Magazine Feature / People

Fulbright scholar to study religion in Uruguay

When it comes to religion in Latin America, most assume the predominance of the Catholic Church. Todd Martinez (BA ’07) doesn’t make such assumptions. Beginning next spring, the Fulbright Program will support Martinez by sending him to Uruguay to study what is arguably the most secular state in the hemisphere.

Martinez explains that although conservative Catholic traditions have dominated most Latin American countries — until recently the president of Argentina had to be Catholic, and divorce was illegal in Chile — Uruguay has taken pride in its lack of a national religion. Rather than Christmas, Uruguayans celebrate “Day of the Family,” and the Christian holy week leading up to Easter is “Tourism Week” in Uruguay, he points out.

Latin America held Martinez’ interests throughout his time as an undergrad. He traveled to Chile in fall 2004 as a Cherrington Global Scholar and returned in 2006 for an internship with the U.S. Embassy in Santiago.

For his undergraduate Honors thesis in international studies he compared religious life in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, which sparked his current research interests.

Martinez will go to the Uruguayan capital Montevideo to take classes, conduct research and collaborate with faculty beginning in March 2008, when the South American academic year starts. His primary interest is in talking to religious leaders, human rights organizations and politicians to understand the importance of religion in politics.

Uruguay’s history of bucking the religious trend in Latin America dates back to colonialism, says Zulema Lopez, a lecturer in DU’s Department of Languages and Literatures and one of Martinez’ former teachers. She explains that the Catholic Church never got a strong foothold in the country.

As Latin America experiences an influx of Protestant influence, Lopez says Martinez’ research will shed light on the region’s religious climate.

Philosophy Associate Professor Roscoe Hill considers Martinez particularly adept for undertaking this project. Having taught Martinez in several courses, Hill says, “He was like a sponge, soaking up information and difficult concepts, but not for the tawdry purpose of spitting them back in exams. He used that information and those concepts in papers, conversation and life.”

The Fulbright Program started in 1946 and offers U.S. students fellowships for research and teaching assistantships abroad. Martinez was one of three DU students awarded the Fulbright this year. Derek Holmgren, a graduating senior, and Laura Johnson, a graduate English student, also received Fulbrights.


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