What happened to African liberation theology?
22 April 2011 § 5 Comments
I’ve been puzzling over the titular question for a few weeks now, ever since reading about the connection that Samuel Huntington drew between the evolving Catholic church (with regard to Vatican II and liberation theology) and democratization in Latin America. Liberation theology sprang up from the 1950s – 1970s as an intense critique of the church’s role in abetting oppression and poverty, of which there was plenty in both Latin America and Africa at the time – but whilst it left a lasting impression on both faith practices and (selon Huntington) politics in LatAm, it didn’t seem to spread across the Atlantic in any meaningful way. (The exception appears to be South Africa, where “liberation” had an unusually clearly defined sense.)
This might go back to the general debate over why Africans don’t protest more (see here and here), but I’m also wondering about the specific political facets of religious life in Africa that might have incentivized religious leaders not to adapt and adopt this type of faith-based social movement. Were organized faiths regularly co-opted by by the state during this period? Or did religious leaders & laypeople face the same incentives against rebellion as any other citizens? Science Encyclopedia offers some stylized facts about religion and the state in Africa, but nothing systematic enough to draw conclusions.
With regard to Catholicism specifically, January Makamba points out that this tradition was not nearly as deeply entrenched in Africa as it was in Latin America, which could be relevant if theologians are less likely to adopt new ideas across denominational lines (or across different faiths all together, given that there are estimated to be more Muslims than Christians in Africa). Check out Worldmapper’s depiction of the distribution of Catholics around the world:
For comparison, here’s a map of global population distribution:
Latin America clearly has a greater-than-proportional share of Catholics, although central and east Africa also appear to be holding their own, making it less immediately obvious that “lack of Catholicism” is a good explanatory variable. Thoughts and recommendations for further reading would be welcomed!