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Recently completed field studies and research from primary sources on Brazil constitute the main interest of this seminar. Brazilian, the U.S. and other visiting scholars participate, contributing their interpretations of recent events. Portuguese may be spoken whenever convenient.

Professor Diana Brown

Professor John F. Collins

Professor Sidney M. Greenfield

Professor Vania Penha-Lopes 

Alex Amaechi Ugwuja

Meeting Schedule

09/08/2022 Zoom
7:00 PM
“Guaraná: The History and Historiography of a Brazilian National Icon.”
Professor Seth Garfield , University of Texas, Austin


Although guaraná soda is an icon of Brazilian national identity—just as Coke is in the United States—we have lacked a full-length academic study in Portuguese or English dedicated to the history of the beverage or the namesake Amazonian plant. The omission is curious, given the extensive historiography on samba, Carnival, soccer, and other hallmarks of Brazilian nationalism that are often touted as indicators of the nation’s so-called racial democracy. This talk examines the epistemological biases and evidentiary challenges that contributed to this lacuna, detailing new methodological approaches that can shed light on the voyage of a pre-Columbian cultivar of the Sateré-Mawé people to the trace ingredient of a multi-billion dollar industry, and suggesting new directions more broadly for Brazilian historiography. As a flash of Indigenous empowerment, a fetish of Brazil’s scientific community and agro-industrial economy, a conjurer of myths of race and nature, and a figuration of modernity in the “land of the future,” guaraná offers multiple arenas for historical and ethnographic investigation.

09/29/2022 Zoom
7:00 PM
The Implications of the October 2, 2022 election for the Future of Brazil | joint session with The Seminar on Latin America
Professor Vânia Penha-Lopes, Bloomfield College


In 2018, Brazil elected Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman and retired army captain. His presidential campaign focused on ridding the country from corruption, curbing leftist educational pedagogy, and promoting public safety, which included making it easier for civilians to arm themselves. He also negated the existence of racism while referring to racial-ethnic minorities in dismissive ways and fostered both a misogynist and a homophobic stance. Throughout his campaign, Bolsonaro made obvious his admiration and emulation of Donald Trump, the U.S. president at the time. Bolsonaro won both rounds of the presidential election, ultimately garnering 55% of the electorate. He won in the 10 wealthiest cities and in overwhelmingly White municipalities, and he also did well among Evangelical voters, with whom his conservative agenda resonated. Overseas, his most impressive win was in the United States, where the majority of the expatriate Brazilians who are eligible to vote reside. During his tenure, charges of corruption were leveled against him and his family, violence indices have gone up, and the economy has regressed to the point where famine is again a most pressing issue, all in the context of the viral pandemic that, like Trump, Bolsonaro all but ignored. In less than a month’s time, Brazil will ready itself for a new presidential election. This time, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president who was imprisoned and prohibited from running in 2018, appears as Bolsonaro’s strongest opponent, according to the latest surveys. Ever Trump’s follower, Bolsonaro has questioned the legitimacy of electronic votes and has more than hinted that he will not accept defeat. This presentation examines the stakes of the imminent Brazilian presidential election: the polarization between Bolsonaro and Lula constituents despite the presence of other candidates; the impact of presidential debates; the role of race, class, and religion; the increase in political violence; and the threat to democracy in Brazil.

10/03/2022 Zoom
7:00 PM
From Bolsonarism to pandemic alt-sciences: a digital anthropology approach to anti-structural publics in Brazil (Joint meeting with 531)
Letícia Cesarino, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina

11/17/2022 Zoom
6:30 PM
"Remembering the Coup, Celebrating the Revolution: Securitization of Memory and Mnemonic Disputes in Brazil."
Erica Simone Resende, University of Copenhagen


Led by the Armed Forces, the 1964 coup in Brazil inaugurated a dark time in Brazil, with suspension of political rights, censorship, and human rights violations in the interest of national security in the context of the Cold War. Although the 2011 National Truth Commission was able to produce a report on the human rights violations, it seems many Brazilians prefer to forget the “years of lead.” On one hand, the military regime remains a scar in Brazil’s history, with many victims being formally recognized by the National Truth Commission final reports. On the other hand, the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro, a retired Army Captain who had previously called the military regime a “glorious period” in which Brazil had enjoyed “20 years of order and progress,” has produced a cabinet mostly occupied by retired military officers who do not feel that they should be apologetic towards the 1964 coup. The aim of this presentation is to highlight the dynamics of an on-going mnemonic war over the very meaning of 1964 as a historical event of political rupture in Brazil, which points to the securitization of memory in Bolsonaro’s regime.

12/07/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
7:00 PM
the Vale de Amanhacer (joint meeting with the Seminar on Studies of Religion and the Seminar on Contents and Methods in the Social Sciences)
Emily Perini , Independent Scholar


This seminar addresses ‘trance-formative therapeutic experiences’, namely, how mediumistic trance is learned for therapeutic purposes fostering a transformation. It calls for an attention to the process of learning spirit mediumship, comparing experiences across the Atlantic between Brazil, the US, and Europe, and also across the spiritual and biomedical domains. It refers in particular to the transnational spread of the Brazilian Christian Spiritualism of the Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn) and the development of what mediums describe as ‘mediumistic trance’. The mediums’ narratives of their therapeutic itineraries highlight two levels of movement: one between different therapeutic domains; and the other one unfolds through the phenomenology of mediumistic trance, and is sensorial, imaginal, and affective. The experiences of those who undergo mediumistic training show how besides spreading in Europe through transnational religions these practices are also to be understood as embedded in a growing network of therapeutic practices. This demands to overcome some conceptualizations of spirit mediumship and possession as being individual psychic phenomena or marginal practices belonging to some distant otherness. Instead, this seminar proposes to tackle them along with contemporary therapeutic practices operating besides the biomedical field, and so in relation to both spiritual and therapeutic networks.

12/15/2022 Zoom
7:00 PM
An Update on the Government of Brazil – After 2023
Márcio Fortes, Brazilian politician, Former Brazilian Congressman


The presentation will explore the configuration of the new Brazilian congress and the relationship between it and the executive branch. The new state governors will be examined, their administrations and their relationship to the new executive branch and its powers. Finally, a perspective for the nation for 2026 will be explored.

01/26/2023 Zoom
7:00 PM
Why Northeast Brazil Rejected Bolsonaro in 2022
Aaron Ansell, Virginia Technical University


Many political analysts believe that northeast Brazilians' support for PT candidates (at the state and federal levels) largely results from their gratitude for the PT's monthly cash-grant, Bolsa Família. Indeed, some see this as evidence that northeasterners remain mired in "political clientelism," i.e., a propensity to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Why then did northeastern voters not transfer their support in 2022 to President Jair Bolsonaro (and his "New Right") after he increased their monthly federal stipend while replacing Bolsa Família with Auxílio Brasil? This question is further motivated by the alignment between the New Right's "cultural" conservatism and the traditional moral sensibilities of many northeasterners, especially in matters of sexual politics. In this talk, I try to explain northeasterners' electoral fidelity to the PT by uncovering the inner ethics of northeastern political culture. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in rural Piauí State (on and off since 2003), I explain the northeastern preference for the PT over Bolsonaro by illuminating certain agrarian values, such as presença (presence), força (vitality), and carinho (loving care), and then deriving from those values the folk model of political corruption that northeasters applied to national political figures. In this way, I explain northeasterners' differential regard for PT and New Right politics.