Robert Brenneman is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Notre Dame studying Central American gangs. Christians are countering gang violence in Central America armed only with faith and teh belief that no one--not even the worst criminal--is beyond hope. Here, assistant editor Jeannie Choi interviews Brenneman about his research on Central American gang activity.
Where did your interest in Central America begin?
I guess my interest in Central America began in high school when I watched the movie Romero, so this is going way back. Romero’s story of passion, courage, and nonviolence was interesting and compelling to me. During college I participated in a cross-cultural study term to Central America and after that I went back to work as a volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee, and I eventually ended up getting married and staying for 6 years.
And when did you first come in contact with the gangs that you write about?
I wouldn’t say I ever had direct interaction with the gangs but I lived in neighborhoods where the gangs were close by in Guatemala by 2003. When it came time to choose a dissertation topic I ran across an article that suggested that the most common pathway out of the gang in Central America was by way of the evangelical churches and a conversion experience, and I sort of wanted to know if that was actually the case or if that was more a kind of an interesting storyline that got picked up that wasn’t actually common. The organization the Honduran Mennonite Peace Commission was my contact where I got my first interviews with ex-gang members so I started in Honduras in a neighborhood in northern San Pedro
What have you learned about Central American gang life through your research?