Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century by Ada María Isasi-Díaz Orbis Books, 1996


"In her introduction, Ada María is very clear about the intent of her mujerista theology: to provide a venue for the voices of grassroots Latinas, take seriously their experiences as a theological resource, and challenge those theological teachings that oppress Latinas. This last point is significant, for it becomes a theological norm in her work, one that embraces a preferential option for the oppressed as normative.
Her opening essay emerges from the pain of leaving her homeland and her struggles to find a home, first in a convent, then later in the women's ordination movement. There, she is shocked to discover racism and ethnic prejudice. She then turns to her mother's legacy, acknowledging both its positive and negative aspects. From Ada María, I learned that I was able to be critical of my Cuban heritage while at the same time embracing it, and that this was not a betrayal.
The next essay is the writing by Ada María that I have assigned most often in my classes, "To Struggle for Justice is to Pray." Autobiography also opens this chapter, and here we encounter her time as a missionary in Lima, Peru. Two profound insights are found in this brief essay. The first is the lived experience of the poor as the foundation for her theology. This insight, which resonates with the writings of Latin American liberation theologians, reads more powerfully within her personal narrative than it does in the jargon of traditional academic theology. The second is her realization that spirituality is not reserved for the elite and does not have to be nourished by disembodied prayer. Instead, it is in the midst of concrete, embodied social justice that she becomes closer to the sacred. One does not have to take refuge from this world to be spiritual; one can encounter God in the messiness of life.
In her essay defining mujerista theology, she focuses on the preferential option for Latinas, the significance of liberative praxis, and the importance of daily life. In Ada María's work, daily life (lo cotidiano) is not only material, but also cultural. It is something that is conscious, not merely repeated mechanically. It does not refer exclusively to the private or domestic sphere. Epistemologically, it is linked to what is known as "common sense." Due to its material and epistemological value, for Ada María lo cotidiano exemplifies the unity of action and reflection. She partially blames the failures of liberationist movements to transform structures of oppression on the neglect of lo cotidiano.
Lo cotidiano is a central characteristic of mujerista theology. Since its inception, mujerista theology has emphasized the concrete lived experiences of Latinas as the starting point for theology. For Ada María, this is the site of struggle, resistance and transformation. It is the space of popular religion, inhabited by the saints and virgenes of Latino/a devotions.
The category of lo cotidiano is not only descriptive, but also hermeneutic and epistemological. In the essay titled "Mujerista Theology: A Challenge to Traditional Theology," she states: "Lo cotidiano also includes the way we Latinas consider actions, discourses, norms, established social roles, and our own selves. ... Lo cotidiano is a way of referring to Latinas' efforts to understand and express how and why their lives are the way they are, how and why they function as they do."
This emphasis on lo cotidiano protects mujerista theology from essentialist claims. The centrality of daily life is not, however, uncritical, only that which contributes to the liberation of Latinas is salvific. It also does not reduce theology to pure relativism. The liberative principle remains the norm within her theology. However, daily life reminds us of the partial and fragmentary nature of all our knowledge.
"Elements of a Mujerista Anthropology" is the essay I have cited most frequently in my own scholarship. In mujerista theology, three phrases are critical to anthropology: la luchapermítame hablar and la comunidad/la familia. These are not the only sources, nor are they necessarily exclusive to Latinas. However, they are starting points for reflections on theological anthropology that takes as its starting point Latinas lives.
To speak of these three phrases is to offer an arena for Latinas' theological contributions: Latinas' daily lives, their contributive voices, and their relational conception of selfhood. Family and community are fundamental dimensions of human nature. This essay captures the maturity of Ada María's scholarship, where she is beginning to make theological claims based on the insights gathered from the Latinas who inform her work..."
[Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado is associate professor of religious studies and assistant provost for undergraduate education at the University of Miami. Her most recent book is Shopping: Christian Explorations of Daily Living.]

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