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Oxford University Press


This chapter provides an overview of how a number of liberation thinkers in the United States, who are indebted to an earlier tradition of Latin American liberation theology, have attempted to answer this question.1 As we will see, whereas a first generation of Latin American liberation theologians tended to approach “liberation” as an ethical and political category, a subsequent generation of liberationist thinkers in the United States have often highlighted its cultural and aesthetic dimensions. In so many words, an earlier Latin American understanding of liberation as political “revolution” has, in the North, been reinterpreted in terms of aesthetic “resistance” to the dominant culture.

This shift, I will argue, holds both promise and peril. On the one hand, US Latino/a theologians have helped to broaden our understanding of liberation. To their credit, they have taken seriously the liberating potential of popular religion—a topic that several early Latin American theologians dismissed—and they have offered incisive reflections into the counter-hegemonic political value of everyday life (locotidiano). In making these claims, they have argued that a liberating praxis cannot be reduced simply to the economic or political dimensions of reality, but rather, should also take into account the cultural and aesthetic dimensions of everyday life, such as expressed in popular religion.

On the other hand, however, this turn to cultural and aesthetic categories runs the risk of losing ties at times with the ethical and political dimensions of faith.2 To be sure, most liberation thinkers in the United States would argue that the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, and between politics and culture, needs to be a conjunctive and integral one. Many would argue that these dimensions complement and mediate one another. These assumptions are indeed promising starting points, but much more clarity is needed. It is one thing to say that a mediation exists and quite another to justify and explain it.3 In my estimation, US Latino/a theology has not gone far enough in making this mediation explicit.

Before discussing, however, the core issue of this chapter—which is a careful examination of US Latino/a theology’s “aesthetic turn”—I believe that some preliminary comments are in order regarding the larger context of this discourse. One should keep in mind the broader struggle that Latin American liberation theology was going through in the 1980s as US Latino/a theology began to make its mark. In the next section, then, I take up one of the most common critiques against Latin American liberation theology, the claim, lodged first by the Vatican, that it reduces faith to politics. As is well known, this critique was largely based on the charge that Latin American liberation theology uncritically adopted Marxism. I show that this critique is not only largely misguided, but also that it elides a more significant rift between the two traditions as concerns their basic philosophical commitments.

The core section of this chapter will then look at some of the important contributions, as well as potential pitfalls, of US Latino/a theology’s “aesthetic turn.” I discuss, among others, the contributions of Alejandro García-Rivera, María Pilar Aquino, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, and, especially, Roberto Goizueta. As I will show, Goizueta has most systematically looked at the question of the interrelationship between the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of faith. While I am indebted to the questions that Goizueta raises, I find parts of his argument lacking. So as to move the conversation forward, I end this chapter with some preliminary suggestions as to how the philosophy of pragmatism can shed some useful light onto the question.

Chapter of

The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought


This material was originally published in The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought by Christopher Tirres, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit



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