On 7th June, the Hall hosted a reflexive workshop on “Theological imaginaries and models of development”, organised by Dr Séverine Deneulin, who is senior lecturer in International Development at the University of Bath, and Emilio Travieso, of Campion Hall.
The workshop was inspired by Dr Deneulin’s research on religion and development in Latin America. A large proportion of development actors in the region are inspired by their Catholic faith and act through Catholic institutions. At the same time, Latin America has been the site of plural Catholic theologies with explicit social and political implications. At the suggestion of Dr Diego Sanchez-Ancochea, director of the University of Oxford’s Latin American Centre, Dr Deneulin decided to partner with researchers at Campion Hall to stimulate further exploration of how distinct theological imaginaries shape models of social action (and vice versa).
The interdisciplinary workshop brought together nineteen theologians, social scientists, pastoral agents, and development practitioners from various countries. While the focus of discussions was Catholicism in Latin America, other religious traditions and world regions were also represented, and the lively discussion from these diverse perspectives was enriching for all.
After some introductory remarks, the participants delved into a discussion about the different theological currents that have influenced social actors in Latin America. Three brief presentations helped to get the conversation started. Dr Philip Kennedy, of Campion Hall, provided helpful background on the particularities of liberation theology, and its implications for both theological method and ecclesial praxis. Dr Michael Kirwan, of Heythrop College, then compared liberation theology with Catholic Social Teaching, in light of the “game-changing” papacy of Pope Francis. Dr Jorge Castillo Guerra, of Radboud University and the Nijmegen Institute for Mission Studies, spoke about the intercultural turn in liberation theology, as a result of reflection rooted in the experience of migration. The participants then brought their own research and experiences – in places ranging from Paraguay and the Dominican Republic to India and Greece – to bear on these issues. One important thread in the debate was about the role of the poor as agents of social change, in dialogue with Dr Castillo Guerra’s concept of “inter-liberation”.
In a second session, the group explored the interactions between theological imaginaries and models of praxis at a more empirical level, as part of wider constellations that include particular contexts, spiritual traditions, and sociological imaginaries to constitute a frame for meaningful action. Dr Valpy Fitzgerald, emeritus professor of International Development at Oxford, spoke about economic policy and liberation theology, in light of his role as an advisor to the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Dr James Hanvey, master of Campion Hall, shared insights on the “economy of gift” in Benedict XVI’s magisterium, which insists on the need to re-embed our economy in relations of mutuality. Dr Séverine Deneulin then reflected on the specific contributions of both theology and social sciences to the Church’s role in reducing urban inequality in Latin America. Among other provocative points in the discussion that followed, Clair Linzey, of the University of St Andrews, brought up the anthropocentrism of many of these approaches as a serious limitation for the theoretical and practical challenges we face today.
In sum, the workshop raised many questions, providing food for thought for researchers and practitioners at the interface of theology and social action. It also served as an opportunity to make new connections among colleagues who work on similar issues, albeit in different disciplines or geographical areas. Indeed, it was a fruitful exercise for all.
Photo credit: Alejandro Olayo SJ