Research shows many extreme religious rituals are still practiced in Latin America

Reihaneh Hajibeigi

Religious rituals, such as saint veneration and exorcisms, are still widely practiced in Latin America, despite western tendencies to believe them to be outdated, said UT History Professor Virginia Garrard-Burnett.

Garrard-Burnett discussed her work of researching religious practice in Latin America at a roundtable workshop Monday with fellow UT professors and colleagues.

Hosted by the Institute for Historical Studies, these bi-weekly workshops allow professors and visiting fellows to submit their work to be discussed by a panel composed of professors with a wide range of academia background.

Garrard-Burnett said her research findings include dependencies on the supernatural and demonic aspects of the spiritual world in relation to religious practices.

When discussing her goals for this current publication, Garrard-Burnett said she wants to convey to everybody that these religious rituals are very real and practiced commonly today.

She said she understands that religion can be viewed as a metaphor or taken as a marker for something else, but ultimately there are many religious groups who do what they do simply because they believe wholeheartedly in their practices.

Garrard-Burnett wants to have her work translated into Spanish so that those who she spent time with in Central and Latin America will also be able to read her work.

When asked about any difficulties she encountered while in tribal cities of neighboring countries, Garrard-Burnett said there were people who simply did not want to talk to her or share any insight. Because some of her work concerns the supernatural and demonic spirits, a few of the areas she ventured into simply “freaked her out” as well, she said.

Having a large number of distinguished professors making countless suggestions to her work can be overwhelming, but she believes it is necessary to have thick skin because this is all to help better her work, she said.

Due to their diverse background, comments and questions made by professors directed at Garrard-Burnett allowed her to see how her work will be perceived by people outside of her field of study, said Julie Hardwick, workshop organizer and IHS director.

Hardwick said she praises Garrard-Burnett work, however daunting it may be.

“It’s necessary because it promotes curiosity in all aspects of the academia world and it is a great project because it not only applies to Mexican and Latin American areas, but it links how religion is practiced even here in America,” Hardwick said.

She said a roundtable discussion can be beneficial to a writer still in their developmental stage because it promotes creative and constructive criticism from a variety of sources.

Graduate student Valerie Martinez said while it is clear how these workshops can benefit the writer, she enjoys these workshops because they also provide her with a new way to analyze her own work.

Although Martinez’s work centers more around 20th century U.S. and neighboring Mexico, she believes that even Garrard-Burnett’s work on spiritual ways of Guatemalans can somehow lead to new ways of continuing her own research.