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Religion in Belize

The following is an excerpt from the Country Studies issued by the U.S. Library of Congress in 1992. The text is in the public domain.

Observers frequently note that Belizeans are a particularly religious people, with almost all the population declaring a specific religious preference in 1980. Indeed, religious institutions were a ubiquitous presence in Belize, especially in the school system, which the Roman Catholic Church and the state managed together. Belize was no longer the intense battleground between competing missionary denominations that it had been in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, numerous foreign missionaries, mostly evangelical Protestants from the United States, worked in the country in the 1980s.

Of the country's nine major religious groups, the Roman Catholics were the largest, with more than three in five Belizeans claiming to be followers. Anglicans and Methodists comprised the two largest Protestant denominations, although they were steadily losing ground to fundamentalist and evangelical sects, such as the Pentecostalists and Seventh-Day Adventists.

Religion was strongly--but not exclusively--associated with ethnicity and region. Catholicism unified most Mestizos, Maya, and Garifuna. Most Creoles were either Anglican or Methodist, but a significant number converted to Roman Catholicism, mainly because of proselytization in Roman Catholic schools. Roman Catholics made up at least 70 percent of the population of all districts, but in Belize City and environs, they made up only 43 percent of the population. In the last two decades, however, evangelical Protestant groups have been particularly successful in making inroads among Creoles, Mestizos, and Maya in Corozal, Orange Walk, and Cayo districts.

A wide range of smaller denominations also flourished in Belize. These groups included Mormons, fundamentalist Protestants, Hindus, and Bahais. Among the Creoles and the Garifuna, there were also small, but socially significant, Black Muslim and Rastafarian communities.

Official census categories, however, oversimplified religious identity in Belize. Some syncretic beliefs and practices could not be easily categorized. Many Garifuna, for example, while nominally Catholic, continued to uphold their traditional beliefs and practices, such as the dugu ritual, through which they honored their ancestors and perpetuated their distinctive cultural identity. The Catholicism of many Maya was similarly inflected with aspects of their own cultural traditions. Among Creoles, the belief in obeah, or witchcraft, endured, particularly among the older generations of the urban and rural poor.

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