Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is Liberation Theology Dead?

The feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether attempts to answer precisely this question in an article that she wrote two years ago for the National Catholic Reporter.

She begins by noting the declining interest in Latin American liberation theologies on the part of U.S. graduate theological schools:
Five years ago I offered a course in Latin American liberation theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. We studied this theology in the context of the history of church and society in Latin America from the time of the Spanish conquest, focusing on the developments of the 1960s and new stages of Latin American liberation theology in the 1990s to 2000. I was astonished to be told by several students that Latin American liberation theology had been declared to be "dead" or "over with" by some professors at the school. Since that time I have heard several such announcements of the death of liberation theology from students and faculty. It is also evident that few North American theological seminaries are offering courses on Latin American liberation theology today. What is going on?
Contrary to the prevailing opinion amongst many American theologians, Ruether explains that the situation on the ground in Latin America and the Caribbean is actually much different, noting that liberation theology has been most recently characterized by diversification rather than decline.
What has happened to Latin American liberation theology in the last 15 years is not that it has dried up, but rather that it has greatly diversified. It was rightly criticized for being too narrowly focused on class and economic hierarchies and neglecting other dimensions of social relations, such as race, ethnicity and gender. In the last two decades this has been rectified by a great flowering of Latin American feminist theology, all of which sees itself as rooted in liberation theology but expanding through the new recognition of gender hierarchies. Likewise there has been since 1992 a flowering of indigenous theologies, or teologia india, with many encuentros (meetings) across Latin America, especially in the Andean region.

African Caribbean and African Brazilian people are also developing distinct articulations of liberation and feminist theologies in these cultural contexts. There is a burgeoning interest in dialogue between Christianity and indigenous and African-Latino religions: Clara Luz Ajo in Cuba is among those pursuing this kind of reflection in relation to Africa Cuban religions, such as Santeria. Issues of ecology have also attracted theological interest both from theologians such as Leonardo Boff and those who take ecofeminism as their method of theological reflection such as Ivone Gebara in Brazil and the Conspirando network in Chile.
That being said, Ruether goes on to suggest that proclamations that liberation theology is "dead" are premature and reflect the increasing insularity of American culture and academics.
Far from being over with, liberation theology lives in the faith of that sector of Latin American ecumenical Christianity, in Catholics and Protestants who work together both in seminaries and at the grass roots from the perspective of hope for greater justice. The pronouncements that Latin American liberation theology is dead are not only premature, but I think are another indication of the growing parochialism and insularity of the U.S. North American consciousness in the face of a world that is increasingly critical of our way of life.
Ruether's assessment of the state of liberation theology probably comes as no surprise to many of us residing in the Caribbean and Latin America. More importantly, it serves as a reminder to persevere in the task of creatively articulating a theology that is both faithful to scripture as well as the sociocultural context within which we live, worship, and seek to minister.

Click here to read the entire article.



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