A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas

A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide

Michelle A. Gonzalez
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas
    Book Description:

    A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americasargues that we cannot understand religion in the Americas without understanding its marginalized communities. Despite frequently voiced doubts among religious studies scholars, it makes the case that theology, and particularly liberation theology, is still useful, but it must be reframed to attend to the ways in which religion is actually experienced on the ground. That is, a liberation theology that assumes a need to work on behalf of the poor can seem out of touch with a population experiencing huge Pentecostal and Charismatic growth, where the focus is not on inequality or social action but on individual relationships with the divine.By drawing on a combination of historical and ethnographic sources, this volume provides a basic introduction to the study of religion and theology in the Latino/a, Black, and Latin American contexts, and then shows how theology can be reframed to better speak to the concerns of both religious studies and the real people the theologians' work is meant to represent. Informed by the dialogue partners explored throughout the text, this volume presents a hemispheric approach to discussing lived religious movements. While not dismissive of liberation theologies, this approach is critical of their past and offers challenges to their future as well as suggestions for preventing their untimely demise. It is clear that the liberation theologies of tomorrow cannot look like the liberation theologies of today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-2121-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    I discovered the discipline of theology through the writings of liberation theologians. Some would call this a backward approach, yet it is the one that my education coincidentally and thankfully bestowed on me. I studied the hermeneutics of suspicion—that is, the examination of texts with a critical eye—and the need to listen to the voices that emerge from the underside of history before learning about the normative theological canons, and it is through this lens that I came to explore the discipline as a whole. Although I have never claimed to be a liberation theologian, my research and...

  5. 1 Latin American Liberation Theology
    (pp. 25-50)

    Latin American liberation theology, born in the late 1960s, argues that nonpersons, the poor and oppressed, must be the starting point and center of theological reflection. A theology that does not begin with the faith, life, and struggles of those from the underside of history is not a true Christian theology.¹ Latin American liberation theology functions on three levels: the popular, the pastoral, and the academic.² The first two give life to academic reflection: the spirituality and political praxis of grassroots Christian communities informs theoretical theological reflection. Grounded in the belief that economic and social justice are the center of...

  6. 2 Black Liberation Theology
    (pp. 51-78)

    Black liberation theology exploded into the theological arena in the late 1960s with a fervor that ignited the North American and later international theological communities. It emerged at the same historical moment as Latin American liberation theology, and together these theologies represent a shift in the method and sources of theology. Black liberation theologians introduced the category of race into theological speculation, demonstrating the manner in which historical and contemporary Christianity supports and perpetuates racist paradigms. Although black liberation theologians are not the first to write about the religion of African Americans, they are the first to explicitly engage academic...

  7. 3 Latino/a Theology: To Liberate or Not to Liberate?
    (pp. 79-102)

    The inclusion of Latino/a theology in this book may be a point of contention, for whether Latino/a theologians describe themselves as liberation theologians, and therefore their collective body of work as liberationist, is a matter of debate. This is a fundamental question this chapter will explore, for it raises the broader issue of what defines theology as liberationist. Is it the self-proclamation by the author, or is it the theological and social commitments found in his or her work? Or is it the theological conversation partners that the author engages? These are core questions that challenge the very nature of...

  8. 4 African Diaspora Religion
    (pp. 103-126)

    The study of African diaspora religions in the Americas is a growing field in the academy that crosses multiple interdisciplinary fields. While relying heavily on ethnography, history, and anthropology, scholars who do research in this area also combine literary studies, art history, and ritual studies in order to provide a broad picture of the complexity of African diaspora religions. The nature of their transmission, these scholars argue, requires a multi-pronged approach to their study in order to reveal the complexity of their formation in the Americas and their expressions today.

    The study of African diaspora religions has methodological and theological...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 127-144)

    This book opened with a discussion of the contested relationship between theology and religious studies in the contemporary academy. This debate has plagued scholars for decades, and no apparent resolution seems to be on the horizon. The study of religion itself remains a porous field, with little agreement among scholars surrounding the object of our study (religion) and the approach that unifies our scholarship (method). The manner in which the U.S. academy uses the category of religion is overwhelmingly Western and is significantly influenced by Christianity. Theology appears to be limited largely to the study of Christianity. Adding to the...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 145-168)
    (pp. 169-180)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 181-188)
    (pp. 189-189)