Maria José de Abreu

Maria José de Abreu

Research Interests

Research Concentrations

Religion and Political Theory, Media and Technology, Materiality, Governance, Personhood


Brazil, Portugal



My work engages with a range of anthropological, philosophical, and literary debates about religion, temporality, movement, personhood, the human senses and their technological extensions.

My book, The Charismatic Gymnasium: breath, media and religious revivalism in contemporary Brazil (Duke University Press, 2021), examines how Charismatic Catholicism in contemporary Brazil produces a new form of total power through a concatenation between the breathing body, theology and electronic mass media. The book documents a vast religious respiratory program of revival whose goal is to labor on the athletic elasticity of spirit. Tracing the rhetoric, gestures and spaces that together constitute this new theological community, I expose the articulating forces between evangelical Christianity, neoliberal logics and the rise of right-wing politics. By calling attention to how an ethics of pauperism vitally intersects with the neoliberal ethos of flexibility, the book shows how paradoxes do not hinder but expand the Charismatic Gymnasium. The result is the production of a fluid form of totalitarianism and Christianity in Brazil and beyond. 

A second project in progress is dedicated to thinking the concept of household-the oikos-in southern Europe's socio-political horizon. Focusing on Portugal during and after the 2008 financial crisis, this project aims to document forms of relation that shape and reconfigure what we could call an oikopolitics of the present. Moving tranversely across distinctions such as the private and the public, family and nation, inheritance and meritocracy, the colonial and the postcolonial, I theorise ethnographically informed spaces of tension in ways that make decision—though not governance—difficult or impossible.

A parallel project is dedicated to thinking the articulation between the history of women and coloniality during the Estado Novo authoritarianism in Portugal. I am interested in how a problematic engenderment of the land as “colonizable” created the possibility for a particular kind of fictional writing in the 1970’s. Through a close engagement with The New Portuguese Letters (1971), the project uses its literary universes as windows into the histories of colonial occupation and domestication of the Cape Vert Islands with its specific geo-topographic features and as key site of the Atlantic slave trade.

De Abreu’s ethnographic work has been supported by Fundação para Ciência e a Tecnologia, Lisbon, University of Amsterdam, Forum for Transregional Studies, Berlin, ICI-Berlin, and Rework: Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History, at Humboldt University in Berlin.



University of Amsterdam, PhD in Anthropology, 2009

2021. The Charismatic Gymnasium: Breath, Media and Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press.

2021The Anti-giraffe in Qui Parle. Vol 30(1). June Issue.

2021 Rabble Rousers without Exception. Cultural Anthropology Hotspots: American Fascism.

2021 On Twisted Logics and the Pandemic. Material Religion Network.

2020a). Staging Acts: Tautology and Theo-political Form in Social Analysis. The International Journal of Anthropology. Vol 64(4): 42-59.

2020b) State of Extremes. Political Theology Network.

2019a Above All, Before Anything: No Decision. Immanent Frame.

2019b. “Medium Theory; Or the War of the Words at Regular Intervals.” Current Anthropology 60, no. 5. Pp 650-673.

2018. “May Day Supermarket: Crisis, Impasse, Medium.” Critical Inquiry 44, no. 4: Pp 745–765.

2017. Coauthor with Charles Hirschkind and Carlo Caduff. “New Media, New Publics?” Introduction to supplement, Current Anthropology 58, no. 15: 3–12.

2015 a). "Still Passing: Crisis, Youth and the Political Economy of Fog in Limbo." Special issue, Scapegoat: Landscape, Architecture, Political Economy 8: 60–70. 

2015b. “Worldings: the Aesthetics of Authority Among Catholic Charismatics in Brazil. Journal of Culture and Religion 16, no. 2: 175–192.

2013a “Pessoalidade ou a Terra do Não Lugar da Performance.” In Terra do Não Lugar: Diálogos entre Antropologia e a Performance. Florianópolis: Universidade Federal Santa Catarina.

2013b. “Technological Indeterminacy: Threat, Medium, Temporality.” Anthropological Theory 13 (3:) 267–284.

2012a. “The Fedex Saints: Patrons of Mobility and Speed in the Neoliberal City.” In Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality. New York: Fordham University Press.

2012b. “TV-St. Claire.” In Deus in Machina: Exploring Religion, Technology and the Things in Between. New York: Fordham University Press.

2011. “Personhood in Frequencies.” Frequencies: A Collaborative Genealogy of Spirituality 

2008. “Goose Bumps All Over: Breath, Media, Tremor.” Special issue, Social Text 26, no. 3: 59–78.

2005. Breathing into the Heart of the Matter. Journal Postscripts: Sacred Texts. 1 (2/3) 277-300

2002. “On Charisma, Mediation and Broken Screens.” Etnofoor xv, no. 1/2: 240–258.

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