From mission to cooperation. Liberation theology and the emergence and transformation of social movements in the Andean region (1960s -1980s)

Research Project at the Department of Iberian and Latin American History
(Financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation: October 2016 to September 2020)

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Christian Büschges (Andean Region, Latin America)
Ph.D. projects: Andrea Müller (Ecuador) and Noah Oehri (Peru)
M.A. project: Marcel Burmeister (Colombia)
M.A. project: Pascale Kälin (West Germany-Bolivia)

Foto: Archivo Interfoto Peru, 1981

From a comparative and transnational perspective, this research project investigates the Catholic Church and its role in the development of peasant and indigenous movements in Ecuador and Peru from the 1960s to the 1980s. It analyzes the reforms of pastoral discourses and practices in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965) and the Latin American Bishop’s Conference in Medellín (1968) that came to be known as a new theological current in the 1970s – Liberation Theology. Based on archival research and oral history interviews, the project focuses on the interaction of ecclesiastical and secular actors in two case studies, the province of Chimborazo (Ecuador) and the department of Puno (Peru).

Pastoral agents and lay people have been involved in religious activism both within the Church and in a variety of religious and lay organizations. Challenging prevalent paradigms of ‘social progress’, ‘development’ and indigenismo, the Church constructed a new approach towards the ‘other’, the indigenous peasant. While strongly emphasizing the agency and self-determination of the other(s), progressive clerics experienced the dilemma of overcoming paternalism within a context where social and cultural subjects ‘in need of liberation’ had to be imagined and addressed from a religious perspective.

This project postulates that the Church had to perform in an entangled and contested space, where various representations of ‘the indigenous’ based on different perceptions and (re)constructions of the ‘other’ existed in line with the heterogeneous interests of multiple state and non-state actors. Assessing these social entanglements requires a research design that considers knowledge production as well as power relations situated in local, regional and transnational contexts.

Following a discourse analytical and actor centered approach, this research project seeks to scrutinize the dynamic processes of circulation and reception of progressive Catholicism within the respective ecclesial jurisdictions. By doing so, it aims at making a critical contribution to the understanding of (1) how pastoral agents, lay men and women, shaped and were being shaped by ecclesial reforms, local political milieus and the socio-religious environment they encountered. Furthermore, the analysis seeks to address (2) the religious approach towards, and contribution to, the (trans)formation of processes of social organization and (3) the construction and change of collective identities in the Andean region.

The project combines a general approach to Latin America and the Andean region (Christian Büschges) with case studies on Ecuador (Andrea Müller), Peru (Noah Oehri), Colombia (Marcel Burmeister) and Bolivia (Pascale Kälin).