Wiley Companion to Latino/a Theology

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Orlando O. Espin
Wiley Blackwell Companions to Religion
  • Malden, MA: 
    , September
     616 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Latino/a theology includes Catholic, Protestant, Evangélica, pentecostal, and charismatic theologies emerging from Latino/a communities across the United States. The task of capturing such wide-ranging diversity in one volume is challenging. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Latino/a Theology, edited by Orlando Espín, is as comprehensive a presentation of this burgeoning field as one could hope for, offering a “panoramic view” of Latino/a theology and the theological approach it represents. The book illuminates the diversity of the field, helping to clarify differences within Latino/a theology, along with the misconceptions that surround it. It defines key Spanish terms and theological concepts of particular importance to Latino/a theology, tracing the genealogy and history of their use, and introduces the reader to both the major contributors of the field and its emerging scholars.

The volume is divided into three parts: Contexts; Theologizing the Theological Tradition; and Theologizing Latino/a Realities. These can be read either as individual essays or sequentially as part of a whole. Part I includes chapters on method and sources as well as history and definitions of Latino/a identity and experience in the U.S. The chapters in Part II reflect Latinamente on the classic loci of Christian theology, covering topics including but not limited to revelation, Bible, God, Jesus, ecclesiology, pneumatology, grace, sin, and salvation. Part III comprises essays that survey major contributions to the field and represent the result of theologizing significant to Latino/a communities and churches in the U.S. today.

A key chapter for those unfamiliar with Latino/a theology is Rubén Rosario-Rodríguez’s “Sources and En Conjunto Methodologies of Latino/a Theologizing,” which introduces specific emphases and concerns of a U.S. Latino/a methodology, including the preferential option for the poor and the commitment to liberative social ethics. While doing so, Rosario-Rodríguez is careful to address the ways in which these concerns have been misunderstood or flattened in meaning. Such clarifications are found and expounded upon in various essays throughout the book. Daisy L. Machado’s chapter, “History and Latino/a Identity: Mapping a Past That Leads to Our Future,” for example, takes on the who, what, and how of Latinas/os in the U.S., explaining “Latina/o” as a fiction—an historical imaginary—that is well captured and represented in the images and stories of Latinos that can be found in movies and other popular representations (37). She additionally exposes “Hispanic” as the unwelcomed umbrella term that helped create the fiction—the political and ideological construct—of Latina/o in the U.S. (42). Likewise Nancy Pineda-Madrid, in her “Feminist Theory and Latina Feminist/Mujerista Theologizing” chapter, takes on the “widespread misconception that ‘feminist theory’ is primarily the domain of Euro American scholars” and highlights the constructive work of Latina feminist/mujerista theologians—work with which Latino theologians mostly have yet to seriously engage and integrate in their own theologizing (347-348).

The Companion also traces ongoing conversations, debates, and developments of key concepts within Latino/a theology such as mestizaje, lo cotidiano, and hybridity that function as significant hermeneutical lenses and as sources for theologizing. An especially substantive discussion throughout the book revolves around Virgilio Elizondo’s renowned work, The Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise. Engaged with by at least half the essays, Elizondo’s work on mestizaje is both praised and critiqued, as well as constructively built upon.

Throughout, context and location is given its central place, reflecting an “ethical responsibility to be self-aware” that is an imperative of Latino/a theologizing (16). There is no pretension of objectivity in the historical and literary critical analyses of theological fields, including biblical studies. Culture, especially, is explicitly acknowledged as a mediating source of all theologizing. The chapters in this book reflect the great diversity that exists among Latino/a cultures and communities. The reader will read stories of doing theology en conjunto, in the convivencia of the kitchen, latinamente, and will be invited to learn about tapas, sancocho, coritos, joder, and la lucha as ingredients for theology. For many, this will be an intercultural encounter, an epistemological rupture “brought on by two or more culturally distinct approaches to knowing,” that at is best serves to “break open truth in novel ways” (360; Nancy Pineda-Madrid writing about María Pilar Aquino’s use of intercultural theory). Others may find it a refreshing experience to recognize and see themselves reflected in a work of theology for the first time. In many ways, the book is an invitation to engage and listen to a subset of historically marginalized voices within Western Christian traditions that predate the formation of the United States, expanding one’s own theologizing as a result.

One element of the book that does not achieve its promise is the index. It is not nearly comprehensive enough to guide the reader through all that can be discovered in the text. The index only scratches the surface of the Latino/a specific theological concepts included in the volume, particularly the Spanish terms. Nonetheless, the volume achieves what it sets out to do. It provides a panoramic view of Latino/a theology, introducing its major thinkers, concepts, and theological methodology, as well as its rising scholars. As a substantive survey of the ongoing debates within the field, and considering the changing demographics in the U.S., the Companion is a timely resource for theologians and religious scholars attuned to the creative potential this change brings to the various branches of theology and to related fields. It is also an excellent resource in the classroom. The contributors are diligent in providing the reader with definitions to even the most basic discipline-specific terms, not taking for granted that their readers have the same understanding of a well-known term or concept. As such, it contains plenty of raw ingredients to spark the imagination and inspire new creations in the kitchen of any theologian.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Xochitl Alvizo is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Califorina State University, Northridge.

Date of Review: 
August 21, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Orlando Espín is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of San Diego. He is also director of USD's Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism, which he founded in 1994. Espin is author or editor of nine books including the award-winning Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies (edited with James B. Nickoloff, 2007), Building Bridges, Doing Justice: Constructing a Latino/a Ecumenical Theology (2009) and Idol and Grace: On Traditioning and Subversive Hope (2014).


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.