- The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology by Lilian Calles Barger
Lilian Calles Barger’s book represents a timely attempt to understand the intellectual roots of a transcontinental movement. Unfortunately, the author often overlooks the Latin American origins of liberation theology by conflating these with Black or Feminist Liberation Theology. There is ample evidence to support an “intellectual history of liberation theology” that centers on the origins and varieties of liberation theology, particularly those liberation theologies that emerged in the United States. The concern is that the attempt to trace the Latin American and the US intellectual histories and, in the process create a historical relationship between them, appears rather forced.
The volume is organized into an introduction and 12 chapters, which are divided into four parts (Origins, Reconstructions, Elaborations, and Reverberations), and an epilogue. Calles Barger deftly handles the social and political factors that led to a progressive [End Page 501] theology in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, declaring that “The emphasis [of the book] is on a web of interconnected and circulating ideas rather than direct lineage to antecedent thinkers, social networks, or personal biography” (8). The importance of theologians such as James Cone and Rosemary Radford Ruether, for example, is mentioned alongside Paulo Freire, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and José Carlos Mariátegui. Significant events such as the Cuban Revolution and the 1968 Latin American Bishops Conference in Medellín, Colombia, are also related to the rise of liberation theology. The attention dedicated to the emergence of Protestant streams of liberation theology and to the historical importance of colonial cultures in both North and South America also represents a valuable contribution to the traditional scholarship. Overall, the connections between disparate strands of liberation theology are evident throughout the work.
Unfortunately, the repeated recourse to a Eurocentric framework dilutes any attempted Latin American contextualization of liberation theology. While references to the work of Hannah Arendt, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Darwin, Emile Durkheim, Frederick Herzog, Karl Mannheim, Herbert Marcuse, and the Frankfurt School illustrate the philosophical underpinnings of liberation(al) thought, there is little attention paid to Latin American counterparts such as María Pilar Aquino, Ivonne Gebara, Ana María Tepedino, Elsa Támez, or Leopoldo Zea. In bringing up the Peruvian thinker José Carlos Mariátegui, for example, Calles Barger neglects to mention that his work contributed more to the construction of a Latin American Marxism than the ideas of Marcuse and the Frankfurt School. At the same time, where European touchstones could afford important points of contact, they remain incomplete. The space dedicated to the impact of Immanuel Kant and the principles of the European Enlightenment, for example, misses the opportunity to relate the contribution of these Enlightenment ideals to the process of Latin American independence from Spain and, hence, to the first historical Latin American liberation.
There are other telling signs that the Eurocentric focus of the book sidesteps the Latin American intellectual origins and expressions of liberation theology. Throughout the work there are noteworthy efforts to draw parallels between Black, Feminist, and Latin American Liberation Theologies, yet the lack of focus on the Latin American nature of liberation theology and the additional emphasis on Black and Feminist Liberation Theologies rest on a Eurocentric framework. Although Ernesto Cardenal and Solentiname are mentioned, Cardenal’s seminal collection of poems, Salmos (1964), and its distinct enunciation of liberation theology are not addressed. When examining the Protestant streams of liberation theology, the author centers on North America, passing over the importance of current evangelical movements in Central and South America that have been inspired by liberation theology. There is one mention of Pope John Paul II and his efforts to silence liberation theologians, and no mention of the critical work Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation” (1984) by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI). [End Page 502]
Latin American “reality” is first addressed (94) in a subsection titled “Latin American Reality,” and only...