The Political Theory of Liberation Theology: Toward a Reconvergence of Social Values and Social Science

By John R. Pottenger | Go to book overview

Introduction

FOR MANY OBSERVERS of contemporary society, a troubling new development looms on the horizon of acceptable religious thinking, a development that threatens to undermine the traditional understanding of the relationship between religion and politics; for others, a novel approach to religious and political philosophy has arisen that restores a critical and moral dimension to the banality of contemporary politics. Regardless of the varied reactions, a new religious movement guided by a peculiar political theology with a concern for social problems has indeed increasingly garnered worldwide attention in recent years from believers, policy makers, and scholars alike.

Since its emergence nearly two decades ago, liberation theology has become a unique and permanent political movement throughout Latin America. From Mexico to Chile, from Nicaragua to Brazil, this movement has been politically effective in merging together traditional, religious values with a commitment to social activism on behalf of "the poor and oppressed." Thinkers in this movement analyze social problems associated with chronic maldistribution of wealth and restrictive and repressive governmental policies. Then they combine these analyses with moral commitments to alleviating the plight of the poor to justify their engagement in a variety of reformist and revolutionary political activities.

Indeed, liberation theology has had frequent successes in influencing the direction of social change as well as on specific policy making in various parts of Latin America. For example, it played a significant role in the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979 and continues to provide a major source of legitimacy for the Sandinista regime. In fact, an

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