Faculty Profile

Robert Brenneman, PhD

Assistant Professor of Sociology

M.A., Ph.D. University of Notre Dame
B.A. Eastern Mennonite University 

Courses I Teach:

  • A special topics course titled "God, Gangs, and Globalization"
  • Deviance, Norms, and Social Control
  • Introductory Sociology
  • Social Problems
  • Social Theory

My research focuses on the impact of violence and violent social structures on human flourishing. I want to use the tools of sociology to understand human attraction to violence—especially violence linked to cultural symbols and group identities--and to use this knowledge to inform contextual approaches to de-escalating violent conflict.

My book, Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America (Oxford University Press 2011) takes a close-up look at the lives of 63 former gang members, many of whom joined an evangelical congregation as part of their attempt to extricate themselves from gang violence. Currently, I advise a team of Guatemalan researchers studying the impact of Pentecostal and Catholic Charismatic movements on civic participation and social capital in Guatemala City.

"Why would a gun-wielding, tattoo-bearing 'homie' trade in la vida loca for a Bible and the buttoned-down lifestyle of an evangelical hermano (brother in Christ)?" So begins a Oxford University Press description of a new book by Saint Michael's sociology professor Robert Brenneman.

See the full description

  • Kane Outstanding Graduate Student (Notre Dame Sociology Department, 2009)
  • David Dodge Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching (Notre Dame Sociology Department, 2009)
  • William D'Antonio Graduate Student in the Sociology of Religion (2009)

Robert Brenneman, assistant professor of sociology, on Oct. 1 presented his gang research at the Boston College Sociology Department Lunch Series. From October 16-18, Robert was featured presenter at a workshop in Guatemala City on urban violence for Latin American religious non-governmental organizations. He also presented two papers at the Annual Meeting for the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Indianapolis, IN (Oct. 31-Nov. 1); and was a panelist at “Restore Justice! Encounter Mercy: A Conference on Restorative Justice,” at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C, on Nov. 21.
(posted December 2014)

Robert Brenneman, assistant professor of sociology, on May 21 spoke on a panel at the annual United States Institute of Peace/Alliance for Peacebuilding conference in Washington, D.C. The panel’s theme was "Urban Violence and Cross-Border Criminal Activity: New Challenges for Peacebuilding." Robert was the only academic on a panel made up mostly of U.S. and Latin American diplomats and policy-makers, including Todd Robinson, a State Department official who was named the new ambassador to Guatemala just days after the meeting. In April, Robert participated in a National Public Radio show about Guatemala's religion and politics, sharing the microphone with Virginia Garrard-Burnett, regarded widely in the field as the leading authority on Guatemalan politics and religion, according to Robert, who also has a blogpost about the migrant minors from Central America going active in July for the Oxford University Press.
(posted August 2014)

assistant professor of sociology, on May 21 spoke on a panel at the annual United States Institute of Peace/Alliance for Peacebuilding conference in Washington, D.C. The panel’s theme was "Urban Violence and Cross-Border Criminal Activity: New Challenges for Peacebuilding." Robert was the only academic on a panel made up mostly of U.S. and Latin American diplomats and policy-makers, including Todd Robinson, a State Department official who was named the new ambassador to Guatemala just days after the meeting. In April, Robert participated in a National Public Radio show about Guatemala's religion and politics, sharing the microphone with Virginia Garrard-Burnett, regarded widely in the field as the leading authority on Guatemalan politics and religion, according to Robert, who also has a blogpost about the migrant minors from Central America going active in July for the Oxford University Press.

Robert Brenneman, assistant professor of sociology, in July 2012 was one of two featured guest speakers at a seminar on "Religion and Violence in Central America" at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars" in Washington, D.C. His recent book, Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America, (Oxford, 2011), was recently reviewed very positively in Books & Culture: A Review and in Sociology of Religion, which described the work as an important study with a "wealth of valuable information."


Saint Michael's College sociologist Robert Brenneman, author of the highly praised book Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central American (Oxford, 2011), has been invited to speak at two major conferences on U.S. foreign policy, both this month in the Washington, DC area.

Professor Brenneman will be speaking on July 11 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' seminar, "Religion and Violence in Central America", to be held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. The conference will address the unprecedented rise in violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Professor Brenneman's work is described as providing "insights into the role of religion in the lives of current and former gang members and those who seek to survive in a context of escalating violence." His work is said to counter the "tough military and police enforcement measures popular with policy makers and the public with more personal interventions and choices as a path toward surviving and potentially breaking individual and local cycles of violence."

Brenneman has also been invited to participate in a U.S. Foreign Service Institute Conference on Global Youth, Civilian Security, and National Security at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia, on July 26. He will be speaking on a panel titled "On the Ground Realities: Challenges and Opportunities" on the topic of Youth and Gangs in Central America.

Professor Brenneman earned his doctorate in sociology at the University of Notre Dame. He teaches a special topics course titled "God, Gangs, and Globalization" and other courses on Deviance, Norms, and Social Control; Introductory Sociology, Social Problems, and Social Theory.

To "de-escalate violent conflict"

Professor Brenneman describes his research as focused on the impact of violence and violent social structures on human flourishing. "I want to use the tools of sociology to understand human attraction to violence - especially violence linked to cultural symbols and group identities--and to use this knowledge to inform contextual approaches to de-escalating violent conflict," he wrote.

His book, Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America, which received very positive reviews in Books & Culture and in Sociology of Religion, takes a close-up look at the lives of 63 former gang members, many of whom joined an evangelical congregation as part of their attempt to extricate themselves from gang violence.

Currently, Professor Brenneman advises a team of Guatemalan researchers studying the impact of Pentecostal and Catholic Charismatic movements on civic participation and social capital in Guatemala City.

Professor Brenneman and his wife Gabriela Ochoa Brenneman, program director of the Peace and Justice Center, reside in Burlington with their children.

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