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Liberative Theology in a Hispanas/Latinas key. Nov 5, 2004
La Lucha Continues: Mujerista Theology by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (Orbis Books) Mujerista theology begins with personal experience and moves toward a theology that advances the dignity and liberation of all Hispanic/Latina women. This collection of essays combining personal narratives and theological discourse brings together important insights into the concerns of Hispanic women, the ways in which they can shape theology, and the roles they can take on in the church.
Ada María Isasi-Diaz, a professor of theology and ethics at The Theological School, Drew University, is author of many articles and books, including Mujerista Theology and En La Lucha: A Hispanic Women's Liberation Theology.
Excerpt:This book, La Lucha Continues: Mujerista Theology, the second volume of my essays, is in an attempt to present the theo-ethical elaborations that have occupied me for the last nine years. As was true in the first volume, Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century, my goal is to make women and men theologians, the churches, and society at large take note of the religious understandings and practices that are intrinsic elements of the struggles for survival and liberation of Hispanas/Latinas in the USA. An ongoing difficult task for me is to find ways to straddle the academy and the world of grassroot Hispanas/Latinas. My work in the academy-teaching, research, writing-and my work with grassroot Hispanas/Latinas-participating in liturgies and meetings, asking questions about God and meeting everyday obstacles-are very much of one piece. For me it is not a matter of applying what I learn in one of these worlds to the other. I engage in both of them consciously from a liberation perspective. My goal has always been and continues to be to help bring about justice for Hispanas/Latinas, for our communities, and for all oppressed people. Mujerista theology works to contribute, in the name of Hispana/Latina communities and for the sake of all the poor and the oppressed, to the ethical norms that guide society and its future. Our hope has always been to help build open and flexible relationships among all persons and between persons and institutions. These new dialogic, non-competitive relationships provide a firm foundation to create the kind of society we want, one that promotes the welfare of all, with a particular focus on those who are most vulnerable. Only on the basis of such a society can we hope for a truly democratic political regime with institutions and practices that enable the full participation of all its members, a society that leaves no one behind and that carefully guards against a few of its citizens flourishing at the expense of whole other sectors. How does mujerista theology contribute to such a society, to this kind of proyecto histórico (historical project), to this utopian vision? First of all, in mujerista theology utopia does not function to define social structures but rather to indicate theo-ethical understandings, values, norms, and virtues based on the religious beliefs and practices of grassroot Hispanas/Latinas who struggle for liberation in the USA. Hispanas/Latinas' proyecto histórico does not offer details for a political, economic or social model but rather a vision of what should/could be that is "sufficiently concrete to provide a guide for action and to elicit a commitment." The proyecto histórico to which we seek to con-tribute is one that challenges present systems considered by the rich and powerful as ultimate, fundamental, permanent. What we seek to do is to insist on alternatives, on possibilities that are open to the unimaginable. We dream of a world beyond the limitations of the present, beyond those restrictions named "true universals." Mujerista theology seeks to contribute to the elaboration of "reality-based universals" open to differences and diversity, seeking to include instead of excluding, reconciling instead of establishing hegemonic understandings that promote the privileges of the few at the expense of the many. The reality-based universals to which we seek to contribute are made up of "situated universals," which start with the concrete reality of lo cotidiano and not with abstract understandings of the truth or the application of true universals to a particular situation.
Reality-based universals, situated universals give us a firm basis for action and concretize our proyecto histórico. Our proyecto histórico, based on our daily struggle to survive and to live fully, is an action, a practice of resistance. Our reality-based universals lead us to understand that instead of attempting to bring about large changes, what we must insist on are small structural changes, changes taking places at many levels and in many places, changes that will make a difference someday precisely because they take into consideration the personal, the specific, the local. We are bent on changes that set processes in motion and do not seek "true solutions" because these seem to ignore particularity, diversity and differences. Our struggles give priority to what is needed and useful, to effectiveness on a small scale, at the level of everyday reality. We give priority to creating relationship instead of insisting on changing bureaucratic set-ups that will continue to ignore the personal. Likewise in our theological enterprise, we attempt to bring about fullness of life, committed as we are to hope for and to be open to the irruption of the divine in our everyday lives. Mujerista theology advocates and tries to live an on-going process of conversion that focuses on the need to bring radical change in those every-day, violent, and exploitative practices that oppress and marginalize us.
Mujerista theology seeks to contribute to a liberating proyecto histórico by providing insights and understandings regarding norms, values, virtues, and understandings of the divine that are life-giving instead of silencing the cries of the poor. However, we also focus on Hispanas/Latinas as subjects of our own history, as moral agents who have much to contribute and who want to participate actively in bringing about justice for all. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the struggle to survive as moral agents fashioning our own history is ferocious, for we battle understandings that displace persons from the heart of reality and make capitalism and militarism-the market and weapons - the center of reality. Living in a society that continues to promulgate the myth that anyone willing to work hard can "make it," Hispanas/Latinas have to be adamant about developing and sustaining dreams and hopes that are not acceptable as part of the present "American dream." To do this we have to take responsibility for bringing about change in our lives and in our communities. To be subjects of our own history means that we cannot wait for others to better our lives. Only those solutions achieved by the sweat of our brows, by the work of our hands, and with the convictions that our hopes and dreams give us are acceptable. Living in the richest and most powerful nation in the world makes us all the more prone to look for an individualistic way out of oppressive structures. The temptation to do all in our power to participate in privileged structures, even when it means acting at the expense of our own people, makes our struggle for liberation all the more difficult.
Mujerista theology insistence that grassroot Hispanas/Latinas are organic theologians perfectly capable of explaining their religious beliefs and the role these play in their daily struggles is a way of rescuing our thinking, imagination, and consciences from the hands of the dominant culture. Our religious beliefs and practices challenge the rationality of modernity that has so miserably failed the poor and the oppressed. They also challenge the non-rationality of postmodern thought that, though centered on the singularity of each person, proposes an individual-ism beneficial only to the rich and powerful. The non-rationality of individualism is countered by the acknowledgment of human sociality. It is the need for community and the recognition of common interests that moves us to true solidarity. It is precisely Hispanas/Latinas' commitment to family and community that makes hope flourish. However, to maintain the hope so essential to our proyecto histórico, we need to insist on a critical con-science not only about our reality but also about ourselves. "We are not subjects of a reality that is apart from ourselves, reality which is at the same time object of our actions. We are both cause and effect of such a world. . . . Therefore, there are no objective changes without a radical transformation of the political subject. There is no change of the political subject without action that radically transforms reality." This is what mujerista theology embraces as its mission when it claims to be a liberative praxis: we seek to transform ourselves as Hispanas/Latinas by taking responsibility for our reality, by seeking to transform it so we can live fully.
The essays in this book, then, are simply links in the elaboration of a mujerista proyecto histórico that seeks to transform oppressive reality by sustaining and enabling Hispanas/Latinas' struggle to survive and live fully at the beginning of the twenty-first century in the USA. Honoring our belief that we need to be accountable for our subjectivity, for our hermeneutics, and for demonstrating how our stories and practices intersect with other persons and with societal forces, the first part of this book has three essays that inform the reader about life-experiences that have influenced my worldview. I do not think my life-experiences and my worldview are exceptional or radically different from those of other Hispanas/Latinas. These beginning essays open the door not only to my world but to the world of many other Hispanas/Latinas and provide for the reader a different view into the reality that the rest of the book seeks to explicate.
The second part of the book consists of nine essays that articulate a variety of mujerista ethical-theological understandings pertinent to our vision for a just future. They draw from a variety of sources: theology, ethics, literature, philosophy, epistemology, sociology. In each there are methodological understandings that insist on the importance of process, on the fact that how we do what we do influences and even delineates in specific ways the content of our theo-ethical enterprise. All of the essays are directed first and foremost to Hispanas/ Latinas. They are an attempt to give back to Hispanas/Latinas and to our communities what I have heard and learned from them. By sharing with Hispanas/Latinas the information they have given me I seek to enunciate a liberating mystique that will enable us to face our daily struggles and provide us with a sense of community to sustain us in situations we are not capable of facing alone. This book is also directed to other oppressed and marginalized groups in gratitude for what we have learned from them and in the hope that our perspectives and understandings will benefit them in their struggles. In this sense mujerista theology is a praxis of solidarity with other communities of struggle, for we are convinced that unless we build common under-standings and practices among those of us who are marginalized, our communities will continue to be denied access to what they need for fullness of life. This book is also directed to the academy at large, to theologians and ethicists who are committed to base their truth-claims in a reality that excludes no one. It is our contention as mujerista theologians and ethicists that theology and ethics need "to transcend the possibility of methodological alienation" by always expanding their "interpretative horizons." This means that all theo-ethical enterprise has to be in dialogue with as many other theo-ethical perspectives and understandings as possible and always acting with theoretical and methodological rigor. For us, from a liberation perspective, this dialogue has to privilege the voices of the poor and the oppressed. Further, this dialogue has to be a praxis in which theory and practice are inexorably linked. Theology, therefore, is not something we read, study or write but an enterprise: liberative doing, liberative action. This book is an attempt as well to talk to the official church, that is, to church officials in charge of ecclesiastical structures and practices. It presents to them for their serious consideration the religious understandings and practices of Hispanas/Latinas that are part of the on-going revelation of God in our world today. Hispanas/Latinas, who constitute numerically a significant part of the Christian community in the USA, are indeed an important element of the people of God. Yet our religious beliefs and practices are not known and our communities receive little pastoral attention. It is our hope that the elaborations of mujerista theology will reach the clergy in our churches, enlightening them about what Hispanas/Latinas need and want from our churches, what we wish to contribute, and how we want to contribute it so we can indeed feel at home in our churches. Finally, this book is addressed to society at large. Mujerista theology is grounded in Hispanas/Latinas' reality and it seeks to bring about radical change in society that will allow us to free ourselves of oppressive understandings and structures. We can-not overemphasize that mujerista theology is a liberation praxis from the perspective of Hispanas/Latinas but not exclusively for us. Our proyecto histórico is all-inclusive, seeking to transform society and its institutions, including the churches. The space in which mujerista theology seeks to play an effective role is that inwhich Hispanas/Latinas move: the USA society. Our task continues to be a theo-ethical one but because we believe that all history is history of salvation, our theo-ethical scenario is history too. In this effort we contribute a history from the past re-interpreted from the perspective of the vanquished, and a history of the future into which we project ourselves as responsible subjects, as Hispanas/Latinas not afraid to struggle for liberation, for fullness of life.