João Biehl

Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Summer Scholar


The Valley of Lamentation: Cultural War and Transcendence in Postcolonial Brazil

João BiehlJoão Biehl2014 Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Summer Scholar. Photograph courtesy of João Biehl.João Biehl2014 Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Summer Scholar. Photograph courtesy of João Biehl.

This project is a historical ethnography of the Mucker War, a religious and fratricidal conflict that took place among German immigrants in southern Brazil circa 1870. Dr. Biehl explores how European notions of belief, rationality, and progress migrated to and became culturally ingrained in this periphery, and how political order and social life there were remade through war. The book is based on original archival research in Brazil and in Germany (in state, police, church, medical, press, and family archives). Through these materials, Dr. Biehl chronicles how a transplanted Germanist bourgeoisie used science, media, and institutionalized religion to stigmatize and eventually eradicate a charismatic religious movement popular among fellow immigrants. He argues that the purging of the Mucker (a designation for very religious and hypocritical people) by the national army was part of a modern experiment of governance and that the particulars of this war can help elucidate how, historically, transcendental values were banished from political life in Western frontier zones. Interviews with local historians and with elderly people who recollect the war’s aftermath illuminate the story of the Muckers as an enduring secular myth to be reckoned with.

Affiliation at time of award:
Susan Dod Brown Professor, Department of Anthropology, Princeton University

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