Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology Gerardo Marti has received a $400,000 grant from Lilly Endowment's Religion Division to study one of the fastest growing, yet least understood groups in American religion-Latino Protestants. The four-year grant will support coordinating a team of research fellows from various institutions as they study Latino Protestant congregations across the country.
Formally titled "The Latino Protestant Church in the United States: Liturgy, Mission, and Congregational Practices," Marti's project is co-directed with Mark Mulder, Associate Professor of Sociology at Calvin College. While both Marti and Mulder will supervise the work and conduct extensive social scientific analysis, Marti will guide the overall direction of the research and distribute the funds from the Lilly grant, and Mulder will help manage research fellows and coordinate the processing of data collected during the project. More information can be found on the new LPC Project website.
While there has been much scholarly focus on Latino Catholics, Marti said little is known about modern Latino Protestants. "This project is not intended to define a singular vision of the Latino Protestant church, but rather to explore the variety, complexity, and heterogeneity of what's happening with Latino congregations in the United States," he said.
The 10 research fellows will visit Latino Protestant congregations to observe, interact with, and interview members of the church. The fellows will seek to learn, for instance, who comprises the congregation, what the rituals look like, what kinds of spaces are used for worship, what prominent symbols are displayed, and what important stories are told. The fellows will record their observations and submit them to Marti and Mulder for synthesis in future publications. Fellows will also co-author a range of collaborative works based on the data.
Marti noted that Latinos are among the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States. He said, "Latino Protestants are highly committed to their churches, they are very religiously intense, and they are very aggressive about sharing their faith with other people. As the Latino population grows, we know Latino Protestantism is going to grow as well."
Marti's project also hopes to dispel stereotypes and misinformation surrounding Latino Protestants. "One of the most common comments is that Latino churches are like a ‘fiesta,'" Marti explained. "This term is problematic because ‘fiesta' is a racializing term that makes all Latinos seem like part of a monolithic racial group who are doing things simply because they are pre-determined to do so by their culture."
Marti explained that these stereotypes paint a vivid picture for most Americans, while avoiding the reality of the many varied activities in Latino congregations. "These stereotypes betray a set of assumptions about a group rather than saying something sociologically meaningful," he said.
Marti is a noted expert on racial diversity and religion and has published extensively. His first book, A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church, was published by Indiana University Press in 2005, and his most recent book, Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012.
"As an ethnographer with a focus on religion, I'm interested in what people do and say in particular places," Marti said. "I'm the guy who has an ear to the ground listening to trends, developments, and curiosities that are significant not just for the people in particular congregations, but for things happening in the world that we would otherwise ignore."