What Is Liberation Theology?

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Roberto Goizueta
Boston College

Date: March 12, 2013

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Few contemporary theological movements have generated as much controversy as liberation theology. Likewise, few theological movements have been as misunderstood or misrepresented by both critics and sympathizers. In this talk, Goizueta will suggest that, rooted in a “preferential option for the poor,” liberation theology is fundamentally the attempt to interpret the Scriptures and Christian tradition through the eyes of the marginalized. As such, it is rooted in a spirituality that safeguards the universality, mystery, transcendence, and utter gratuity of God’s love against all idolatrous attempts to identify God’s love with power and privilege. 

Speaker Bio

Roberto Goizueta

Roberto Goizueta is the Margaret O'Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology at Boston College, where he specializes in Liberation Theology and the intersections of theology and culture. Goizueta is known for his research and teaching on Christology, theology and culture, liberation theology and Latino/a theology. He is past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States. In 2012, he won the Yves Congar award for theological excellence.  He is the author of the books Christ our Companion: Toward a Theological Aesthetics of Liberation (2009) and Caminemos con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment (1995), which was honored by the Catholic Press Association. He has received honorary degrees from the University of San Francisco and Elms College.  He earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in systematic theology from Marquette University and B.A. from Yale University.

Event Photos

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Roberto Goizueta, Margaret O'Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology at Boston College, speaks at the Boisi Center on Tuesday, March 12, 2013.

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Photos by Boston College MTS Photography

Event Recap

Liberation theology is a significant movement in Christian theology that seeks to understand God through the eyes of the poor and marginalized, yet its contours are often misunderstood by opponents and proponents alike. Roberto Goizueta, the Margaret O’Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology at Bos­ton College, aimed to clarify the tenants and implica­tions of liberation theology during a Boisi Center lunch colloquium on Tuesday, March 12.

Liberation theology, Goizueta explained, is rooted in early Latin American theology, though it was not explicitly articulated until the mid-twentieth century. According to Goizueta, Vatican II and Catholic Social Teaching catalyzed liberation theology in Latin America by clarifying the social mission of the Catholic Church. Indeed, Catholic teaching and liberation theology share some fundamental principles, including the importance of the common good and dignity of the human person. Still, liberation theologians have been criticized by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) for promoting unorthodox theology and radical social commitments. The movement has also been subject to criticism that the claim of God’s preferential love for the poor does not affirm the universality of God’s love for all humankind. According to Goizueta, however, these theological claims are compatible: If God’s love and grace is free and equitable, then God must make a preferential option to protect the poor from oppres­sive social conditions. Liberation theology, then, calls Christians to accompany poor and marginalized people in the struggle for justice; there is no liberation of the poor without friendship with the poor.

Goizueta also distinguished Latin American liberation theologies from those in the United States. Latin Ameri­can liberationists emphasize the struggle of the poor; U.S. liberationists emphasize marginalization based on race, culture, and language. Liberation theology can contribute to U.S. public life, Goizueta asserted, by making the preferential option for the poor a necessary component for promoting the common good.

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Further Reading

Allen, John L. "Liberation Theology African Style." National Catholic Reporter. National Catholic Reporter, 27 Mar. 2009. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.

Boff, Leonardo. Jesus Christ Liberator: A Critical Christology for Our Time. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1978. Print.

Cardenal, Ernesto. The Gospel in Solentiname. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010.

Cone, James Hal. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2010.

Goizueta, Roberto. Christ our Companion: Toward a Theological Aesthetics of Liberation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009.

Goizueta, Roberto. Caminemos con Jesus: Towards a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1971.

Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria. Mujerista Teology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.

Kappen, Sebastian. Jesus and Freedom. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books: 1977.

Lernoux, Penny. Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America - The Catholic Church in Conflict with U.S. Policy.  New York, NY: Penguin Books: 1991.

Levine, Daniel H. "Assessing the Impacts of Liberation Theology in Latin America" in The Review of Politics, 50.2. 1998.