Religion, Politics, and Rationality in a Philippine Community – Raul Pertierra

Religion, Politics, and Rationality in a Philippine Community is a study of the relationship between material interest and ideological practises.  Based on extensive fieldwork in a municipality of northern Luzon, the book explores the structural and cultural bases of religious belief and practise.  Tracing the historical pattern of the local response initially to catholic conversion, later to American Protestantism and more recently to indigenous forms of Christianity.  Dr. Pertierra argues that the complex response to conversion can be understood in terms of material-political interests in association with the attempts to retain meaningful cultural forms.  Drawing from the classical tradition established by Marx, Durkheim , and Weber, but extending their sociological insights by incorporating more recent theory as well as modern anthropological techniques, this study questions the prevailing views of religious practise in Philippine society and challenges the theories of rationalisation found in Development and Modernisation theory.

Hiding (and wilting) from the 41 degree heat outside, I chose to read this. Had I not had an understandable interest in Philippine history and culture, I would still have selected this, for the pure joy of learning about a new country and culture.  Although it’s important to remember that this book deals with data and research from the 1975-6; the value of understanding the present, far outweighs the changes in both community, and perhaps in the theory as well.

Using a fictitious name to protect the identity of the province and the privacy of individuals, the book starts off with a look at previous studies of Filipino communities, the results, and the flaws.  In and of itself, I found this short tour of the subject to be both highly interesting and extremely intricate.

The focus of this study is to track religion (and its evolution, if I may use the word in such a context) to the wider social structure within which it exists. The reader is soon introduced to the balance of both spiritual (institutionalised and indigenous) and secular behaviours on the social climate of the community. Combined with an exploration of the economy, and family roles and ties, it soon starts to resemble an extremely complex puzzle to the outsider.

The book does a great job of explaining the various subjects, keeping everything simple.  It’s well chronicled and well written, insights from other studies are put forward in support or opposition to the points Dr. Pertierra asserts.  The book focuses on (in order):

  • history and geography
  • the economy, division of labour, and the system of stratification
  • political and religious mobilisation and factionalism
  • kinship and social order
  • rituals and social structure
  • indigenous beliefs, morals values, and behavioural models
  • material interests and religious ideology

The divergences of Christianity between its various denominations is also amalgamated with indigenous beliefs and rites which have created a distinct set of practises.  Birth and death rituals are associated with spirits for example, these rites seek to integrate or reorganise the community.  The locals pick the parts of religion that fit in with their pre-Catholic traditions, these are tolerated or ignored by the Protestant (which arrived later with the Americans) and Catholic institutions despite their use in tandem.  This is part of the ages old compromise that eases a religion onto a new set of believers.

The religious is balanced by the secular, and politics is separate entirely, despite the affiliations of religion being recognised amongst party members.  The quirky geographical tug of war between the two Barrios of Luna and Bato for control of the administrative centre of the municipality is entertaining and shows how the secular ideas can divide despite the affiliations of faith.

Class roles, mainly focused on material possessions is also an issue looked at, further adding to how someone is seen within the community. A cash economy with fluctuating market forces is both as advantageous as it is problematic. The unpredictable outside forces (weather, prices) mean that there is more struggle in the modern era which is being forced more and more upon the farmers of rice and tobacco.  There are prominent roles for women in terms of money lending, controlling budgets and the domestic front where as the men go in for politics, although villages elders of both sexes do get a big say in local matters.

I will mention one more interesting find before I wrap this up.  When talking about family ties, people are less likely to remember the names of their dead grandparents than they are to know the names of their third cousins. Looking horizontally helps with political affiliations and networking whereas remembering your vertical family tree is seen as less advantageous with inherent rights or privileges less of a factor in everyday life.  The former becomes more important as intermarriage between barrios adds even more ties for networking and alignment.

Elements of all of the above work together in most aspects of life and the socio-political structure whilst confusing to outsiders is impressive in its diversity and multiple dialects. This is just one small area of one province rich in complexity. It bodes well for investigations into different areas of this country. A very thorough and interesting work.

12 Replies to “Religion, Politics, and Rationality in a Philippine Community – Raul Pertierra”

  1. Hi, Ste J! Actually, I don’t think that the factors in the study you mention are harmed or made less important by being dated back to the mid-seventies, as you yourself are living there in the present, and can, one hopes, fill in what has since happened with the reading of other books, with your travel, and with all the things you are learning from daily life experience. This sounds, though, as if it was a formative and basic introduction to various social currents that will prove to continue to be valuable to you. Did someone recommend it to you, or did you find it on one of your many forays into bookstores?


    1. I found this in a nice little bookstore in Intramuros, with a lot of other books that will aid my learning when I have cash to spare. I did search for the book online a few months ago to see how much it would have cost online and one site quoted $40, I paid 300 Pesos, which is a touch under six dollars today. Bargain. My experiences are more in urban areas so some aspects I can take in at my leisure whereas others would benefit from me wandering into the countryside which is always a pleasure. No doubt half of the stuff I am taking in subconsciously. I appreciate the grounding of the book, it encourages me to read more such books (well books in general). This is the belated first of a few Filipino books that I have read in the last few months. I am also hoping that I can uses Crissy’s Alumni privileges to gain access to one of the best universities’ library to be able to study some more technical works.


    1. Thank you! It has been hot this week, meaning that I have to be focused in the mornings a lot more, so getting up at 5:30am so I can be writing before half six. I am excited to see what other books I can get my hands on next, the world is a fascinating places, the more so, the deeper we explore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is fascinating how that ‘pick and mix’ approach has coloured the rise of christianity. Borges & Casares quote a great story in ‘Extraordinary Tales’ of the Saxon king Redwald: ‘in the same temple he had an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another small one to offer victims to devils’. In the latter case, meaning the pagan gods, of course.


    1. Borges, now their is a magnificent crafter of tales! It makes sense to ease tensions with the locals by allowing their own motifs in, it makes one wonder what the original iconography would have been like, although no doubt it is richer for the mixing of cultures.


  3. Yes, pick and mix covers all the bases, doesn’t it? I was surprised to hear about horizontal family ties, but then it makes sense. Glad to hear you’re staying cool with a good book!


    1. Thank goodness for air con, otherwise it would be terribly uncomfortable. Good books are always a must wherever I am and the vast wealth of knowledge that I am yet to experience and read about is really exciting to ponder upon.

      Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.