Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 9, No 4 (2015)

Re-enchanting Late Modernity: The Role of Nature in Brazilian Umbanda

Emma Francis Stone
Issued Date: 15 Jan 2016


The natural world holds a place of great reverence in Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion. Whether experienced by adherents as plant-based healing or festive celebrations held in the midst of the crashing seashore, the inclusion of the natural world in spiritual practice is visible in diverse aspects of Umbanda, and is significant in the context of late modern life in urban Brazil. Following an ethnographic methodology, I explore two middle-class Umbanda terreiros (centres) located in Botafogo, in Rio de Janeiro and in Cotia, Sao Paulo, in order to illuminate how nature is constructed, perceived, and integrated into Umbanda practice and ritual. I argue that Umbanda provides an appealing means of re-enchanting late modernity in Brazil through interaction with nature and the privileging of embodied practices and rituals, and that this is particularly attractive to the middle and upper socioeconomic classes, in part by rehabilitating their perceptions of the natural environment.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v9i4.20838


Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than- Human World (New York: Pantheon Books).

Albuquerque, Ulysses P. 2014. ‘A Little Bit of Africa in Brazil: Ethnobiology Experiences in the Field of Afro-Brazilian Religions’, Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 10.12: 1-7. Doi:

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1992. Imitations of Postmodernity (London: Routledge).

———. 1993. Postmodern Ethics (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers).

Besecke, Kelly. 2007. ‘Beyond Literalism: Reflexive Spirituality and Religious Meaning’, in N. Ammerman (ed.), Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives (New York: Oxford University Press): 169-85. Doi:

Borges, Michel, and Pai Roberto Mundstein. 2009. ‘O Umbandista e o Compromisso com Meio Ambiente’, Refletindo Sobre Umbanda. Online:

Bramly, Serge. 1994. Macumba: The Teachings of Maria-José, Mother of the Gods (San Francisco: City Lights Books).

Buby, Carlos. 2014a. ‘The Babalorixa’, Templo Guaracy. Online:

———. 2014b. ‘When the Symbols Speak’, Templo Guaracy. Online:

Cohen, Emma. 2007. The Mind Possessed: The Cognition of Spirit Possession in an Afro- Brazilian Religious Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press). Doi:

Cronon, William. 1996. ‘The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature’, Environmental History 1.1: 7-28. Doi:

Cumino, Alexandre. 2010. Historia da Umbanda: Uma Religião Brasileira (Sao Paulo: Madras Editora).
Dalla Costa, Maria. 1996. ‘Capitalism and Reproduction’, Capitalism Nature Socialism 7.4: 111-21. Doi:

DeGroat Brown, Diane. 1994. Umbanda: Religion and Politics in Urban Brazil (New York: Columbia University Press).

Gibson, James William. 2009. A Re-enchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature (New York: Metropolitan Books).

Giner, Salvador, and David Tabara. 1999. ‘Cosmic Piety and Ecological Rationality’, International Sociology 14.1: 59-82. Doi:

Hale, Lindsay. 2004. ‘The House of St Benedict’, in H. Goldschmidt and E. McAlister (eds.), Race, Nation and Religion in the Americas (New York: Oxford University Press): 283-304. Doi:

———. 2009. Hearing the Mermaid’s Song: The Umbanda Religion in Rio de Janeiro (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press).

Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell).

Hedges, Ellie, and James A. Beckford. 2000. ‘Holism, Healing and the New Age’, in S. Sutcliffe and M. Bowman (eds.), Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press): 169-87.

Hedlund de Witt, Annick. 2013. ‘Pathways to Environmental Responsibility: A Qualitative Exploration of the Spiritual Dimension of Nature Experience’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 7.2: 154-86.

Heelas, Paul. 2008. Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing). Doi:

Kellert, Stephen R. 2007. ‘Connecting with Creation: The Convergence of Nature, Religion, Science and Culture’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 1.1: 25-37. Doi:

Lee, Raymond, and Susan Ellen Ackerman. 2002. The Challenge of Religion after Modernity: Beyond Disenchantment (Surrey, UK: Ashgate).

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press).

Matthewman, Steve. 2004. ‘More Than Sand’, in S. Matthewman and C. Bell (eds.), Cultural Studies in Aotearoa, New Zealand: Identity, Space and Place (Auckland: Oxford University Press): 36-53.

McGuire, Meredith. 1990. ‘Religion and the Body: Rematerializing the Human Body in the Social Sciences of Religion’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29.3: 283-96. Doi:

———. 2003. ‘Why Bodies Matter: A Sociological Reflection on Spirituality and Materiality’, Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 3.1: 1-18. Doi:

———. 2007. ‘Embodied Practices’ in N. Ammerman (ed.), Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives (New York: Oxford University Press): 187-200. Doi:

Morais, Marcelo Alonso. 2013. Umbanda e Meio Ambiente: O Culto a Oxossi e as Florestas (Rio de Janeiro: Ideia Juridica).

Naess, Arne. 1989. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Doi:

Owoahene-Acheampong, Stephen. 1998. Inculturation and African Religion: Indigenous and Western Approaches to Medical Practice (New York: Peter Lang).

Pew Forum. 2014. ‘Brazil’s Changing Religious Landscape’. Online:

Pierucci, Antonio, and Reginaldo Prandi. 2000. ‘Religious Diversity in Brazil: Numbers and Perspectives in a Sociological Evaluation’, International Sociology 15.4: 629-39. Doi:

Prandi, Reginaldo. 2004. ‘O Brasil Com Axé: Candomblé E Umbanda No Mercado Religioso’, Estudos Avançados 18.52: 223-38. Doi:

Pressel, Es. 1982. ‘Umbanda in Sao Paulo: Religious Innovation in a Developing Society’, in E. Bourguignon (ed.), Religion, Altered States of Consciousness and Social Change (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press): 264-318.

Sennett, Richard. 1993. The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities (London: Faber & Faber).
Sherry, Patrick. 2009. ‘Disenchantment, Re-Enchantment, and Enchantment’, Modern Theology 25.3: 369-86. Doi:

Taylor, Bron. 2010. Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1974. Topophilia: a Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall).

Voeks, Robert A. 1997. Sacred Leaves of Candomblé: African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil (Austin: University of Texas Press).

Wafer, Jim. 2011. The Taste of Blood: Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomblé (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).

Wuthnow, Robert. 1978. Experimentation in American Religion: The New Mysticisms and Their Implications for the Churches (Berkeley: University of California Press).


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy