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

By John R. Pottenger | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Toward a Methodology for Liberation

Introduction

As the social philosopher Isaiah Berlin reminds us, when he paraphrases the German poet Heinrich Heine, "Philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilization." 1 But for this to happen, now to paraphrase Plato, the interests of political power and those of moral philosophy must coincide. Whether for destructive or constructive ends, the mixture of ideas and power has always been volatile. History is replete with political and economic elites who have maintained their social positions through the manipulation of intellectually inspired but commonly held beliefs to justify various political activities and particular economic arrangements. And not unexpectedly, the development and acceptance of particular theologies that give meaning to common beliefs, have often been used to the advantage of those in power, regardless of theological merit. What is it, then, about the dynamic of a particular theoretical or theological impetus that gives it a certain direction as well as potential for co-optation by others?

One of the characteristics of Western religious thought has been its relatively easy adaptability by various elites in providing ideological support for a variety of political regimes. Historically, such adaptation has been most successful as a result of the manner in which religious beliefs have been systematized to explain the supernatural

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