A perfect target

Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff, Oh Mother What Have You Done #008, 2019


Considerations about Jair Bolsonaro's attack on Marília Moschkovich

On May 10, Jair Bolsonaro attacked sociologist Marília Moschkovich on social media, associating her with what he called the “extreme left” that aims to “destroy everything and then position itself as the only solution to the chaos”. Since then, the USP professor has been sharing reports on her social networks of the regrettable consequences of the attack on her personal life. 

As a researcher, Marília Moschkovich carries out studies on gender, sexuality and family, themes that she has been approaching from the perspective of power relations, and both her academic works and her public positions have an unequivocal anti-conservative, therefore anti-Bolsonarist, bias. It is not surprising, therefore, that she was the target of an attack from Jair Bolsonaro: due to her research topics, her ideas and stances, and the fact that she is a woman – a woman, as she herself announced on a social network, “against morals, family and good customs”.

It is of no minor importance that the attack took place just a few days after Madonna's concert in Rio de Janeiro: whether calculated or not, Jair Bolsonaro took advantage of the occasion opened up by the large circulation of conservative messages associated with these same themes in the days who followed the show to, choosing a suitable target, “surf the wave”. A possibly favorable opportunity to win undecided hearts and minds, of people who are not convinced Bolsonarists and may, however, lean towards Bolsonarism.

I want, however, to draw attention to another motivation for the aforementioned attack, that is, why Jair Bolsonaro chose it as a target, complementary to those. As I have already highlighted, Marília Moschkovich is a sociologist and university professor. It is plausible that she became a “perfect” target for Jair Bolsonaro and Bolsonaroism for combining, at the same time, these three factors: for taking the positions she takes and defending the ideas she defends on topics dear to Bolsonaroism, for being a woman and for being an academic, researcher and professor at a public university.

The conjunction of these factors makes each of them more demonic in the eyes of Bolsonarism. It is imperative to recognize, therefore, that the attack did not only have a conservative and misogynistic bias, but also had a marked obscurantist component.

As we know, it is above all against teachers (by extension, scientists, researchers and intellectuals) and against ideas that obscurantism pours its ammunition. But that doesn't explain everything when it comes to Bolsonarism's hatred and repulsion towards public universities. To understand this, I think it is necessary to take into account a fact that has been catching my attention for some time in national opinion polls, about which little is written or talked about.

Religion, youth and higher education

After 2018, the Datafolha institute included religion among its sample sections in opinion polls – which did not occur in the polls carried out during the 2018 election and in previous ones.[I] Even though there are more recent surveys containing the “religion” section in the sample, I will take as a reference here the national survey carried out on the eve of the second round of the presidential election in 2022, on the 28th and 29th of October of that year, due to its very large sample size. representative (8.308 respondents). In the research in question, the division of the population according to religion was as follows:

TOTAL Evangelical25%
Evangelical Pentecostal12%
Evangelical Protestant4%
Neo-Pentecostal Evangelical2%
Other Evangelical responses5%
Does not attend any church1%
Spiritist | Kardecist3%

This data matters not only because of what it reveals, but also, and above all, because of the reality it hides. When crossing it with other excerpts from the same research (specifically, age group and education), the result is surprising:

Religionage groupEducation
16 the 24 years25 the 34 years35 the 44 years45 the 59 years60 years and overFundamentalMidfielderSuperior
TOTAL Evangelical27%27%27%24%21%26%27%22%
Evangelical Pentecostal13%12%13%13%10%14%13%8%
Evangelical Protestant3%5%6%4%4%2%5%6%
Neo-Pentecostal Evangelical3%2%2%2%3%3%2%2%
Other Evangelical responses7%7%5%4%3%5%6%4%
Does not attend any church1%2%1%1%0%1%1%2%
Spiritist | Kardecist1%2%3%3%4%1%2%5%
Other religions7%6%6%4%4%3%6%7%
No religion / no religion19%13%9%5%4%5%10%13%

As can be seen, among younger people, the percentage of those who declare that they have no religion is no less than double the national average.[ii] The table also suggests – which only research can confirm – that the growth of the population that has no religion has been faster than the much talked about growth of evangelical confessions: if in the older population 66% declare themselves Catholic, and among the younger this percentage drops to 41%, the difference (25%) is unevenly distributed (evangelicals are 21% among the oldest and 27% among the youngest – a difference of 6% – while those without religion are just 4% among older people and 19% among younger people – a difference of 15%). It is known that a portion of these will be converted in the future; Still, the unequal distribution is significant and reveals a possible trend, which deserves to be researched and better understood.

When we look at education, we see a similar picture, marked by the significant discrepancy in this response between those who have primary education, secondary education and higher education: and if, among younger people, 19% declare that they have no religion, this percentage is undoubtedly higher among young people with higher education, which is significant in a context of consistent and prolonged increase in enrollment in higher education.[iii]

I am not aware of academic publications about the clear correlation between the answer in question, age group and education. In 2022 I had the opportunity to speak personally with political scientist Vinícius Valle, a specialist in religious studies (with an emphasis on evangelicals) and researcher at the Evangelical Observatory, and at the time he declared that he was unaware of any studies on the subject. There are some reports and texts on the internet, such as the report by journalist Thais Carrança published in BBC News Brazil on May 09, 2022, “Young people 'without religion' outnumber Catholics and evangelicals in SP and Rio”, and which shows an even more surprising picture in large cities.

The correlation between age group and schooling is known: as we know, it increases from the oldest to the youngest, given the significant increase in enrollment in higher education in the last thirty years (and in public higher education in governments headed by the PT). What we see here is something different: a correlation between age group, education and religion. What the nature of the correlation is is a question for research. One hypothesis, to be equally tested in research and debated, is that not having religion has a lot to do with the university environment.

The mutation

It is instructive to hear the report of Rio de Janeiro pastor Raquel Prado, voter and supporter of Bolsonaro, who in May 2022 was interviewed by journalist Nathalia Passarinho, from BBC News Brazil, for the report “How evangelicals think, who can define the election for president”. When asked by the reporter what exactly puts “the family” at risk – the main reason why Raquel Prado declared her support for Jair Bolsonaro – she replied: “I see people going to college, young people going to college and families losing their children because of because of the leftist ideologies that apply inside, that are forced inside. People changed, transformed.”

The reporter then asks: “Losing in what way?” Raquel Prado responds: “Losing your identity, your identity being stolen by an ideology created, by a mutation, I call it mutation. I don't call it original. The ideology that you can do what you want and not face the consequences. I do what I want, live the way I want.”

The correlation between religion, age group and schooling has possibly less to do with “leftist ideologies” than with the aspirations and ways of life brought about by and through schooling, especially at higher education. Even so, the report is rich and interesting in that it attests to an acute perception of what is really happening, of very real and concrete processes, regardless of how (and with what resources) what is perceived is interpreted. It is known, for example, that among women who enter higher education, there is less interest or willingness to start a family and have children. It is plausible that phenomena like this inform the perception of people like Pastor Raquel.

In this sense, and keeping in mind the differences, the pastor's report recalls the fear of Maria Fernandes, Florestan Fernandes' mother: in several interviews and statements, Florestan declared that his mother, an illiterate domestic worker, did not want him to study for fear that he moved away from her. The separation, in this case, can be both physical and symbolic. Phenomena like this, of real distancing or the mere fear of distancing, may have had (and still have) weight in the production and reproduction of Bolsonarism – a hypothesis that only empirically based academic research can confirm or discard.

More than representative, this perception is perhaps even constitutive of Bolsonarism, as an ideology is only born and gains extraordinary strength when a certain social basis allows it to exist, or demands it. In return, ideology offers (better said, reinforces) a coherent repertoire capable of bringing order to chaos, of interpreting. One thing is certain: there is no doubt that Bolsonarism is an expression of very concrete experiences, lived and perceived by ordinary people.

The experience of those who see very closely what appears to be a growing distancing of young people (children, grandchildren, nephews, neighbors' children, children's friends, etc.) in relation to ways of life associated with religion, and don't like what they see , has very little to do with teachers, even less with leftist ideologies. However, everything indicates that it has a lot to do with higher education. And if this hypothesis is confirmed, it makes perfect sense that teachers, scientists and intellectuals are targets of Bolsonarism.

If a trend towards an increase in irreligious young people is confirmed, associated with an increase in enrollment in higher education, perhaps the most correct thing would be to say not that Brazil is moving towards becoming a predominantly evangelical country, as has become commonplace, but rather that Brazil is heading towards becoming a country polarized between this majority and an also growing – and perhaps more accelerated – increase in non-religion among younger people, especially those with higher education.

Perhaps the strengthening of right-wing and extreme-right positions among the former is partly a response to the silent advance of the latter – again, a hypothesis that only empirical research can confirm. In any case, in the case of neo-Pentecostal churches, the table shows that the percentage of young followers is the same as the percentage of older followers: 3%. There are many more young people adhering to non-religion than to neo-Pentecostalism.

Against this background, Jair Bolsonaro's attack on Marília Moschkovich was even predictable. After all, in addition to publicly defending certain ideas and being a woman, Marília Moschkovich is an academic. And as if that weren't enough, she is a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP, the Sodom and Gomorrah of Brazilian universities.

*Antonio David He has a PhD in Philosophy from USP and is currently pursuing a PhD in Social History at the same institution..


[I]In the absence of updated Census data, Datafolha carries out research to define the sample.

[ii]A warning is in order here: the answer “has no religion/no religion” is not an indicator of atheism.

[iii]Only the table published by Datafolha does not allow this crossing to be carried out. To do so, it would be necessary to have access to the research spreadsheets.

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