The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Brazil has become an important force as Catholicism loses ground. Its manifestations are instantly recognizable through the faces of celebrity priests who gather thousands for concert-like masses. However, such events are only one manifestation of the entanglement of a flexible way to experience faith, the use of mass media, and an emphasis on the body. And one crucial notion can help us understand the appeal of this type of movement: breathing.

A respiratory programme, a so-called “aerobics of Jesus” animates the Charismatic Gymnasiums. But what does it reveal about the Charismatic’s strength?

In this special episode of Diálogos Mecila, Ajay Gandhi (Leiden University, Mecila Senior Fellow 2021) talks to Brazilian anthropologist Maria José de Abreu (Columbia University) about her new book The Charismatic Gymnasium: Breath, Media, and Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Brazil (Duke University Press, 2021).

De Abreu brings forward a deep interpretation of the ascension of Charismatic Catholicism in Brazil, observing the role of mass media and the development of a theology of breathing as its driving force.

What can breathing tell us about the attractiveness of Charismatic practices and discourses? What strategies were used to mobilize this theological conception against the rigidity of more traditional forms of Catholicism? And what are the affinities between this pneuma-ideology and the logic of neoliberalism?


01:42 – The arrival of the Charismatic movement in Brazil and its rootening

19:15 – The idea of pneuma and its importance to the charismatics

34:30 – The politics of respiration: breath, power and neoliberalism



Maria José de Abreu is an Assistant Professor of anthropology at Columbia University. Her work engages with a range of anthropological, philosophical, and literary debates about religion, temporality, movement, personhood, the human senses and their technological extensions. She is the author of The Charismatic Gymnasium: Breath, Media and Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Brazil (Duke University Press, 2021).

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Ajay Gandhi is an Assistant Professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a Senior Fellow at Mecila in 2021. His interests are in urban, political, and economic anthropology, with a focus on South Asia. He has published on transactional and material forms, postcolonial jurisdiction, human-animal relations, urban friction, and social aesthetics and concepts.


Sound mixing and editing by Gil Fuser |

Cover Image: Theotokos Sanctuary – Mãe de Deus, São Paulo (Photo: Marcelo Scandaroli/ Kurkdiijan Fruchtengarten Engenheiros Associados under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)