A state of ambivalence

NOV Religion and State Formation in Postrevolutionary MexicoReligion and State Formation in Postrevolutionary Mexico
Ben Fallaw
2013, Duke University Press
329 pages, paperback

THE dominant view of post-revolutionary nation-building in Mexico is of a nascent state deploying cohorts of young, secular teachers under the command of the new education ministry to disseminate the main elements of a national identity constructed purposefully around the central theme of indigenismo. We have a vision of orderly cadres of maestros flooding into the countryside to lay the foundations of a new national ideology that would help to drag the Mexican population into an optimstic modernity. Although this process started in the 1920s and survived the bloody conflicts with Catholics, the underlying message is that by the time of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40) the religious question had been resolved in the country and a new institutional outlook was helping to dismantle the Church’s grip on the minds of the people. But as Ben Fallaw shows, the story is far more complex and nuanced, and Catholics throughout the country responded to culturally sensitive revolutionary programmes in highly diverse ways. Fallaw shows that the notion of a widespread popular consensus that enabled the post-revolutionary state to consolidate a dominant position are not convincing. More realistically, as Fallaw demonstrates, the peace that would eventually reign reflected myriad local compromises and negotiations, and the Church both lost and gained influence in certain areas reflecting an ambivalence and unevenness in its position vis-à-vis the Mexican state and large parts of the population. Fallaw shows that Cárdenas was more than willing to compromise, and that many of the doctrinal shifts in the position of Catholics that have been attributed to the changes occuring in the country’s political landscape at that time were in fact deeper, more longstanding adjustments among Catholics to growing US socioal and cultural influences and consumerism. This is a valuable and detailed study of the religious question in Mexico following its anticlerical revolution that makes an important contribution to our understanding of the limits of post-revolutionary statebuilding.