Devotion and modernity: Sociologists’ take on the Feast of the Black Nazarene

Devotion and modernity: Sociologists’ take on the Feast of the Black Nazarene

The Feast of the Black Nazarene, celebrated every January, gathers millions of devotees in Manila and various other cities around the Philippines.  Two of our sociologists of religion, Dr Manuel Sapitula and Dr Jayeel Cornelio, served as resource persons for the media to explain the phenomenon.  Dr Cornelio was interviewed by Lexi Schulze on Mornings@ANC, Winnie Cordero and Ariel Ureta on DZMM’s Todo-todo Walang Preno, and Amelyn Veloso on CNN Philippines’ New Day.  Dr Sapitula was featured on Talkback with Tina Monzon-Palma and Magandang Morning with Julius Babao and Zen Hernandez.

Both Dr Cornelio and Dr Sapitula argued that such devotions must not be readily dismissed as fanaticism or irrational behavior.  Dr Cornelio, for example, framed his assessment of the enduring appeal of the Black Nazarene in terms of intergenerational transmission of piety.  If religion were a chain of memory, the Black Nazarene’s growth is partly dependent on how miracles are experienced across generations.  This means that devotion is not only passed from one generation to another (i.e. parents to their children).  Miracles are sought for relatives as well.  That petitions are answered secures the intergenerational commitment to the Black Nazarene.  Meanwhile, Dr Sapitula emphasizes the voluntary dimension of popular religious practices like the Black Nazarene devotion. Since devotions are not, by their nature, obligatory, individuals who enter into a devotional relationship with a divine figure (Christ, Mary or a particular saint) do so in addition to their usual religious obligations. Also, the devotee’s religious practice does not connote passive acceptance of one’s fate, but is done within a panoply of tactics and strategies to achieve their aspirations for a good life (magandang buhay). Although the Black Nazarene devotees’ motivations do not always align with the religious organization’s stated goals, popular religious practices cannot be dismissed as irrelevant because they are powerful tools for individual and collective action.

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