Is Liberation Theology Dead?

By Ruether, Rosemary Radford | National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Is Liberation Theology Dead?


Ruether, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter


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?

My first impulse is to regard such pronouncements as expressions of extraordinary arrogance. I suspect that those quick to pronounce the death of liberation theology never much liked it and so are all too ready to anticipate its demise. My general take on such statements is to say that liberation theology will be over with when poverty and oppression are over with. But there is more going on here. When one looks at articles that dismiss liberation theology as dead, typically such writers have read only a few books by Latin American liberation theologians from the 1980s, and in English. In other words, they know little of the breadth or depth of this extraordinarily creative movement of theology, are unable to keep up with its development in Spanish or Portuguese and are unaware of developments in Latin American theology of the last 15 years.

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. …

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