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October 2000
336 pages  

6 x 9
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Secret Dialogues
Church-State Relations, Torture, and Social Justice in Authoritarian Brazil
Serbin, Kenneth
Kenneth Serbin uncovers the existence of secret talks between generals and Roman Catholic bishops at the height of Brazil's military dictatorship. It illuminates the complicity of the Catholic Church in the military’s subversive PR campaigns, abductions, and torturings.

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Kenneth P. Serbin is assistant professor of history at the University of San Diego. He received his B.A. in history from Yale (1982) and his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego (1993). He was a fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame (1992) and a research associate of the North-South Center at the University of Miami (1992-1993). His articles have appeared in the Hispanic American Historical Review, Journal of Latin American Studies, Christian Century, National Catholic Reporter, In These Times, and other periodicals.
“Serbin's carefully researched book reveals the importance of informal and secret channels between church and state under the Brazilian military government. Bishop Dom Avelar asked, ‘Where does social justice end and subversion begin?’ Serbin's fascinating account of how the Brazilian church and Brazilian military sought to negotiate the answer to this question in private, in order to prevent a definitive rupture between the government and the church, forces reexamination of the Brazilian military government in the 1960s and 1970s and perhaps even of the nature of moral opposition under authoritarian regimes.”—Brian Loveman, San Diego State University

“This original and well-documented book makes a major contribution to the history of two of Brazil’s most important institutions: the military and the Catholic Church. It also documents for the first time the genesis of Brazil’s crucial, ongoing public debate over human rights. The argument is clear, lucid, and accessible. Anyone interested in the church and/or the military in Latin America will want to read this book.”—Carol Ann Drogus, Hamilton College

Secret Dialogues is a major contribution to our understanding of the complex relations between the Brazilian Armed Forces and the Catholic Church, the two main protagonists in the authoritarian regime between 1964-85. Drawing on previously unavailable archives, supplemented by interviews, Serbin analyzes the efforts by sectors of the elite of both institutions to confront authoritarian excesses and human rights violations, and avoid a rupture in church – state relations. He provides insights into the actions of the individuals and the institutions whereby we can better understand the nature of the authoritarian regime and the subsequent transition to democracy.”—Thomas Bruneau, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.

“Serbin’s painstakingly documented work should be of interest not only to scholars and Brazilophiles but to anyone concerned with human rights and the relationship between religion and politics.” —Dean Peerman, Christian Century, December 6, 2000

Kenneth P. Serbin provides fresh and illuminating insights into the Bipartite drawn from both archives and interviews. —David Martin, The Times Literary Supplement , London, England, April 20, 2001

Serbin has produced a valuable study of Brazil’s Bipartie Commission, a small secret group of progressive Roman Catholic bishops and army generals who ought to reduce church-state conflict during the military regime of 1964-85.—R.M. Levine, University of Miami Choice, July 2001 vol. 38 no. 10

“ ... crticially important work of scholarship ... carefully and painstakingly researched and written ... Serbin writes with grace...lucid and jargon free.”—Michael LaRosa, Luso-Brazilian Review, 38.1 (rec’d 4/25/02)

“One of the merits of Serbin’s book is to have succeeded in retrieving the complexity and ideological ambiguity that marked the time of the Cold War in Brazil and in Latin America, avoiding the common tendency to demonize all those who in any way supported the military regine.” Cecilia L. Mariz, The Americas, April 2002

“Kenneth P. Serbin has written a marvelous book on the little-known but much-suspected dialogue between the Brazilian military regime and the Catholic Church. . . . thoroughly researched in three continents, full of insightful comments, and highly readable. . . . It is a pathbreaking book that sets a new standard for contemporary Brazilian political history.”Eul-Soo Pang, American Historical Review, December 2002

“Sheds important new light on the history of the dictatorship and of the Church. . . The revelations [are] often fascinating.”--Paulo G. Simoes, Red River Valley Historical Journal, Fall 2003

Complete Description Reviews
Pitt Latin American Series
Latin America/History

Secret Dialogues uncovers an unexpected development in modern Latin American history: the existence of secret talks between generals and Roman Catholic bishops at the height of Brazil's military dictatorship. During the brutal term of Emílio Garrastazú Médici, the Catholic Church became famous for its progressivism. However, new archival sources demonstrate that the church also sought to retain its privileges and influence by exploring a potential alliance with the military. From 1970 to 1974 the secret Bipartite Commission worked to resolve church-state conflict and to define the boundary between social activism and subversion. As the bishops increasingly made defense of human rights their top pastoral and political goal, the Bipartite became an important forum of protest against torture and social injustice. Based on more than 60 interviews and primary sources from three continents, Secret Dialogues is a major addition to the historical narrative of the most violent yet, ironically, the least studied period of the Brazilian military regime. Its story is intertwined with the central themes of the era: revolutionary warfare, repression, censorship, the fight for democracy, and the conflict between Catholic notions of social justice and the anticommunist Doctrine of National Security. Secret Dialogues is the first book of its kind on the contemporary Catholic Church in any Latin American country, for most work in this field is devoid of primary documentary research. Serbin questions key assumptions about church-state conflict such as the typical conservative-progressive dichotomy and the notion of church-state rupture during harsh authoritarian periods. Secret Dialogues is written for undergraduate and graduate students, professional scholars, and the general reader interested in Brazil, Latin America, military dictatorship, human rights, and the relationship between religion and politics.


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