Latina Theology

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Latina theology represents a body of theological writings rather than a self-designated theological movement. Latina theologians begin with particular aspects of the Latina/o experience and offer distinct interpretations of that experience. In nascent form, Latina theology does not divide easily into clear sub-groups. Within the category of "Latina theology," three distinguishable theological commitments emerge. First, a number of Roman Catholic Latina theologians either explicitly identify their work as feminist or, if not, they privilege gender, as well as culture and ethnicity, as primary categories in the development of theology. A second group identify their work as primarily "pastoral." This group, largely Roman Catholic, endeavors to interpret contemporary Latina/o experience through the lens of history, with the purpose of responding more effectively to the immediate pastoral concerns of the Latina/o community. Finally, Protestant Latinas, incorporate some aspects of the previous two groups while also privileging the distinctiveness of Protestant faith experience.

Origins and Sources. Latina theology is an out-growth and expression of the long history of an evolving consciousness on the part of women in Latin culture. This consciousness or critical recognition arises from the lived experience of gender, culture, race and class inequities, coupled with the lived experience of enduring faith. Short of this understanding, Latina theology can be misinterpreted as emerging exclusively in reaction to the white women's movement and theology, and in reaction to Latin American liberation theology. While these have undeniably made their contributions, Latinas' own history of struggle has played as prominent a role in the development of Latina theology. Latina consciousness can be found, for example, in the writings of the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (16481695); in the memoirs of 19th and 20th century Latinas (e.g. Doña María Inocencia Pico, Nina Otero-Warren); and in accounts of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s.

Some expressions of Latina theology espouse, along with white feminist theologies, a rejection of the patriarchal social system. But for Latina feminist theologians, the distortion of human nature concerns not only gender but also race and class. With Latino theologians, Latina feminist theologians share a critique of the subordination of Latinas/os to whites and the subordination of economically poor people to those of the middle and upper economic strata.

liberation theology, in both its Latin American form (e.g. Gustavo Gutierrez, Ignacio Ellacuria, Jon Sobrino) and its Third World feminist form (e.g. Elsa Tamez, Ivone Gebara, Virginia Fabella), constitutes one of the primary sources for Latina theology. Much of Latina theology attempts to interpret the idea of a "preferential option for the poor" as a preferential option for Latinas and to respond to the question, "What would theology look like if it was genuinely life-giving for Latinas?" Some expressions of Latina theology emphasize the promotion of the full humanity of Latina women; others focus less on gender believing that the liberation of the Latina/o community as a whole will adequately promote the full humanity of Latinas.

Distinct Forms. The first of the three forms, feminist or gender conscious Latina theology, is varied. Cubanborn Ada María Isasi-Díaz, along with collaborators, originated Mujerista theology in the mid-1980s. This theology assumes a preferential option for Latina women by encouraging the development of their moral agency and by giving public voice to Latinas' theological insights. Ethnography, a method used to further the reflective knowing processes of Latinas, characterizes this approach to Latina theology. In contrast, María Pilar Aquino (Mexican-born) terms her theology Latina feminist theology. It bears a strong liberationist orientation and draws on philosophy and on various social science disciplines. Her theology highlights the connections between Latin American feminist theology, Latin American liberation theology, and U.S. feminist theology. Along with these theologians, other Latina scholars have made important contributions. These are Jeanette Rodríguez-Holguin, Gloria Loya, Nancy Pineda-Madrid, and Michelle González. Not all of these theologians identify themselves as feminists but all privilege the category of gender in their work.

Pastoral theologies constitute the second form of Latina theology. Above all these theologies concern themselves with how to witness to, and communicate the faith to, Latinas/os in this historical moment. They investigate, among other ministerial foci, questions of catechesis, spiritual growth, liturgical practice and the practice of the church. They strive to respond to the contemporary pastoral needs of Latinas/os. Significant contributions have been made by Ana María Pineda, Anita de Luna, Ana María Díaz-Stevens, Marina Herrera, Rosa María Icaza, María de la Cruz Aymes, Carmen Nanko and Dominga Zapata.

Protestant Latinas form the third and final group. In drawing upon the Protestant faith experience and church practices, these theologians examine the meaning of the term evangelica/o, and provide a new interpretation of the experience of mestizaje (mixing of two realities), namely the experience of being both "Hispanic" and "Protestant." Key contributions have been made by Daisy Machado, Loida I. Martell-Otero, Teresa C. Sauceda and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier.

See Also: feminism; feminist theology; womanist theology.

Bibliography: m. p. aquino, Our Cry for Life: Feminist Theology From Latin America (Maryknoll, NY 1993). m. p. aquino, d. machado and j. rodrÍguez, eds., Religion, Feminism and Justice: A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology (Austin, TX 2001). a. m. isasi-dÍaz, Mujerista Theology (Maryknoll, NY 1996); En La Lucha: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology (Minneapolis 1993). j. d. rodrÍguez and l. i. martell-otero, Teología en Conjunto: A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology (Louisville 1997).

[n. pineda-madrid]