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  • The Jesuits in Latin America, 1549-2000: 450 Years of Inculturation, Defense of Human Rights, and Prophetic Witness
  • John F. Schwaller
The Jesuits in Latin America, 1549-2000: 450 Years of Inculturation, Defense of Human Rights, and Prophetic Witness. By Jeffrey L. Klaiber, S.J. [Series III: Scholarly Studies Originally Composed in English, No. 21.] (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources. 2009. Pp. viii, 463. $28.95 paperback. ISBN 978-1-880-81071-9.)

The Society of Jesus has been a central player in the historical development of Latin America. Klaiber presents a fascinating survey of the contributions of the order to the region and studies the interplay of the region and the order. This is a broad, sweeping history, providing fascinating details while covering much ground and 450 years.

The book has three main themes, as reflected in the title: inculturation, human rights, and witness. Klaiber explains the importance of inculturation. Coined by Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the Jesuit Order from 1965 to 1983, the term refers to the action of evangelization that brings out the best in the non-Christian culture without destroying that culture. Klaiber sees this as springing directly from the Jesuit "Spiritual Exercises" that also ensure that Jesuit spirituality is forever modern and is continually improved through the use of reason. From this point he then outlines the broad units through which the order worked in Latin America, including the geographical areas, the higher education institutions, and the rural estates in his discussion.

Chapter 1 focuses on the activities of the Jesuits in Peru, from the important ethnographic and historical works of José de Acosta and the extirpation to the eighteenth-century expulsion of the order and possible ties to an indigenous uprising. The impact of the order on colonial policy aimed at the natives and on African slaves in Peru, Chile, and Brazil in the colonial period is the topic of chapter 2. The frontiers form the background for chapter 3, where Klaiber considers the contributions of the Jesuits to the evangelization of the far north (Florida to Sonora) and the far south (specifically Paraguay). With the [End Page 870] expulsion of the order from the Hispanic realms after 1762, Jesuit intellectuals created works of great importance in helping modern scholars understand the cultural realties of the Americas in that period. Chapter 4 outlines the contributions of those Jesuits in exile. Independence in Latin America and the restoration of the Society of Jesus occurred at roughly the same time.

In chapter 5, Klaiber considers the role of the order in the creation of the political environment of Mexico up into the 1930s, where the Catholic Church, in general, played an active role in politics. Klaiber studies the role of the Jesuits in the less confrontational political environment of the Church in Brazil and Chile, in chapter 6, which contrasts with the Mexican experience. Chapter 7 is extremely important in that it focuses on the period of political turmoil and social change that followed the Second Vatican Council in Latin America. The order played a critical role in interpreting the various arguments of the period, particularly in Brazil, Venezuela, and the Antilles. In chapter 8, Klaiber continues his analysis of the order in the period after the Second Vatican Council to the close of the twentieth century, looking at the Southern Cone, the Andean Republics, Central America, and Mexico. The last chapter takes an overview of the whole work and interprets the trajectory of the order in the light of inculturation and the implications for faith and social justice. The role of the Jesuit universities and liberation theology also are considered here.

Covering a vast amount of material in a relatively short space, the book is a significant work that will prompt much discussion and, one hopes, enlighten many about the contributions of the Society of Jesus to Latin American culture and history.

John F. Schwaller
State University of New York at Potsdam


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