HomeAsia-Pacific Social Science Reviewvol. 5 no. 2 (2005)

Reframing Suffering and Success through the El Shaddai Movement of the Philippines

Katharine L. Wiegele

Discipline: Sociology



This paper explores EI Shaddai, a popular indigenous Catholic charismatic movement in the Philippines, in light of its relevance for local popular understandings of social mobility and modernity. Since the mid-I980s the EI Shaddai Prayer Partners Foundation, International, Inc. has appealed mainly to the Filipino lower classes by offering its followers the perceived opportunity to escape their current poverty. Millions of Filipinos both at home and abroad are drawn to weekly EI Shaddai outdoor rallies, events, and radio and television programs. Many look to their servant-leader, "Brother Mike" Velarde, when making decisions on political candidates and current social issues. This paper argues. that EI Shaddai's success lies in part in its ability to reframe discourses on poverty and oppression in the Philippines, such as leftist discourses of struggle, the mainstream Catholic Church's notions of suffering, and the Catholic movement within the Church called Church of the Poor. EI Shaddai and its followers reject overly c1assdeterministic models of self and society by reframing their identities and by rewriting their life trajectories, as members learn how to see their pasts, presents, and futures through the lenses of prosperity, not poverty. Viewing themselves as rich and blessed, personal life events are reinterpreted through specific religious language and ritual forms, as are significant public events.