Journal Article

“A Gift from God”: Adolescent Motherhood and Religion in Brazilian Favelas

Liza G. Steele

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 72, issue 1, pages 4-27
Published in print January 2011 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online November 2010 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
“A Gift from God”: Adolescent Motherhood and Religion in Brazilian Favelas

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This study seeks to understand how young, unmarried mothers and mothers-to-be in the favelas (shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have experienced religious morality as applied to themselves and other adolescents in their communities, as well as how religious leaders grapple with the moral issue of unmarried adolescent maternity in their midst. Drawing on more than 50 interviews conducted in Rio with young mothers, Catholic and evangelical religious leaders who work with the poor, and staff members of non-governmental organizations, this paper seeks to understand the acceptance—or even approval—that unmarried pregnant teens and adolescent mothers usually encounter, which casts doubt on whether the issue is actually posing a moral dilemma for these religious institutions. The realities of everyday life in Rio's favelas, most prominently the ever-present specter of violence, high rates of teen motherhood, strong popular opposition to abortion, the high value accorded to motherhood, and the intense competition of the religious marketplace appear to influence the ways in which favela residents and religious leaders understand and interpret morality. More generally, this study offers an example of how religious groups working in impoverished communities throughout the world might adapt traditional moral codes to suit their circumstances.

Keywords: adolescents/youth; Brazil; Pentecostalism; sexual behavior; morality; ethnography

Journal Article.  10451 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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