Introducing Liberative Theologies

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Miguel De La Torre
Introducing series
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , September
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This 2015 edited volume has taken on the task (and title) of Introducing Liberative Theologies with remarkable comprehensiveness, gathering an array of voices that seldom come together in a survey text. Under the editorial hand of Miguel De La Torre, the volume works to hybridize a space often sifted by geography or group identity, not least in allowing its own emphasis on US contexts to be met and modified by global ones. Indeed, among the twelve liberative theologies outlined by contributors, four from “the global context” take the lead (Latin American, African, Asian, and Jewish and Islamic liberative theologies), followed by four from “the U.S. racial, ethnic, and class context” that proceed in geographic parallel to them (Hispanic, African American, and Asian American theologies, followed by theologies of poverty and class). The volume concludes with “the U.S. gender and sexual-identity context” (feminist, women of color, queer, and disability liberative theologies). In and through this wide spectrum De La Torre aims for the possibility that, in pursuing their liberative theologies in the same space, the marginalized groups within which these contributors speak might come to “accompany one another” in the struggle for a more just world (xiii, xxiii).

What results across the breadth of these essays is a lively and productive balance between broad orientation and exposure to complexity, accessible to a range of audiences and delivering on the promise to incite and enable deeper exploration (xv). The essays on the whole make admirable work of their space constraints (about fifteen to twenty pages each), offering contextualizing analyses, essential themes, figures, and methodologies, and glimpses toward the future in their respective fields. The editorial directives set out in the preface (xv) are helpful in this regard, providing some structure and cohesiveness to this otherwise lightly edited collection (containing a brief preface and introduction and no conclusion). Most of the connective work is performed by the contributors themselves as they draw threads between their respective disciplines in the course of laying out their own.

Inasmuch as the volume aims “simply to bring these voices together” (xv), it is on the whole highly successful. Inasmuch as it aims, more than this, to be “a unified work” (xv), I wonder whether more might have done to articulate how its widely varying contributors do in fact speak to—accompany—one another, particularly in light of the more introductory readership intended for this “textbook” (xiv). At the same time, from another angle, the loose connectivity could be seen as a virtue, in that it disallows any packaging of these theologies into a reductive set of tropes or themes. Erring on the side, perhaps, of gathering them into a more suggestively than robustly shared space, the volume allows for each to be heard with the integrity that is its due.

Introducing Liberative Theologies is therefore well suited as a reference text and an aid to greater exposure across a wide range of theologies and readerships. Its emphasis on the definition of terms, successfully executed, orients the book to relatively new readers while not excluding the more initiated, who will find opportunities to revisit familiar discourses and build connections to new ones. The basic bibliographies at the close of each chapter are consistently strong (the study questions are more variable in quality). Most importantly, perhaps, many of the chapters offer excellent material for coursework in undergraduate, seminary, or even ecclesial settings. To name just a few examples, the first three chapters reach out to one another and to the US setting to help trace the literal world of ties that both bind and distinguish contemporary liberative theologies; the chapters on Hispanic and women of color theologies deal admirably with the tensions of bringing many streams together under a single name; and the consecutive chapters on feminist and women of color theologies stand out as excellent and mutually communicating resources for classroom use. Most of the collection works well as a resource generally but not exclusively oriented to Christian theological contexts. Less successful in this regard, I find, is the chapter on African American theologies, which may suffer from the extent of its cycling between Jewish, Christian, and Islamic contexts.

While the volume comes with the expected proviso that not all voices can be included (xv), the most serious and surprising impediment to its value as a relatively comprehensive sourcebook is, in my estimation, the unexplained omission of a chapter on liberative ecological theologies. (Skillful, though brief, ecological material can be found in the feminist, women of color, and disability chapters.) The book would have been helped in general by accounting for such difficult decisions of inclusion and exclusion, as well as for its ordering and organization as a whole. Another structural peculiarity is the inclusion of the disability chapter within the “U.S. gender and sexual-identity context,” giving something of an impression of its dangling at the end of the book. So analytically and theologically brilliant is the essay itself, however, that it lights up the collection even (especially?) as its somewhat unruly and order-upsetting end. All told, this volume and its efforts to press across boundaries of solidarity should resonate with all teachers who remain learners of liberative theologies, and with a great many of their students as well.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Laura M. Lysen is a doctoral candidate in theology and ethics at Baylor University.

Date of Review: 
September 24, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at the Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO. He was elected as the 2012 president of the Society of Christian Ethics. He has written or edited 26 books, and received several national book awards. De La Torre lives in Denver, CO.



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