Edgar Zavala Pelayo is a Research Professor at the Centro de Estudios Sociológicos of El Colegio de México. He is the author of Sociologies and the Discursive Power of Religions.
In the 1850s, and amid disputes and armed conflicts between liberal and conservative political groups, the Mexican Parliament gradually approved a series of legislative reforms that would end a considerable part of the legal and economic prerogatives of the Catholic Church in this country. While these measures arguably did little to affect the religious life of majorities outside the legislative precincts, they would lay the foundations for what has since been called the “secular state” in Mexico. Reinforced by the anti-clericalism of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary movements in the first decades of the 20th century, the “secularism of the State” in Mexico has prevailed as an articulating axis not only in government speeches but also in the speeches of most of the social forces and political, educational and cultural institutions of a progressive, liberal and/or modernising nature. Although reforms were approved in 1992 to grant certain concessions to all registered religious associations in the country, such as the right of religious agents to vote in elections and the right of religious agents to be voted under certain conditions, anti-clerical secularism in Mexico remains a central discursive referent. The different semantics and modalities of application of this secularism are frequently debated by experts, but its ultimate desirability and place among the founding principles of modern Mexican society and state are little questioned.
The political scene in recent years in Mexico seems not to confirm, or only partially confirm, the prevalence of a “secular state”. This can be said for at least two reasons. First, the Catholic Church in Mexico, despite the legal restrictions alluded to in the previous paragraph and the pattern of loss of adherents that can be observed at the transnational level, continues to be, as in several Latin American countries, a macro institution with an extensive network of welfare organisations, educational institutes, health centres, charitable foundations and various associations of a religious-civil nature, including pay television channels. This whole network of sub-agencies allows this macro-institution to maintain not only a material presence in the public space, but also a discursive presence, through which the various Catholic ideologies and imaginaries, both official and popular, remain active in the repertoire of public discourses that go across the different sectors of the Mexican population. Given this material and discursive presence in the public space, it can be said that these religious ideologies and imaginaries still exert influences, of varying types and degrees, on certain sectors of the public opinion and also, on occasions, on the very political dimension of the country. For example, at the time of writing these lines, most of the newspapers and magazines of national circulation have echoed the opinions that a Catholic bishop from the centre of the country issued on corruption in Mexican politics and his attempt to run for a local parliamentary seat.
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