Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion: Progressive Catholicism in El Salvador's Civil War. By Anna L. Peterson. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1997. 211pp. $54.50 cloth; $17.95 paper.
Narratives are critical to social movements. Narratives relate to the past and give the sense of an alternative future. The narratives of martyrdom stemming from the experience of the civil war in El Salvador demonstrate how progressive Catholics faced fear with not only bravery, but also triumphalism. By telling this story, Peterson demonstrates the grassroots origins of liberation theology in El Salvador.
Peterson does a wonderful job of linking the history of El Salvador to Christian history and the concrete life events that became the narrative of martyrdom among progressive Catholics during the 1970s and 1980s. Her research based on the written popular masses, via crucis, and writings of contemporary El Salvadorians reveals religion as a basis for resistance to oppression-economic and political.
Focusing on the worldviews of the popular sectors within progressive Catholicism and looking at members of current Christian Based Communities (CBCs) in El Salvador as well as the diaspora of Salvadorians in the United States, she makes a solid case for the indigenous nature of the theology of martyrdom that united the movement and the power of that theology to bind people together and to the church.
In times of chaos, religion allows sense to be made out of senselessness. Sense-making in El Salvador was based on close Bible readings, particularly of the New Testament, using the image of Christ as suffering and dying, prevalent in Latin America from colonial times to the present, as a way to give meaning and power to resistance rather than acceptance of the status quo. Her …