Addicted to Christ

Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Drug Ministries

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Helena Hansen
  • Oakland, CA: 
    University of California Press
    , April
     232 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In Addicted to Christ; Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Drug Ministries, Helena Hansen maps the way in which evangelical ministries in Puerto Rico deal with drug addiction, and how their methodologies compare and contrast to the field of biomedicine. Hansen is both a trained anthropologist and physician, and she brings both of these fields to bear on addiction treatment throughout the text. Using a participant observation-style of ethnography, Hansen accompanies members from thirteen different drug ministries to Bible studies, church services, weddings, and baptisms. Through her time with these ministries, Hansen is able to formulate an argument that such drug ministries offer clinical practitioners insight into new and “other-worldly” treatment options available to people with addictions. Evangelical ministries offer a route to addiction treatment that medical professionals would be familiar with, though understand in different, biological ways.

The book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1 traces the theologies of recovery. Notably, these ministries preach a theology of transformation—that those who are addicted have the ability to be ex-addicts, to be “freed” from their addiction. Chapter 2 introduces the reader to how these ministries are able to free people from their addictions. In general, this pertains to the strict schedule and regime they enforce as part of their ministry. These methods include “cold turkey” breaks with drug use, cleaning routines, fasts, prayer, and regularly-scheduled church services. Through such strict regimes of change, the ministries hope to break their participants’s addiction to drugs, and aspire to an “addiction to Christ” (42).

Chapter 3 diverges to help explain how Puerto Rico’s tumultuous socio-political landscape intensified its drug use. As Puerto Rico moved from Spanish to US control, from agricultural to industrial economies, and from matriarchal to patriarchal households, its population suffered with each shift. It was during these shifts that care for people with drug addictions moved from the psychiatric to the evangelical. Pastors argued—and eventually convinced the public—that drug addiction was the cause, instead of a symptom of, these other woes.

In chapter 4 we return to the ministries with which Hansen is working. Here she traces how churches create new masculinities for the men to inhabit. Ministry masculinity is defined by being a good father and a good worker. Until this point, Hansen had been working almost exclusively with men who are in addiction recovery programs. However, in chapter 5, she shifts to discuss the precarious state of women’s recovery programs; precarious given their scarcity and their inability to get funding in the same way as men’s programs. Moreover, women are not seen as leaders in the same way as men by these ministries, and are therefore given fewer responsibilities and opportunities to build skills. Next, in chapter 6, we encounter the new family model that these ministries seek to build and reproduce. Forsaking biological ties to family, drug recovery ministries create new family identities by calling their fellow participants “hermano” (brother) and “hermana” (sister); they encourage members to avoid socializing with their unconverted family members and to see the other men in the ministry as their new family; furthermore, men are encouraged to take on leadership roles in their homes. Such models of family contrast the traditional, Catholic Puerto Rican model of a broad, matriarchal family.

In the final chapter, we encounter a man named Ruben, who was a patient in the psychiatric unit where Hansen was doing her residency and before she had started her research in Puerto Rico. After her time on the island, she would reflect on the similarities between Ruben and the men in ministry programs. Ruben was different from the other participants in the unit in that he had been given charge of the arts program for the group. Given responsibility, an outlet to paint, and the ability to mentor other patients in art, Hansen argues that these different disciplinary regimes coalesced in the ways they sought to restore freedom, however partial, to the individual.

Comparable to the background that Hansen traces in chapter 3, the lack of sovereign national control manifests itself in the public sphere in different ways. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico has no elected congressional representation (there is a non-voting, appointed Resident Commissioner in the US House of Representatives). Hansen notes that this non-sovereign state creates a sense of powerlessness in the minds of Puerto Ricans, particularly in the minds of the addicted. The drug recovery programs return a sense of self and autonomy to this afflicted demographic.

There is one element of the research that is problematic. Early on, Hansen notes that although her informants self-identified as “evangelical” (evangélico) she would utilize the moniker “Pentecostal” to identify them. Hansen also states that none of the ministries with which she worked identify themselves as Pentecostal, and her decision to do so was a purposeful one intended to capture worship style. The difficulties with this move are two-fold: anthropological and theological. On the one hand, such labels ignore the way that her research subjects self-identify and, while it might be difficult to translate the history of the Puerto Rican term “evangélico” to English-speaking audiences, replacing one identity with another conflates the two at best, and erases her informants’s identities at worst. Such a move appears indicative of bygone eras in anthropology. On the other hand, such conflation also serves to obfuscate the way that evangélico functions in Puerto Rico as an opposition to being “Católico” (Catholic). Moreover, Hansen does not indicate when she is substituting the term “Pentecostal” when her informants are actually using the word “evangélico” when she is quoting them, further complicating her usage. There is always a danger in naming and labelling given that there will be elements that don’t quite fit into the given category. Confusing the two terms only serves to intensify the researcher-subject distance, and obscure the history of Christianity on the island.

Despite this criticism, Hansen’s Addicted to Christ is incredibly timely in the post-Hurricane María-era of Puerto Rican studies. Readers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines will find much to glean from Hansen’s text, particularly scholars in the areas of psychiatry, religious studies, and biomedicine.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Alejandro Stephano Escalante is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Date of Review: 
March 19, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Helena Hansen is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at New York University.


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