• Natalia Valdivieso Kastner

Student thesis: Phd


The Ecuadorian state commended the first cohort of Spanish Capuchin friars to arrive in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon in 1953 with the task of creating populated areas and spaces for governance. The Capuchin Mission turned into the main provider of health and education services, exercising state-like functions within a geographically and socially marginalised region mostly inhabited by indigenous populations. The tensions that arose between state-drive projects and indigenous populations during the oil boom in the 1970s and 1980s, concomitantly with the reforms that ensued in the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the influence of Liberation Theology, oriented the missionaries’ evangelising endeavour towards the advocacy of indigenous rights. This stance of ‘announcing the gospel’ and ‘denouncing injustice’ has been sustained by missionaries throughout the years in the face of the expansion of the oil frontier. Based on fieldwork conducted from August 2019 to September 2020, and by paying ethnographic attention to the mediatory stances of a group of Catholic consecrated ministers – members of the Indigenous Pastoral Service in the Apostolic Vicariate of Aguarico – this thesis investigates the imbrications of religion, politics, and ecology in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. This research examines how Christian evangelising endeavours intersect with cultural and ecological logics, state rationalities, citizenship and nationhood regimes, and the global market for natural resources. The ethnographic accounts presented in this dissertation suggest that the missionaries are middle-ground subjects, whose role in the division of spiritual labour as transmitters of grace is simultaneously intertwined with universal Christianity and the historical and conjectural configurations of their missionary fields. My ethnography situates these Catholic ministers in distinctive ontological, epistemological, and institutional regimes as bearers and transmitters of grace, but also as political subjects who have exerted a primordial role in the configuration of the social and political landscapes of the local assemblage. By paying attention to the impingement of theological rationalities on political subjectivities and the infusion of theological instantiations with political agency, through the lens of theopolitics, my analysis offers a non-secular approach to capture what ‘doing God’s work’ looks like in a marginalised, ecologically vulnerable, and highly politicised milieux. This study takes place in a particular time of transition for the Catholic Church. Under Pope Francis’ papacy, the institution has deployed visible efforts to appear as a plausible and authoritative agent amid contentious debates on environmental degradation. Through the concept of ecotheopolitics, this research contributes to an anthropological examination of religious understandings of nature and faith-based environmental activism.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Wade (Supervisor) & Penelope Harvey (Supervisor)


  • Amazon
  • religion and politics
  • Latin America
  • theopolitics
  • missionisation

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