Celia Gonçalves Souza

Ashoka Fellow
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Fellow Since 2004


This profile was prepared when Celia Gonçalves Souza was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
For many Brazilians, the spread of Protestantism and the fate of African religions is a religious issue. At national and international congresses and events on religion, Celia shifts discussions away from arguments about the correctness of the opposing religious doctrines, instead focusing on how the suppression of alternative faiths violates fundamental human rights. She is establishing an equal place for African-based religions at local and global policy forums to combat their unequal treatment and to counter the rising political influence of evangelicals in Brazil.
Adherents to these African religions conduct services in holy spaces called terreios. Most terreios are not officially registered with the government as religious sites, making it easy for Brazilians to ignore the existence of African religions and accept their marginalization. Unregistered terreios are also ineligible for government benefits. Celia brings terreiros out of the closet by getting them officially registered, thus making them both visible and able to access public services.
Celia also is harnessing the power of the black vote in Brazil, by raising voters’ consciousness and by making black candidates aware of and accountable to the concerns of their constituents, especially with regard to religious pluralism. By doing so, she is securing a seat at the government table when public policy and funding issues relevant to practitioners of African-based religions—and the general black Brazilian population—arise. Celia sees organizing and unifying Afro-Brazilian religious communities and seeking political changes to ensure equal treatment as a vital step in confronting economic and social racism in Brazil.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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