What is liberation theology? Who does it? Why is it important to the church? How do traditional theologians and critics respond to it? This introductory course will discuss the many strands of liberation theology from different global contexts. The focus will be on liberation theology’s methodologies, its relation to the social context, and its challenges to the theological discipline. The course is designed to introduce some of the classical texts of liberation theologies from different parts of the world and the works of a few key new critical thinkers; analyse some of the newer challenges to liberation theologies: cultural hermeneutics, postcolonial criticism, and globalization; develop the skills of contextual theological thinking and critique of traditional theology of the church and one’s own faith; and to equip students to learn and reflect on theology from an anti-racist and multicultural perspectives through both course contents and pedagogy.

Liberation theologies arose in response to [awareness of] the ways in which people, organizations and nations use their power to oppress, suppress and / or discriminate against individual(s), group(s), nation(s). In the early days (1950s and 60s), liberation theologies focus on the abusive exercise of power in the lines of race, class and gender. Over time, liberation theologies also addressed the (ab)use of power along the lines of religion, ideologies, location, culture, colour, colonization, sexuality, economics, empire, ecology, and a whole lot more.

Liberation theologies made significant contributions to the developing of “Contextual theologies”–theologies constructed in light of and in conversation with specific, real, worldly, contexts. The early debates around Liberation and Contextual theologies used to be on whether there can be a context-less theology. Mainline (read: Western) theologies were called to account. Could one be objective in one’s theological reflection? Could one avoid being subjective? being contextual? In more recent times, with growing awareness of the shared experience of migration and transnationalism, the debate has turned to whether one could be mono-contextual, mono-cultural, mono-religious, mono-struggle, mono-scriptural, mono-something? Are we not always inter-, cross-, multi- and poly-something? We will discuss these debates/conversations further in this course.

In a way, all theologies that drive for emancipation–including physical, psychological, ideological, theological, pedagogical, political &etc emancipation–could come under the umbrella of Liberation theologies. So we are talking about a huge spectrum! But we will not cover all of those in this class. Rather, the drive of the course is toward the kind of liberation theologies that could be useful for our work in both the church and the public, with special attention to the contexts of Aotearoa and Pasifika.

For the purposes of this course, two details are worth noting and keeping in mind:

Liberation theologies arose from within the church (esp. Catholic Church)
Liberation theologies arose from the struggles against poverty in Latin America (see e.g., Getting the Poor Down from the Cross).
These two details give us permission to develop liberation theologies that are appropriate for local churches and public circles, and to be mindful that the struggles of Latin America are in some places different from the struggles in Aotearoa and Pasifika.

Drawing upon The Last Supper by the Methodist Filipino activist and artist Emmanuel Garibay, Liberation theologies seek to load the table, to make the table accessible to more people, and to interrogate traditional controls over the Lord’s feast.