Forschung Iberische und Lateinamerikanische Geschichte

From Mission to Cooperation

From poverty to oppression. The dealing of Misereor with Liberation Theologies in public relations work and project funding in the Bolivian highlands (1960s to 1980s)

M.A. Thesis Pascale Kälin

The research project analyses how, when and to what extent the West German Episcopal aid organization called Misereor incorporated the ecclesiastical core ideas that emerged from the reform process of the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America in Medellín (1968) and Puebla (1979), which can be summed up under the banner of Liberation Theologies. Based on the published material destined to catholic donators of Misereor, the positioning of the aid organization within debates over development and liberation will be investigated for the period of 1968 to 1989. The reception of principles of Liberation Theologies in a concrete example of project funding in the highlands of Bolivia (1961-1978) will be traced, drawing from archival research and interviews with local partners. This two-sided approach seeks to show to what extent Misereor, due to the necessity to position itself to widespread liberationist approaches, was involved in multi-level negotiation processes between political, religious and developmental arenas as well as between Latin American and European discourses about the most favourable pathway to development/liberation.

Although message, origin and spread of Liberation Theologies in Latin America have been intensively researched by historians and theologians, their concrete implications in peripheral areas such as the Bolivian highlands have so far remained relatively unconsidered by scholars. Furthermore, there is rather a thin database on how the ecclesiastical current has influenced the thinking and working of European aid organizations, among which Misereor was one of the most influential players between the 1960s and the 1980s.

The research is based on the hypothesis that Misereor had to respond to different rules of the game and constraints in the two analysed fields of work which resulted in fragmented dealings with Liberation Theologies. In public relations work, the core question was therefore what could be said to correspond to the level of consciousness of the German donors without offending the hierarchy which Misereor depended on. In the more pragmatic project work, however, the positioning depended more on the presence and orientation of local development actors, who often pursued mutually incompatible goals. The sources suggest that, despite its conservative episcopal origins and external constraints, Misereor increasingly devoted itself to a ‘preferential option for the poor’ which resulted in a gradual replacement of the more neutral concept of development by the politically charged premises of liberation.

Keywords: Liberation Theology, Ecclesiastical Development Discourse, Misereor, Public Relations Work, Project Financing, Bolivian highlands