Bonar Hernández


Office:603 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA


I am a historian of religion in modern Latin America who teaches courses on the history of the continent, of revolution, and of religion.

My research analyzes the interplay between religion and politics during the twentieth century in Guatemala, with an emphasis on how religious and political identity are mutually constituted and, more broadly, the role of religious institutions (particularly Catholicism) in Guatemalan society. I am the author of Guatemala’s Catholic Revolution: A History of Religious and Social Reform, 1920-1968, published by the University of Notre Dame Press. Guatemala’s Catholic Revolution is the first book-length history of Guatemalan Catholicism from a transnational perspective. Taking both an institutional and social history approach, it examines the history of Church-state relations, the influence of papal power, the relationship between indigenous Maya communities and foreign Catholic missionaries, and the rise of Church-sponsored development programs during the Cold War. These projects, I argue, paved the ground for lay agency and the rise of liberation theology. I employ a transnational approach – based on archival sources located in Guatemala, the United States, and the Vatican Secret Archives – as a way to shed light on the largely ignored deep-seated ideological and institutional connections between Guatemalan Catholic and the Holy See, integrate the perspectives of institutional and “popular” sectors within the Church, and highlight the centrality of religion in twentieth-century Latin American history. My work has also appeared in The Americas, The Cambridge History of Religion in Latin America, and Beyond the Shadow of the Eagle: New Histories of Latin America's Cold War.

My current research program is focused on two areas. First, I am currently working on a second book-length project, tentatively titled The Making of Guatemala’s Religious and Political Activists during the Cold War, which examines the history of religious and political activism in Guatemala. It analyzes the social, political and cultural context that led to the emergence of activist Catholic networks in the 1970s and seeks to explain why many Catholics became social and political activists and even revolutionaries during the most violent years of Guatemala’s civil war in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A second project seeks to provide a transnational history of Latin American Catholicism during the twentieth century. Using newly available sources located in Vatican City and Guatemala City, it will explore relations between the Vatican and the Guatemalan Catholic Church during the twentieth century, particularly in the years immediately before and during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

My research has been funded by various sources, including the Social Science Research Council, The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and the Center for the Excellence of the Arts and Humanities and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University.



Guatemala’s Catholic Revolution: A History of Religious and Social Reform, 1920-1968 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, November 2018).

Peer-Reviewed Articles

“Reforming Catholicism: Vatican Diplomacy in Guatemala during the 1920s and 1930s.”
The Americas 71:2 (October, 2014): 255-80.

Peer-Reviewed Chapters

“The Revival of Latin American Catholicism, 1920-1968.” In The Cambridge History of Religion in Latin America, edited by Virginia Garrard-Burnett and Paul Freston. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

“ ‘Restoring All Things in Christ’: Social Catholicism, Urban Workers, and the Cold War in Guatemala.” In Beyond the Shadow of the Eagle: New Histories of Latin America's Cold War, edited by Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Mark Lawrence and Julio Moreno. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013.

Courses Taught

HIST 255: Introduction to Global History
HIST 340: Latin America, I (Colonial Latin America)
HIST 341: Latin America II (Modern Latin America)
HIST 441: Mexico and Central America
HIST 442: Rebellions and Revolutions in Latin America
HIST 513: Proseminar in Latin American History