of religion, such as offered by the Pentecostal churches, which in fact do not require loyalty to your religious background, but rather a break from your religious past. It is a religion that works well with capitalist culture,” he says. “Religion does a lot of marketing for itself these days. It says: look, you need religion to be happy, to be mentally and physically healthy. Some need it and others do not. Some people live very well without religion,” he used to warn.