Héctor A. Acero Ferrer – “The oppressed” in Catholic Cultural Imagination. Reading Liberation Theology Through the Lens of Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics
In the summer of 1968, the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) hosted its second general conference, the first gathering of Latin American bishops after the Second Vatican Council. The conference was a platform for Latin American bishops to discuss their interpretations of the council’s conclusions and to determine ways to make the changes it requested of local churches. Perhaps the most significant consequence of this interpretative process was the formulation of Liberation Theology, a series of principles regarding the relation of the church and the world for the Latin American context. Through the formulation of these principles, CELAM placed “the oppressed” at the core of religious identity of its peoples. Since then, Liberation Theology has gone beyond the borders of Latin America, shaping the approaches of other Catholic — and non-Catholic — communities to the message of Christianity.
In this paper, I will use Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics to describe the shift in Catholic identity triggered by Liberation Theology. Particularly, I will utilize Ricoeur’s theory of cultural imagination, in which he describes the dialectic between the ideology and utopia, to articulate the tensions and movements caused by Liberation Theology in global Catholicism. I will first argue that, although Christian teachings have traditionally underscored the importance of serving the oppressed, it is only after the Second Vatican Council — and 1968’s CELAM — that the notion of “the oppressed” has been articulated as a theological category and, with it, a religious identity marker for Catholics. I will then argue that Ricoeur’s theory of cultural imagination, characterized by movements of integration (ideology) and subversion (utopia), allows one to understand the break between the Liberationist discourse and tradition, and the subsequent incorporation of the Liberationist idea of “the oppressed” within Catholic identity.
In response to the central questions of this conference, it is my hope to highlight the way in which Ricoeur’s anthropological project serves as a tool to understand a purely theological phenomenon. I would also like to refer to the impact of Liberation Theology in the sociopolitical milieu of a number of Latin American countries thus featuring the link between theology and social action.
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The network society is generally challenging for today’s communication practitioners. They are no longer the only one in charge with regards the communication process which is a major change for many of them. In this paper, it will be contended that the normative practice model, as developed within reformational philosophy, is beneficial for clarifying the structure of the communication practice. Based on this model, it is argued that government communication should not primarily be considered as an activity that focuses on societal legitimation of policy; it is, rather, an activity focusses on providing meaning to the actions of the government. If the government can convincingly answer the question about the why of their actions, societal legitimation will follow. Hence, it is argued that government communication is primarily linguistically qualified.
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- Ihlen, Øyvind& Betteke van Ruler, 2007, ‘How public relations works: Theoretical roots and public relations perspectives’, Public Relations Review, 33, 243–248.
- Jeffrey, Lynn Maud &Margaret Ann Brunton, 2011, ‘Developing a framework for communication management competencies’, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 63(1), 57–75.
- Jochemsen, Henk, 2006, ‘Normative Practices as an Intermediate between Theoretical Ethics and Morality’, Philosophia Reformata 71(1), 96-112.
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The concept of “bounded rationality” has proved fruitful for critiquing the “rational-choice” model of human action that has dominated economics and made significant inroads into political science and other social sciences. By emphasizing the role of cognitive biases, heuristics, intuition, etc., theorists of bounded rationality have shown that a social science predicated on the model of human beings as fully rational optimizers of their own utility is both theoretically inadequate and normatively undesirable.
However, the theory of bounded rationality has its own limitations and lacunae. Most versions of the theory ground the “boundedness” of human reason – and hence our reliance on biases, heuristics and such – in our empirical limitations as information-processors, unable to deal in fully “rational” ways with the quantities and complexity of information relevant to a particular problem. Besides relying on a problematic (computational) theory of mind, this view has significant normative perils. In particular, it creates a bias not toward a “humanizing” of our decision-making processes (e.g., through democratic public deliberation or civil society engagement in governance) but toward a “technologizing” of decision-making (e.g., depending more on expert-led policy making, viewing more decisions as “technical” problems to be solved by systems capable of better information-processing).
This paper will argue that a Christian social philosophy – rooted in the “Reformational” school of thought – can offer a better way to conceive of societal rationality; one that accounts for what is right in the theory of bounded rationality – e.g., the role of cognitive biases and heuristics in rational decision-making – but that does so in such a way that it avoids the problematic assumptions and consequences of that theory. As such it offers a theory that is both more explanatorily rich and offers better normative guidance. This richness is grounded in three crucial conceptual commitments of this tradition:
- That “theoretical reason” (the specialized knowledge of “scientific experts”) is and must be understood to be grounded (“embedded” if you will) in “naïve” or “pre-theoretical” experience;
- That implicit in pre-theoretical experience is a coherent, mutually irreducible set of “aspects” each of which reflect both empirical realities and normative requirements within which all of our particular activities (including reasoning) are embedded.
- That reasoning (as with all creaturely functioning) is rooted or embedded in commitments that go beyond mere fidelity to the canons of formal reasoning and which are ultimately “religious”
I will argue that, seen from this perspective, the “bounds” on human rationality (i.e., our limitations as information processors and our tendency to reason in ways at variance with the canons of formal logic) are not merely, or even primarily, empirical limits, but reflect the complex ways in which our reasoning is “embedded” in a network of normative commitments or “bonds”. The biases and heuristics that the theory of bounded rationality identify are as much artifacts of the ways in which our social practices of reasoning are guided by fidelity not only to the canons of logic but to normative and “religious” commitments. I will conclude by suggesting how this alternative take on “bounded” rationality has important consequences for how we shape social practices and decision-making within them, connected to a “Christian-social” take on civil society and deliberative democracy.