A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide

A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide

A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide

A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide

Synopsis

A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas argues that we cannot understand religion in the Americas without understanding its marginalized communities. Despite frequently voiced doubts among religious studies scholars, it makes the case that theology, and particularly liberation theology, is still useful, but it must be reframed to attend to the ways in which religion is actually experienced on the ground. That is, a liberation theology that assumes a need to work on behalf of the poor can seem out of touch with a population experiencing huge Pentecostal and Charismatic growth, where the focus is not on inequality or social action but on individual relationships with the divine.

By drawing on a combination of historical and ethnographic sources, this volume provides a basic introduction to the study of religion and theology in the Latino/a, Black, and Latin American contexts, and then shows how theology can be reframed to better speak to the concerns of both religious studies and the real people the theologians' work is meant to represent. Informed by the dialogue partners explored throughout the text, this volume presents a hemispheric approach to discussing lived religious movements. While not dismissive of liberation theologies, this approach is critical of their past and offers challenges to their future as well as suggestions for preventing their untimely demise. It is clear that the liberation theologies of tomorrow cannot look like the liberation theologies of today.

Excerpt

I discovered the discipline of theology through the writings of liberation theologians. Some would call this a backward approach, yet it is the one that my education coincidentally and thankfully bestowed on me. I studied the hermeneutics of suspicion—that is, the examination of texts with a critical eye—and the need to listen to the voices that emerge from the underside of history before learning about the normative theological canons, and it is through this lens that I came to explore the discipline as a whole. Although I have never claimed to be a liberation theologian, my research and teaching have been distinctly shaped by the theological concerns placed in the foreground by authors from all over the globe who are collectively identified as liberation theologians. These scholars emphasize that the reflected faith experience of the oppressed, whether that oppression is based on race, class, ethnocultural prejudice, sex, or sexual identity, must be the starting point of theology.

It is therefore with great intellectual concern and personal sadness that I have witnessed the increasing marginalization of liberation theology in particular and theology as a whole. Commentaries about the failure, irrelevance, and even death of liberation theologies abound. In a similar vein, the role of theology within the university is increasingly contested. This development is most often highlighted by the rigid and, I would argue, false delineation between theology and religious studies.

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