Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


First Advisor

Martin Woessner

Second Advisor

Susanna Rosenbaum


Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Guatemalan Civil War, Mayan genocide, Jesus Movement, hippie, Jerry Falwell, Francis Schaeffer, Ríos Montt, Ronald Reagan


The devastating earthquake that hit Guatemala in 1976 was used as a pretext for American born Protestant evangelicalism—mainly Pentecostalism—to gain entry in the Guatemalan society. A major consequence of the earthquake relief efforts by American evangelicals, is that their meddling also intensified the Mayan genocide during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-96). This thesis explores the complicit relationship of religion and politics in the Guatemalan Civil War, focusing on the evangelical dictator Efraín Ríos Montt’s regime (1982-83). Firstly, it examines how Christian evangelicalism played a pivotal role for conservative Republican candidate Ronald Reagan and, later through his administration, for Ríos Montt’s dictatorship. It traces the origins of this relationship back to the American culture wars of the Cold War era, with close attention to televangelists and the counterculture youths involved with the Jesus Movement. Secondly, this thesis examines how American evangelicalism successfully entered and transformed the Guatemalan social life after the 1976 earthquake. This thesis argues how evangelicalism became a political-theological ideology for Ríos Montt and was used by him to justify an increase in violence against Mayan peoples. With an analysis of Ríos Montt’s evangelical broadcasts to the nation, is presented in order to follow the logic of his justification for the “Mayan Holocaust.”



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