An impressive outpouring of new books has accompanied the explosion of journalistic and scholarly interest in Central America during the 1980s. This attention followed the initiatives of U.S. foreign policy, which abruptly defined Central America as being of vital importance to the security and well-being of the United States. At the same time that Central America was becoming a "hot spot," there was a surge of interest in the enduring vitality of world religions and their capacity to shape political life. The present book developed at just this point where religious renewal and political change intersect.
For a number of years the authors had done research and teaching focused on revolutions in Latin America. In the late 1970s we developed a strong interest in the popular political struggles that were emerging in Central America. We took particular interest in the events of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua because the Christian churches appeared to play a prominent role in them. We had been studying the Catholic church for nearly two decades. Over that span of time we witnessed dramatic changes in the habits and attitudes of Latin American Christians, and in the social thought and institutional structures of the Roman Catholic church. Something on the order of a religious revolution took place in postconciliar Latin America, with varied but important repercussions all across the continent. We decided to examine the role played by religious change in the political revolution that swept Nicaragua during the late 1970s.
From its inception the Sandinista Revolution generated deep concern and growing controversy in the United States. Because of the importance given to it within the foreign policy agenda of the Reagan administration, Nicaragua stayed in the headlines year after year during the 1980s--and that fact no doubt contributed to the scholarly attention that was so suddenly thrust upon this hitherto neglected country. In our opinion the scholarly attention, at least, has not been misplaced. There is a great deal to be learned from the struggles of small, dependent countries such as Nicaragua to create more equitable societies and more popular forms of politics. Not the least impor