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Returning to Pre-Modernity?

A few months ago I posted what I see as the three primary aims for theology: fidelity, intelligibility, and liberation/practical relevance. I have been glancing back at Roberto Goizueta’s appropriation of theological aesthetics in Christ Our Companion and have been struck by where the weight of his argument lies as he theologically engages religious symbols such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Latino/a popular Catholicism. Goizueta, as someone fundamentally influenced by Latin American liberation theology (and particularly the theology of Jon Sobrino) expectedly argues for the liberating character of Latino/a religion. For example, it is liberating since, as community that is predominantly poor and marginalized (both within the United States and as the ‘other’ on beyond our border), it is here that we encounter Jesus Christ today. The sacramentality of the poor (the presence of God among the crucified people) is key throughout the book and is one of the most basic commonalities Goizueta has with Sobrino and others. As I said, this is not unexpected.  What struck me is the place of “fidelity” within Goizueta’s argument. He argues that Latino/a popular Catholicism is a place in which the “pre-modern” synthesis of cosmos, individual, and God (described by Louis Dupré) still flourishes (70). Therefore, attending to popular Catholicism is seen as a form of ressourcement of this pre-modern synthesis which makes available “aspects of that tradition that have been obscured by modern and postmodern Western culture” (146) and which is also liberating because of its holistic, organic worldview. A central reason for turning to Latino/a popular Catholicism in simply that the common people believe in God, Christ, and the saints. Judged as “naively materialistic, superstitious, and infantile,”  these common people call (Western) modern and postmodern intellectuals to religious conversion by a real engagement with the symbols of their faith (62-63; 96, 100). 

At the end of the book Goizueta switches from his earlier, straightforward designation of “pre-modern” and, drawing upon Enrique Dussel, calls the worldview of Latino/a Catholicism “transmodern”: characterized “by a holistic, organic epistemology rooted in the act of solidarity with the victims of history” (154). The term thus takes the pre-modern world of popular Catholicism which Goizueta sees as a ground of ressourcement and links it to the preferential option for the poor.

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  1. Katie
    November 19, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Have you read Goizueta’s “Caminemos con Jesus: Towards a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment?” Here, he lays out his argument for hispanic/latino theology as an alternative to the post-modern/modern option. He also argues that, contrary to popular belief, post-modernity has not in fact surpassed the limitations and flaws of modernity. It might help you get a fuller sense of what he is up to with his desire to reclaim some sort of pre-modern view. (unless of course you’ve already read it, then nevermind!)

    • Todd Walatka
      November 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      I have read Caminemos con Jesus and Christ Our Companion certainly builds upon his earlier work (particularly the final two chapters of Caminemos). What is striking, at least to me, is the naming of Latino/a popular Catholicism as not merely an alternative to modern/post-modern (Western) Christianity (since seeking such third ways is common) but as a nearly pure preservation of the past.

  2. robbbeck
    November 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Hey Todd,

    Thanks for this post. After reading your piece, I noticed that my local bookstore had a copy available. I couldn’t put it down. Despite having some reservations with VonB, it think it’s very interesting how Goizueta draws a connection between “seeing the form” and Lib Theo. And yes, also interesting how he sees the premodern, medieval synthesis as a liberating force. Thanks again.

    Robb

  3. November 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Does “pre-modern” actually get equated with “medieval”? Or does Goizueta think that Latin American Catholicism offers something non-western, just off the time-scale of western modernity?

  4. Todd Walatka
    November 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I don’t have the text right here to give his exact terminology, but it is roughly “medieval.” The basic idea is that the form of Catholicism that came from the Iberian peninsula to Latin America had a particular “pre-modern” synthesis which remains coherent within Latino/a popular Catholicism up through the centuries.

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