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Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism

Ongoing Project on the "Re-invention" of Catholic Systematic Theology

During most of its history, Christian theology has been created mainly from within the philosophical, cultural, and anthropological assumptions of Christian Europe. These assumptions have given systematic theology's several disciplines their methods and interpretive tools. Indeed, the very questions addressed have also been the result of these European assumptions. The crucial role that systematic theology has played, and still plays, in the Catholic traditions cannot be exaggerated. It is within its limits that all doctrinal (and most pastoral) developments, pronouncements, and disputes occur.

Latino/a theologians in the U.S. have come to question whether the European philosophical, cultural and anthropological assumptions of Christian systematics are fully relevant to their own theological endeavor, and if so, which, why, and how. Furthermore, there seem to be serious questions over the reasons for the traditional disciplinary divisions within Christian systematics (i.e., trinitarian studies, christology, ecclesiology, etc.). Any serious attempt at studying Latino/a theology needs to raise the question of method and of the latter's assumptions and epistemological premises.

The Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism proposed a series of national symposia to reflect on questions of method, contents, and foundations in systematics, as these are raised from within the U.S. Latino/a Catholic experience (and more explicitly as these questions are discussed within the Churches of the “overall western Catholic Tradition”). Each of the separate parts of this ongoing project have produced or will produce published volumes of original scholarly contributions to the respective theological fields:

First Part (1997)
Second Part (2000)
Third Part (2002-2004)

First part

In 1997, a group of recognized scholars in the field of Catholic systematic theology were invited to attend two week-long meetings at USD. The participants were asked to consider the following question: What would Catholic systematic theology be like and look like if it were "re-invented" from within the Latino/a experience and perspective?

The texts produced at this symposium were published in: O. Espín and M. Díaz, eds., From the Heart of Our People: Latino/a Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999). This volume was met with critical acclaim by the national and international theological communities.

The Latino/a scholars who participated in the first symposium of the project on Latino/a Catholic systematics were:

Roberto S. Goizueta (Boston College)
Alejandro García-Rivera (Jesuit School of Theology)
Arturo J. Bañuelas (Tepeyac Institute)
Jeanette Rodríguez (Seattle University)
Jean-Pierre Ruiz (St. John's University, NY)
Miguel H. Díaz (University of Dayton)
Virgilio Elizondo (Mexican American Cultural Center)
Justo L. González (Emory University)
Gary Riebe-Estrella (Catholic Theological Union)
Ruy Suárez Rivero (Universidad Iberoamericana)
María Pilar Aquino (University of San Diego)
Orlando O. Espín (University of San Diego)

A generous grant from the Lilly Endowment funded the first national symposium in 1997.

Second Part

The Center furthered its ongoing project on "re-inventing" Christian systematic theology from the Latino/a perspective, by holding another symposium in 2000 at USD. The participants in the 1997 meetings recognized the need for deeper reflection on the epistemological and philosophical foundations of Latino/a systematics. By "epistemology" was meant the processes through which Latinos/as construct knowledge (and, specifically, theological knowledge), as well as their perceptions and images of reality and the reasons and contexts for these processes.

Some of the 1997 participants were invited to return, while other scholars joined the Center for the first time.

The philosophers, social scientists, and theologians who participated in the 2000 meeting on Latino/a theological epistemology were:

María Pilar Aquino (University of San Diego)
Sixto J. García (St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary)
Miguel Díaz (Barry University)
Antonio López (St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary)
Orlando Espín (University of San Diego)
Robert Lassalle-Klein (DePaul University)
Raúl Fornet-Betancourt (University of Bremen)
Otto Maduro (Drew University)
Roberto Goizueta (Boston College)
Manuel Mejido (Emory University)
Michelle González (Graduate Theological Union)

This project has not concluded due to lack of funds. Our hope is that, if funding were available, the next two meetings of the epistemology project will gather a larger and more diverse group of scholars.

The first (2000) meeting for this project was wholly funded by grants from the University of San Diego.

Third Part

Still furthering its overall project on the re-invention of Catholic systematic theology, during 2002-04 the Center sponsored two national symposia on Catholic theologies of Tradition and the challenges posed to these by the growing intercultural notion of contextuality. Held at USD.

Although the theological importance of Tradition is evaluated variously according to each Church's doctrine and perspective, it seemed undeniable that none of the western Catholic Churches (i.e., Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, etc.) could or would conceive of itself as Christian without appeal to and incorporation of what it understands as Tradition. Considering the historical significance and contemporary importance of the Catholic Christian Churches that consider Tradition theologically and doctrinally necessary, as well as the present size of their membership worldwide, it seemed arguable that a sustained reflection on Tradition was and is indispensable for any "re-invention" of systematic theology.

The scholars who participated in this project were:

Bernard Cooke (Loyola University, New Orleans)
Daisy Machado (Brite Divinity School)
Miguel H. Díaz (Barry University)
Gary Macy (University of San Diego)
Orlando O. Espín (University of San Diego)
Nancy Pineda-Madrid (St. Mary's College of California)
Michelle González (Loyola Marymount University)
Gary Riebe-Estrella (Catholic Theological Union)
José R. Irizarry (Lutheran School of Theology)
Jean-Pierre Ruiz (St. John's University, NY)
Francisco Lozada (University of the Incarnate Word)
Theresa Torres (Benedictine College)

This project was fully funded by grants from the University of San Diego. A book of original articles by the participants will be published in 2005 by Orbis Books.