Morality as Practice

The Santo Daime, an Eco-Religious
Movement in the Amazonian Rainforest

Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology, No. 41

By Titti Kristina Schmidt
November 2007
Uppsala University Press                                                                          
Distributed by Coronet Books Inc.
ISBN: 9789155469399                                                                  
282 pages, 6 1/4 x 8 3/4"
$62.50 Paper Original


This study deals with Santo Daime, a religious and environmental movement in the Brazilian Amazon. It is based on 15 months of anthropological fieldwork in the foundational centre of the Santo Daime movement, Céu do Mapiá, Heaven of Mapiá, located deep inside the Brazilian State of Amazonas. In Céu do Mapiá most followers of the movement are Brazilian peasants and workers collectively known as caboclos.

Progressively the movement has also attracted urban middle-class followers, both Brazilians and foreigners. The main reason for people coming to Céu do Mapiá to join the movement is the daime, a psychoactive brew (generally known as ayahuasca) used by the members during their rituals. The members claim that the daime is able to cure various kinds of diseases, including fatal diseases like AIDS and cancer.

They also claim that it enhances the members’ desire to protect nature. During the last twenty years, the movement has been expanding significantly and new Santo Daime centres have been set up in Latin America as well as in Europe, the United States and Japan. A concomitant of this process of globalisation is a steadily intensifying focus on environmental issues.

The establishment of a National Park around Céu do Mapiá has facilitated the active engagement by the members in a variety of ecological projects. Besides describing and analysing the growth of the Santo Daime movement in accordance to theories concerned with the growth of new social and religious movements in Latin America, the movement is also described and analysed in terms of moral practice.

For members of the movement their moral practice is dictated by the daime (and the spirit residing within this psychoactive brew), which is seen as the sole agent of the contemporary expansion, an interpretation which implicitly rejects more conventional theories concerned with the growth of new social and religious movements. In order to understand and do justice to the specific Santo Daime rationale, i.e. that agency is vested solely in the daime, the author suggests that we need an alternative way to conceptualise action, one which is non-instrumental and non goal-oriented.

Cultural Anthropology; Ecology        

Return to Coronet Books main page