Rationale for Establishing the Center
The Catholic Church in the U.S. is rapidly changing its demographic makeup, and the same may be said of the Episcopalian and other Churches which locate themselves within the overall western Catholic Tradition. Nearly one half of all U.S. Catholics are Latinos/as, and their proportional representation will only continue to increase within the Church. Similar transformations are also occurring in other Christian Churches. This demographic reality (and its profound social, pastoral and theological implications and consequences) strongly suggests that research into Latino/a Catholicism, broadly understood, is an urgent and necessary task. Furthermore, and in light of the implications of the demographic shifts, theological research into U.S. Latino/a Catholicism also seems necessary due to the crucial role that Catholicism plays within and among U.S. Latino/a cultures and communities.
Catholic universities, precisely because of their Catholic character, are important as loci for the interdisciplinary, rigorous study of religion beyond the merely descriptive. Indeed, theological reflection on social scientific findings is an especially important and appropriate contribution of the Catholic university.
The University of San Diego, the only Catholic University on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border, is uniquely qualified to engage in and promote the necessary research into U.S. Latino/a religious reality. USD is one of the few institutions of higher education in the country with significant library holdings on U.S. Latino/a and Latin American religion. Among its faculty, USD counts with scholars with recognized international reputations in the field of Latino/a and Latin American religious studies and theology. The Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology , the only such publication in the country, was founded at USD and edited here for several years. (The JHLT is a periodical with a national and international audience composed mainly of scholars in theology and religious studies.)
It seemed very important that USD promote-- in a systematic, interdisciplinary, ecumenical, and culturally sensitive manner-- sustained theological research and reflection on Latino/a Catholicism and its impact on the overall U.S. Church. In order to accomplish this in a way congruent with the nature of a university, in 1996 USD established the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism.
In order to guarantee the desired ecumenical perspective, the Center came to define "Catholicism" as the "overall western Catholic Tradition," thereby broadening the number and scope of the U.S. Latino/a communities it studies. And in order to guarantee the equally desired interdisciplinary and multiperspectival approach to Latino/a Catholicism, thus understood, the Center incorporates in its projects the participation and contributions of social scientists, historians, philosophers, economists, and other scholars with expertise in the study of multiple contexts of Latino/a Catholicism.
The Center has more recently committed itself to incorporating explicitly intercultural perspectives, and consequently it has deepened its continuing dialogue with Black, Asian American, and European American scholars, as well as with academics throughout Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.