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Predation and Pentecostalism in Guatemala


Predation and Pentecostalism in Guatemala

“It’s not a process,” one pastor insisted, “rehabilitation is a miracle.” In the face of addiction and few state resources, Pentecostal pastors in Guatemala City are fighting what they understand to be a major crisis. Yet the treatment centers they operate produce this miracle of rehabilitation through extraordinary means: captivity. These men of faith snatch drug users off the streets, often at the request of family members, and then lock them up inside their centers for months, sometimes years.

Hunted is based on more than ten years of fieldwork among these centers and the drug users that populate them. Over time, as Kevin Lewis O’Neill engaged both those in treatment and those who surveilled them, he grew increasingly concerned that he, too, had become a hunter, albeit one snatching up information. This thoughtful, intense book will reframe the arc of redemption we so often associate with drug rehabilitation, painting instead a seemingly endless cycle of hunt, capture, and release.


"The story will unfortunately not come as a surprise to Guatemala watchers, but this is a necessary addition to the literature on Latin America’s Pentecostals, whose number exceeds 100 million. . . . O’Neill has produced a highly readable text."

Times Higher Education

"The book demands that readers bring an intellectual force that matches O'Neill's own. This is an unsettling book, but well worth being unsettled by."

PoLAR Online

“This is a wonderfully written, highly original, and deeply nuanced ethnography. The haunting protagonist of O’Neill’s story is Alejandro, who acts as both predator and prey, victim and manipulator, saved and lost. This is an ethnography that leaves a hole in the heart of the reader. O’Neill is clear that his methodology is one of an engaged observer and that he has spent many years interviewing, observing, and even taking part in the life of this particular rehab center.”

Virginia Garrard, author of Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala under General Efraín Ríos Montt, 1982–1983

“This is a skillfully written and highly absorbing narrative ethnography on Pentecostal religion in Guatemala and the rampant drug addiction that the former has connected so centrally to its mission. It is a tour de force in its planning, execution, and skill in drawing the reader into unpleasant conditions and suffering, wrecked lives, and the brutality with which ‘merciful’ agencies address it. Hunted is an artful work of scholarship.” 

George Marcus, author of Ethnography through Thick and Thin

“In O’Neill's Hunted the idea of capturing souls by the church in Guatemala takes on different shades of meanings, addressing the physical capture of drug addicts and recidivists and the placement of these individuals in different forms of detention, often against their will. The multidisciplinary angles by which O’Neill attends to the questions in this book reveal how salvation and predation exchange places and also how the significance of the relation between the two terms comes to ramify well beyond anthropology. Looking to Guatemala as a starting point, the insights he provides us with are significant for thinking through these issues in different contexts.”

Ato Quayson, author of Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism

Hunted stands out as a methodologically provocative text that calls on anthropologists and scholars of religion to rethink questions of reciprocity and the ethics of information-gathering. O’Neill raises important conversations about the moral economy of fieldwork, and the role of money, exchange, and transaction in the building and maintaining of ethnographic relationships... It will have staying power as generations of ethnographers grapple with what we owe our interlocutors, morally and materially. The book is drenched in ethnographic anxiety and productive questioning of the author’s assumptions about autonomy, individual liberty, and freedom.”

American Religion

“Underscores the importance of using interdisciplinary approaches to understand contemporary religion in terms of both personal experience and social structure… Hunted exemplifies how care fieldwork and interdisciplinary theoretical approaches can come together to advance understandings of contemporary religion in global contexts.”

American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents


The Hunt
Hunted, a Conclusion


Latin American Studies Association: Bryce Wood Book Award
Honorable Mention

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