The broad definition of liberation theology stresses the interrelatedness of differing structures of oppression and domination. Liberation from oppressive structures necessarily involves political, economic, social, racial, ethnic, and sexual aspects. As a paradigm, liberation theology today places explicit emphasis on assessing different forms of human oppression and suffering, and liberation from them, as layers in a complicated process.
Liberation theology is one of the most significant currents in modern theology. Because of its multidisciplinarity and its emphasis on social, political, and ecclesial praxis, it has come to have importance far beyond academic theology or institutional churches. Liberation theology can be defined either narrowly or broadly. In the former sense, it is limited to Latin American liberation theology (teología de la liberación, teologia da libertação ), born of a specifically Latin American context in the late 1960s. In the broader sense, liberation theology also includes other theological currents, most importantly black theology (mostly in the United States and South Africa), feminist theology, and variations of Asian and African liberation theologies. In the latter sense, it would be even more accurate to speak of theologies of liberation in the plural. Among different liberation theologians, this understanding of liberation theology as plural, heterogeneous, and global (with multifaceted local expressions) is common. There are also non-Christian theologies of liberation, even if the term sometimes is not fully accurate in all contexts. However, there has also been dialogue between Christian and Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu theologians of liberation. This article will concentrate on Christian liberation theologies in the broader, global meaning.
It is often wrongly assumed that liberation theology first appeared in Latin America and then spread to other continents and contexts. Some classical works on black theology (for example, James Cone's A Black Theology of Liberation, 1970) and feminist liberation theology (Rosemary Ruether's Liberation Theology, 1972) were published at about the same time as the first major works of Latin American liberation theology, such as Gustavo Gutiérrez's Teología de la liberación (1972). It is more accurate to say that the term liberation theology arose simultaneously in different contexts. The different theologies within the liberation theology movement have had some dialogue with each other, most importantly in the context of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT), founded in 1976. Counted among "Third World theologies" are liberation theologies inside the First World, especially the United States. Liberation theologians have learned from each other through critical dialogue: for example, the critique of the meagerness of the analysis of racism and sexism and the emphasis on economic and class issues at the cost of cultural elements in Latin American liberation theology; or for a feminist theology from industrialized countries that has been slow to admit that white, educated, and affluent women are a small minority.
Each liberation theology, whether black, feminist, or Latin American, is characterized by its distinctive viewpoint, but what they all share is a commitment to social justice. To some extent, all liberation theologies are situated in contemporary political struggles and movements (such as different human rights movements against Latin American dictatorships, the U.S. civil rights movement, and feminist movements in different countries and regions). Liberation theologians usually refer to this as praxis, not only as their aim or objective, but also as their point of departure.
Liberation theology stems from the conviction that giving priority to the poor and the oppressed in theology and in the church, and the concrete defense of their rights in different societies, is a central, if not the most central, element of the Christian faith. Christian liberation theologies aim their critical analysis not only at society but at the church and theology as well in order to judge to what extent they are accomplices in maintaining structures of domination.
Liberation theologies understand theology as critical reflection on the presence of the divine within different liberation struggles. This reflection is accomplished with the help of both sacred scriptures and tenets of the faith tradition, as well as other disciplines, in order to understand the root causes (and ways of eradication) of phenomena such as poverty and racism.
The concept contextual theology has been used interchangeably with liberation theology. It has been claimed that because all human activity, including the study of theology, is born in a particular context, all human activity is contextual. However, contextual theology has been used mainly to designate the changing character of Christianity as it took root outside the Western world. In this sense, contextual theology would be a wider term than liberation theology, Latin American liberation theology, for example, being just one form of contextualized theology from a particular colonialized and Christianized part of the world. In the sense that the term contextual theology refers to a local political, social, and religious context—for example, Ghana or the Philippines—it is a narrower term than liberation theology, which stresses a global struggle against different systems of domination.
No single article can do justice to the contemporary richness of different liberation theologies, such as Dalit theology (India), gay and lesbian liberation theologies, minjung theology (Korea), indigenous peoples' theologies and spiritualities of liberation all over the globe, and the Palestinian theology of liberation, among others. In the remainder of this essay, to the discussion will be limited to Latin American liberation theology, black theology, and feminist theology.
Latin American Liberation Theology
The Catholic Church was, for centuries, one of the pillars of Spanish power in Latin America, which was Christianized more than five hundred years ago, unlike other areas later colonized by European countries. The circumstances that made liberation theology possible have deep historical roots; however, there are some more immediate causes, both secular and ecclesial.
The generally conflictive atmosphere, and the rise of authoritarian military dictatorships all over Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, created the conditions in which the Roman Catholic Church had to take a political stance regarding growing violations of human rights, deepening poverty, and organized, armed guerrilla struggle, culminating in some cases in a successful popular revolution (Cuba in 1959 and Nicaragua in 1979). An influential idea behind early liberation theology was the dependency theory, according to which the main reason for the poverty and underdevelopment of the Third World was its dependency on industrialized countries, which were largely developed through the use of, and profit from, dependent regions. Theologically, liberation theology was a radicalization and contextualization of the influence from European political theology and, certainly, in a tradition as long as Christianity itself, of prophetic denunciation of injustice and oppression and declaration of freedom and liberation to those suffering from them.
The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) of the Roman Catholic Church established a global opening of the church to society and had an extremely important influence especially on Catholic churches in North America and Latin America. Ecumenically, the World Council of Churches took steps that encouraged Protestant churches to commit themselves to issues of social justice, especially the eradication of poverty. In Latin America, the Latin American Catholic Bishops' Conference (CELAM, Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano ) met in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, a meeting often interpreted as a critical point in the departure of the Catholic Church (as an institution) from its five-hundred-year-old relationship to the state. The church formally made "a preferential option for the poor" and aspired to become "a church of the poor." Some of the first important Catholic liberation theologians were Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, Hugo Assmann, Jon Sobrino, and Pablo Richard; on the Protestant side were theologians such as Rubem Alves, José Míguez Bonino, and Elsa Tamez.
At the grassroots level, priests, pastors, nuns, and laypeople started to work with the rural and urban poor, forming ecclesial base communities, or comunidades eclesiales de base (CEBs), in which people learned to interpret their everyday realities in the light of their Christian identity and faith. In some countries, such as Nicaragua and Brazil, the local CEBs played an important sociopolitical role.
According to Gutiérrez, liberation theology is "a critical reflection on praxis in the light of the Word of God." While there is a clear Marxist influence in liberation theologians' use of the concept of praxis, the Vatican's claim that liberation theology is camouflaged Marxism is exaggerated. Liberation theologians interpreted both Christianity and the Latin American situation from a new perspective, that of the colonized "Christian South," in which the majority of people lived in widespread poverty under extremely repressive governments. The method of liberation theology—to give primacy to praxis over theological speculations—has influenced nearly all contemporary theology.
In the 1990s, the influence of both liberation theology and the CEBs has diminished, partly due to the growing presence of Pentecostalism and the rise in Protestant churches in Latin America. Also, the Catholic Church has become much more conservative during the papacy of John Paul II, leaving very few liberation-theological bishops, such as Helder Camara of Brazil and Oscar Romero of El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s, in the Latin American Catholic Church. At the same time, ever-deepening poverty and the globalization of market economies, issues of sexism and racism, and ecological concerns raise both old and new questions for liberation theologians. An analysis of idolatry as well as of the common roots of Western theology and economy (for example, the sacrificial elements in both) has led to some of the new developments that have deepened the original insights of liberation theology. Capitalism as religion and the "necessary" production of victims as a basically theological belief have been theorized by Franz Hinkelammert and Hugo Assmann. Christianity should always side with the victims and defend their lives, which is why liberation theology is also called the theology of life, teología de la vida, reflecting on the meaning of the God of life, el Dios de la vida.
Liberation theology today might best be seen as forming part of the so-called globalization critique, which, along with theories and practices of alternative globalization, tend to bring together actors and theories from both the First and Third Worlds in order to create alternatives to contemporary economic policies. A lack of democratic control of economic policies, poverty, ecological disasters, the concentrated control of natural resources, and the concomitant issues of sexism and racism, remain as issues.
Black theology in the United States arose out of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s. However, its historical roots go back to the beginning of African slavery in the United States and the founding of black independent Baptist and Methodist churches in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Important contributors to this literature are James H. Cone, J. Deotis Roberts, and Gayraud S. Wilmore. "In a racist society, God is not color blind," says James Cone. Also, if all humans were created in the image of God, it must not only mean that black people are created in God's image, as are whites, but also that "God is black." In a related sense, "blackness" is a category in black theology similar to that of "poverty" in Latin American liberation theology. To be black, or poor, is to be conscious both of one's oppression and of one's authentic humanity.
As in other liberation theologies, black women's voices, and their critique, have been central for the later development of black theology. In the United States, African-American feminist theologians prefer to call their work womanist theology, after a term borrowed from the African-American writer Alice Walker. Important Christian womanist theologians are Delores Williams, Jacquelyn Grant, and Katie G. Cannon. Most U.S. black and womanist theologians are Protestant. In a racist and sexist society, black women cannot prefer one identity at the cost of the other: they are marginalized both as women and as a racial minority.
As in the United States, the struggle against institutionalized racism, often legitimized by religious beliefs, has been the source of black theology in Africa, especially South Africa. Reformed Christianity in South Africa has been one of the ideological pillars of apartheid, the repressive political system of that country for decades, which is why black theology in the South African context has been different from that in the United States. Important black South African theologians such as Desmond Tutu, Allan Boesak, and Manas Buthelezi have often also been leaders in the churches and in movements against apartheid. A black theology of liberation, la teología negra de la liberación, including a feminist version, is also being developed in the Latin American and Caribbean context.
By virtue of its large and varied racial and ethnic minorities, the United States has produced the largest variety of feminist theologies. At the same time, theologies from the United States are not only not applicable in other parts of the world but also often reflect the specific historical and cultural circumstances of that country. Thus, Latina feminist theology (exemplified by María Pilar Aquino from the Catholic tradition and Daisy Machadofrom the Protestant), womanist theology, mujerista theology (including Latina female theologians such as Ada María Isazi-Díaz and Yolanda Tarango), Native American, and Asian-American feminist theologies (for example, Kwok Puilan and Chung Hyun Kyung), have been influenced by feminist thinking from other contexts and countries, but also reflect the situation of women from ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. It is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between Latin American and U.S. Latino or Asian and Asian-American theological production because individual theologians often have spent parts of their lives in both their countries of origin and in the United States.
Some important white North American feminist theologians who have done groundbreaking work are Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Catholic), Mary Daly (post-Christian), Judith Plaskow (Jewish), and Letty M. Russell (Protestant). Schüssler Fiorenza and Ruether also explicitly define themselves as liberation theologians.
In Europe, scholars such as Catharina J. M. Halkes, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, and Mary Grey identify themselves as feminist liberation theologians. The European Society for Women in Theological Research has been an important forum for the development of European feminist theologies. Both in Europe and the United States, there are also feminist thealogians (after thea, Greek for "goddess") who depart from the Judeo-Christian tradition by reclaiming different goddess traditions. Many feminist theologians in different parts of the world include eco-feminist and ecological concerns in their work.
All feminist theologies share the importance of the analysis of sexism in different religious traditions, women's exclusion from both theology and positions of power in religious institutions, and the often explicitly religious legitimization of the subordination of women. Many burning ethical issues, such as abortion and violence against women, cannot be adequately assessed without a critical feminist theological analysis of the religious underpinnings of ethical thinking; and dialogue with feminist theories from other fields is also important.
See also Authoritarianism: Latin America ; Christianity ; Feminism ; Human Rights ; Marxism: Latin America ; Poverty ; Religion: Latin America ; Religion and the State: Latin America ; Womanism .
Boff, Leonardo. Igreja, carisma e poder. Petrópolis, Brazil: Vozes, 1981.
Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1990.
Cone, James H., and Gayraud S. Wilmore, eds. Black Theology: A Documentary History. 2 vols. 2nd rev. ed. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1993.
Ellacuría, Ignacio, and Jon Sobrino, eds. Mysterium Liberationis: Conceptos fundamentales de la teología de la liberación. 2 vols. San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1991.
Fabella, Virginia, and R. S. Sugirtharajah, eds. Dictionary of Third World Theologies. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2000.
Gibellini, Rosino, ed. Paths of African Theology. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1994.
Gutiérrez, Gustavo. Teología de la liberación: Perspectivas. Salamanca: Sígueme, 1972.
Isasi-Díaz, Ada María, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds. Hispanic/ Latino Theology: Challenge and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
King, Ursula, ed. Feminist Theology from the Third World: A Reader. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1994.
Pieris, Aloysius. An Asian Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1988.
Ruether, Rosemary R. Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power. New York: Paulist Press, 1972.
——. Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon, 1983.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad, 1983.
Thistlethwaite, Susan B., and Mary P. Engel, eds. Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990.
"Liberation Theology." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberation-theology-0
"Liberation Theology." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberation-theology-0
Liberation theology, or theology of liberation, is among the movements for social change that emerged in the Americas in the 1960s. Born within Christian churches, it upholds an understanding of the Christian faith as demanding an “option for the poor,” that is, a continuous commitment to the self-liberation of the oppressed. From its inception, it has had important ties with grassroots organizations and actions for social change—siding with the victims of socioeconomic oppression and of political and military repression.
Since early on liberation theology attracted the attention of social scientists and policymakers, as its effects both belied scholarly assumptions—for example, religion having a decreasing influence and a predominantly conservative function in the larger society—and raised fears of grassroots opposition to capitalism among the economic, political, and military elites north and south of the Rio Grande.
Several factors influenced the emergence of liberation theology. The growing resistance throughout the Americas in the 1960s to economic exploitation, political repression, and official complicity with both is indeed among these. This resistance, partially inspired by the Cuban Revolution (1959), found mounting echoes among urban youth, the poor, students, and intellectuals—including a rising number of church activists and thinkers. These stimulated attempts (including a “theology of revolution,” “Christian left,” and Christian “communitarianism”) to ground the struggle against exploitation and repression in the biblical tradition, especially in Jesus’s actions, words, death, and resurrection—and thus to disprove the claim (shared both by Christian capitalists and Marxist atheists) that the churches’ social role could only be a conservative one. Following suit, churches started not only initiatives for economic development and respect of human rights, but also theological foundations for such initiatives. The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the social encyclicals of Popes John XXIII (1963) and Paul VI (1967), as well as the 1968 Second General Conference of Latin American Roman Catholic Bishops, were all particularly influential in that change of direction—particularly through their explicit Christian affirmation of the divine right of all peoples to govern themselves democratically, and to have access to the material goods necessary to satisfy their basic material needs, even through revolutionary social, economic, and political change, if necessary. On the Protestant side, the World Conference on Church and Society in Geneva, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (1966), a follow-up Consultation on Church and Society in São Paulo, Brazil, sponsored by a provisional commission for the Unity of Latin American Evangelicals (1967), and the Third Latin American Evangelical Conference (Buenos Aires, 1969), all contributed to Protestant Christians’ embracing movements for social justice. In both Protestant and Catholic quarters, a growing chorus of voices, official and otherwise, affirmed much more clearly from the 1960s on than in earlier times the Christian obligation to fight for socioeconomic justice, political democracy, human rights, and world peace, especially in defense of the poorer populations. Entwined with these, in the United States, the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, the antiwar movement, the United Farm Workers movement, the women’s movement, and the American Indian liberation movement, all contributed to the emergence of a rich diversity of theological reflections from the late 1960s on.
A first digest of some key ideas of a liberation theology, as well as a first Spanish use of the idiom itself, theology of liberation, appeared in the lecture “Hacia una teología de la liberación” (Toward a theology of liberation), delivered in 1968 to a clergy meeting in his native Peru by Roman Catholic priest Gustavo Gutierrez (b. 1923), dubbed “the father of liberation theology” since. About the same time, the former Brazilian Presbyterian pastor Rubem Alves (b. 1933), exiled in Princeton Theological Seminary, used the expression in his dissertation Towards a Theology of Liberation, with ideas converging with Gutierrez’s. In 1969 the African Methodist Episcopal minister/theologian James H. Cone independently finished his book A Black Theology of Liberation, the cornerstone of black liberation theology—deeply inspired by the revolutionary call of the Black Power movement for the black population in the United States to take in its own hands the task of achieving equality, autonomy, and respect “by any means necessary,” as well as by its criticism of the complicity of churches and theologians with white supremacy.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the movement grew in numbers, visibility, and influence across the churches in the Americas. In response, military dictator-ships—in at least ten countries of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America—unleashed violent repression against those linked to liberation theology. Among the hundreds of thousands of lives thus lost, Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, murdered while celebrating mass in a hospital chapel in 1980, was the most remarkable victim of that backlash, becoming a popular saint-martyr symbolizing the Christian commitment to the liberation of the poor. That year, a document outlining the inter-American strategy of the Reagan administration stated: “U.S. foreign policy must begin to counter (not react against) liberation theology as it is utilized in Latin America by the ‘liberation theology’ clergy” (Committee of Santa Fe 1980).
The military repression; the stifling of dissent in Roman Catholicism under Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), with parallel processes in many Protestant churches; the accelerating impoverishment of Latin American peoples under the new global economy; the emergence of fragile democracies in the wake of most military dictatorships; and the growing appeal of Pentecostalism among the Latin American poor stunned and beset liberation theology through the last two decades of the twentieth century.
For liberation theology God is the God of the poor. God’s self-revelation is first and foremost in, to, and through the poor—not least in the incarnation, birth, words, deeds, persecution, torture, execution, and resurrection of Jesus, as expressed, among others, in Matthew 25: 31–46. Modern poverty is not a result of accidental scarcity (as it might have been in other times and places), but of systemic exploitation by the few at the expense of the many. Poverty is the result of the sin of the powerful, not of the poor: the product of a free human rejection of God’s call for caring for the poor and oppressed. Salvation is, therefore, inseparable from the radical embracing of God’s option for the poor, and thus entailing, among others, a call against capitalist exploitation.
The theology of liberation has often been charged with reducing Jesus to a social revolutionary. Albeit the charge could be deemed unfair, the fact is that such an iconic image was quite pervasive during the first two decades of the history of the movement—more among some “followers” than amid the theologians in the movement proper. As the years went by, such images became less recurrent. As in any emerging movement fighting for deep structural change, liberation theology developed much more what distinguished it from conservative, dominant theologies, than what both might hold in common. Thus, an emphasis on the historical Jesus, on the human facet of the divine incarnation, and on the social dimensions of the life, message, passion, death, and resurrection of the Christ, have been critical in liberation theology. The image of Jesus in this theology is and has been that of someone essentially identified with “the least among us,” whose entire life was (is, and will continue to be) radically revolutionary—and not just marginally or accidentally—and thoroughly world-shattering in terms economical, social, political, ethnic, linguistic, and gender-based.
For liberation theology, theology is only a second moment—a moment of reflection on the actual praxis of faith—and dominant theologies are, all too often, unconscious sacralizations of the self-interested faith praxis of the elites. Theological work requires, therefore, an effort of critical social analysis of the social conditions and interests shaping its course, so that all theology moves toward bearing the good news of God’s liberation for the poor and oppressed. But, as Gutierrez would put it, what matters is not the fate of theology (not even of liberation theology), but the fate of the poor and oppressed.
Possibly, however, the most significant and enduring impact of liberation theology—including in places as distant as Chile, the Philippines, Korea, South Africa, and Los Angeles—has to do with its emphasis on the obligation of theology and theologians to involve themselves in the actual struggles for liberation of the oppressed themselves. One major facet of this emphasis on praxis are the so-called “basic ecclesial communities” (BECs): small gatherings of lay Christian neighbors—with or without a pastor present—to read the Bible in community, reflect on its practical demands for the larger life in community, and organize and mobilize to enact those demands in the real existence of the area. Such BECs sprouted in many places in South America and beyond (notably in Brazil, with estimates of more than 100,000 BECs in the 1980s touching the lives of several million people), turning the message of liberation theology into the actual development of neighborhood clinics, literacy campaigns, independent schools, labor unions, strikes, mass protests, housing projects, and neighborhood cleanups.
The social and political movements leading to the victories of more socially concerned leaders in Latin America from 1979 on (Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, Haiti’s Lavalas, Brazil’s Workers Party, Venezuela’s Chavez, Chile’s Bachelet, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales), are probably inexplicable without factoring in the influence, large or small, of liberation theology and BECs.
These initiatives have placed liberation theology, on the one hand, in dialogue and cooperation with other movements (Christian or not) fighting for social justice, democracy, equality, and peace, and therefore, on the other hand, also in conflict with both the elites—social, economic, political, military, and, often too, religious—of many nations, as well as with those Christians who view their faith from vantage points outside of the liberation of the poor and oppressed.
Liberation theology has been variously critiqued for being more Marxist than Christian; reducing the Christian faith, evangelization, and salvation to this—a worldly, socioeconomic agenda; promoting hatred of the rich, class warfare, and armed revolution; erasing the spiritual dimensions of the Christian faith; turning the church into a political party; and sacralizing the poor while demonizing the wealthy. Liberation theologians, responding more indirectly than directly to such accusations, have nuanced and deepened their reflections, especially from the 1980s on, while inspiring further critical analyses of the complex social and religious dynamics beneath the charges laid against them.
The reach, yield, sway, and publicized persecution of Latin American Roman Catholic liberation theology have often created the impression that it is only, or at least mainly, a Latin American and/or Roman Catholic phenomenon. Liberation theology, however, developed simultaneously in North America, too, and, not much later, in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Black liberation theology was the first North American liberation theology. U.S. Hispanic/Latino theologies followed not long after both Black and Latin American liberation theologies. Feminist, pacifist, Native American, Asian American, and Jewish liberation theologies came immediately thereafter, followed by lesbian and gay liberation theologies. Each one has both advanced the critique of the ways in which their own religious tradition has been an unwitting accomplice of oppression, and contributed to reinterpreting such tradition in further solidarity with the victims of oppression and with their struggles for liberation. In the process, several forums have contributed to the dialogue, reciprocal critique, and cross-pollination between these liberation theologies—the most significant being the EATWOT (Ecumenical Association of Third-World Theologians).
At the onset of the twenty-first century, the multiplicity of liberation theologies, as well as the diversity of situations in which they exist, does not allow for any sweeping diagnosis or prognosis. It can be said, however, that it is not possible any longer to preach Christian theology without facing, sooner or later, knowingly or not, the key question raised by liberation theology: What have we done for the poor and oppressed in our midst? Simultaneously, at least in Latin America, it is hardly possible any longer to administer politics (leftist, centrist, or right-wing; civilian or military; governmental or oppositional; democratic or otherwise), without facing the demands of a significant sum of Christians for respect, justice, and peace for all—beginning with the most vulnerable.
The Committee of Santa Fe. 1980. A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties. Washington, DC: Council for Inter-American Security.
Cone, James H. 1990. A Black Theology of Liberation. 20th Anniversary ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Gutierrez, Gustavo. 1988. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Trans. and ed. Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Levine, Daniel H. 1992. Popular Voices in Latin American Catholicism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Smith, Christian. 1991. The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
"Liberation Theology." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/liberation-theology
"Liberation Theology." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/liberation-theology
Major themes of liberation theology can be discerned in the titles of some of the leading books. Jesus Christ Liberator ( L. Boff, 1972) points out that in Christ, not words, but the Word was revealed in act, to make ‘the utopia of absolute liberation’ a topia, a place here and now. Church: Charism and Power ( L. Boff, 1981) contests the ‘institutional fossilisation’ of the centuries which has produced a hierarchical Church, oppressive and clerical, which cannot be amended by minor reform; in its place, Boff (and others) propose Iglesia popular, the church arising from the people by the power of the Holy Spirit (desde el pueblo por el Espiritu)—in which connection, the importance of base (ecclesial) communities is paramount. We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People ( G. Gutiérrez, 1984) took the phrase and argument of St Bernard that in matters of the spirit, one must draw first on one's own experience: whereas this has usually, in the past, been a matter of individual process, aimed at an improved interior life, in S. America the experience is communal, and often of solidarity for survival. The Power of the Poor in History ( G. Gutiérrez, 1983) reflects ‘the preferential option for the poor’: by this is meant that ‘the poor deserve preference, not because they are morally or religiously better than others, but because God is God, in whose eyes “the last are first”’—a mother with a sick child does not love her other children less just because she commits herself immediately to the child in need; it also allows the possibility that violence may be a necessary means of bringing about justice: ‘We cannot say that violence is alright when the oppressor uses it to maintain or preserve order, but wrong when the oppressed use it to overthrow this same order.’
The response of the Vatican to liberation theology was initially hostile, but became more circumspect. The second Latin American Episcopal Conference at Medellín (CELAM II) in 1968 condemned institutionalized violence and the alliance of the Church with it; CELAM III at Puebla in 1979 endorsed the preferential option for the poor, commended base communities, and made ‘a serene affirmation of Medellín’. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ignoring the more reflective findings of the International Theological Commission's Dossier of 1976, issued its Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation in 1984, and it summoned L. Boff to Rome for investigation, forbidding him, as a result, to lecture or publish—a ban that lasted for a year. The poverty of the analysis, thought by many to amount to a caricature, led to a second Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (1986). This was to be read in conjunction with the first Instruction, and was not to be taken as contradicting it, but it is a far more positive document; nevertheless, Gutiérrez was banned from lecturing in Rome in 1994.
Liberation theology has had extensive influence outside S. America. From the Detroit ‘Theology in the Americas’ Conference in 1975 (Proceedings, ed. S. Torres and J. Eagleson, 1976), the connections with black theology and with feminist theology were so clear that the phrase ‘liberation theologies’ became preferred. In 1976, the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) held its first meeting in Dar-es-Salaam, with a clear commitment to the struggle for a just society. Equally important has been the determination to require theology to arise from the context of experience (e.g. K. Koyama, Waterbuffalo Theology, 1974; C. S. Song, Third-Eye Theology, 1979; minjung theology in Korea, which takes the concept of people who are ruled and dominated, but who use the process of history to become free subjects).
"Liberation Theology." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberation-theology
"Liberation Theology." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberation-theology
LIBERATION THEOLOGY. Liberation theology emerged from a long process of transformation in post-Enlightenment Christian theological reflection. As science and historical criticism challenged the findings of traditional metaphysical foundations of theology, theologians were widely expected to reconcile their findings with modern principles of analysis and criticism. Where theological reflection was previously focused on the metaphysical and supernatural, it became increasingly concerned with pragmatic and concrete problems.
Liberation theology originated in the 1960s in North and South America, although it was rooted in works by post–World War II European theologians like Rudolf Bultmann, Jürgen Moltmann, and Johann-Baptiste Metz. Among its foundational texts was The Secular City (1965), by the U.S. Protestant theologian Harvey Cox. It argued that, for religion to retain vitality in a secularized environment, theological reflection must conform to the concrete social and political challenges of the modern secular world; for example, he argued that contemporary problems like racism and poverty must be treated as theological problems as well as social problems. Selling a million copies in numerous languages, Cox was especially influential in Latin America, and with the 1971 Spanish-language publication of A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by the Peruvian Catholic theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez (the book was published in English in 1973), liberation theology was given its name and became a new branch of theological reflection. By the mid-1970s, many exponents of liberation theology emerged in North and South America, including Catholics (Leonardo Boff, Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Juan Luis Segundo, Jon Sobrino) and Protestants (Robert McAfee Brown, James H. Cone). Thereafter, the influence of liberation theology expanded, becoming mainstream within the international community of theologians, especially influencing theological reflection in Africa and Asia.
Liberation theology had a mutually supportive relationship with important developments in the post–World War II era. First, it emerged amidst the European decolonization of Africa and Asia, supporting and drawing strength from the discourse around third-world poverty and global politics spurred by decolonization. Second, liberation theology both helped to affirm and was, in turn, affirmed by innumerable liberation movements, including the black power and sexual liberation movements in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s, popular guerrilla movements in Latin American nations like Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s, and the popular anticommunist movement in Central and Eastern Europe during the 1980s. Third, given its use of theological reflection as a means to "human liberation," liberation theology promoted the idea that theology should be political and activist in its goals; in the process, it was often distinguished from post–World War II fundamentalist theologies that generally placed a higher premium on metaphysical and supernatural concerns. In recent years, liberation theology has helped to promote a multiculturalist and human rights–based critique of contemporary politics, society, and culture.
Casanova, José. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Treats the global influence of theological thought from liberationist to fundamentalist theologies in the late twentieth century.
Cox, Harvey. The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspectives. 1965. New York: Collier, 1990. Twenty-fifth anniversary edition with a new introduction by the author.
Tracy, David. The Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology. 1975. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Includes a learned, concise treatment of modern theology's relation to developments in the sociology of knowledge.
"Liberation Theology." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberation-theology
"Liberation Theology." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberation-theology
Liberation theology originated in Latin America during the 1960s in response to poverty, oppression, and failed development strategies. Methodologically it is described as theology "from below," beginning with social-historical reality and analysis and reflecting critically on it in the light of Christian tradition. Through a process of conscientisation, oppressed peoples are themselves involved in doing theology. The Exodus theme and the biblical motif of God's option for the poor are used as paradigms for reflection. Other theologies subsequently developed using the same methodology. These include black theology and feminist theology, which respond respectively to racism and sexism. All forms of liberation theology make use of social, economic, or political analysis in order to construct a stable interpretation of the conditions of life from which liberation is sought.
See also Economics; Liberation
john w. de gruchy
"Liberation Theology." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/liberation-theology
"Liberation Theology." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/liberation-theology
liberation theology, belief that the Christian Gospel demands
"a preferential option for the poor,"
and that the church should be involved in the struggle for economic and political justice in the contemporary world—particularly in the Third World. Dating to the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and the Second Latin American Bishops Conference, held in Medellin, Colombia (1968), the movement brought poor people together in comunidades de base, or Christian-based communities, to study the Bible and to fight for social justice. Since the 1980s, many in the church hierarchy have criticized liberation theology and its advocates, accusing them of wrongly supporting violent revolution and Marxist class struggle, but its advocates have argued that its positions were in agreement with the church's social teachings about the poor.
See studies by P. Berryman (1987), A. Hennelly (1989), and J. R. Pottenger (1989).
"liberation theology." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/liberation-theology
"liberation theology." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 29, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/liberation-theology