The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith

by Christopher D. Tirres

The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith Author Christopher D Tirres Isbn 9780199352531 File size 4MB Year 2014 Pages 240 Language English File format PDF Category Religion What is the future of liberation thought in the Americas In this groundbreaking work Christopher D Tirres takes up this question by looking at the methodological connections between two quintessentially American traditions liberation theology and pragmatism He explains how pragmatism lends philosophical clarity and depth to some of liberation theology s core

Publisher :

Author : Christopher D. Tirres

ISBN : 9780199352531

Year : 2014

Language: English

File Size : 4MB

Category : Religion

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd vi

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM

The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd i

12/4/2013 11:08:37 PM

Series Editor
Theodore M. Vial, Jr., Iliff School of Theology
A Publication Series of The American Academy of Religion and Oxford University Press
Postmodern Thought in Buddhism and Christianity
Edited by David Loy
Responsibility in Origin and Maturity in H. Richard
R. Melvin Keiser
The Death of God in Philosophical Perspective
Deland S. Anderson
Toward a Hermeneutics of Religious Knowledge
Thomas K. Carr
A Discussion between Scholars in the AAR and APA
Edited by William J. Wainwright
Studies in Dialogues about Religion
Terence J. Martin
Religious Imaginations in Modern and Contemporary
John Neary
Trinitarian Faith and Philosophy in the Thought of
Eberhard Jüngel
Paul DeHart
Theologians in Dialogue with Cultural Analysis and
Edited by Delwin Brown, Sheila Greeve Davaney,
and Kathryn Tanner
Toshimasa Yasukata

Christian Moevs
Moltmann on the Trinity and Christian Life
Joy Ann McDougall
Paul Ricoeur and the Poetics of Possibility
John Wall
Agency and the Spirit of Politics
David Kyuman Kim
Margaret D. Kamitsuka
Spiritualism in the American Renaissance
Cathy Gutierrez
Prospects for Hans Frei’s Postliberal Theology
Jason A. Springs
Peter Dula
Hugh Nicholson
Markus Dressler and Arvind-Pal S. Mandair
Kierkegaard and the Power of Sin
Jason A. Mahn
Daniel Davies

A Religious Genealogy
M. Gail Hamner

Protestant Literalism and Colonial Discourse in
British India
Robert A. Yelle

Postmodernity and Liberation in Christian Theology
Edited by Joerg Rieger

The Making of Turkish Alevi Islam
Markus Dressler

Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World
Randall Styers

A Dialogue between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought
Christopher D. Tirres

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd ii

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM

A Dialogue between Liberationist
and Pragmatic Thought



oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd iii

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship,
and education by publishing worldwide.
Oxford New York
Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi
Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi
New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto
With offices in
Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece
Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore
South Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam
Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press
in the UK and certain other countries.
Published in the United States of America by
Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
© Oxford University Press 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior
permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law,
by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization.
Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights
Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above.
You must not circulate this work in any other form
and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer.
Parts of Chapters 3–5 were printed previously in New Horizons in Hispanic/
Latino(a) Theology, edited by Benjamin Valentín, 128–62. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press,
2003; Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy, edited by
Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Eduardo Mendieta, 226–46, 303–7. New York:
Fordham University Press, 2012; and Journal of Hispanic Theology (2010).
All have been reproduced with permission.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Tirres, Christopher D.
The aesthetics and ethics of faith : a dialogue between
liberationist and pragmatic thought / Christopher D. Tirres.
pages cm—Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978–0–19–935253–1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Liberation
theology. 2. Pragmatism. I. Title.
BT83.57.T525 2014
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd iv

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM

To Allison,
con todo mi cariño

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd v

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd vi

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM


1. Introduction: American Faith in a New Key


2. Viernes Santo: Where the Shock of the Immediate Meets
New Life


3. Liberation in the Latino/a Americas: Retrospect and Prospect


4. Pragmatism and Latino/a Religious Experience


5. Integrating Experience and Epistemology: Ivone Gebara’s
Pragmatic Ecofeminism


6. The Social Dimensions of Faith: Expanding John Dewey’s
Sense of Community and Custom


7. Embodied Faith-in-Action: Religious Ritual as Reconstructive


8. Conclusion: Transforming Faith






oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd vii

12/4/2013 11:08:38 PM

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd viii

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM


“Author” is a tricky word. It is often taken to denote an autonomous individual who crafts a wholly original idea. The difficulty, however, is that
writers and ideas never arise ex nihilo. Both are always situated in larger
webs of interpretation and association. When one accounts for this fact,
words like “author” and “original” must take on new meanings.
In this book, I do venture to put forward an original argument, but only
insofar as the “I” here is understood as a socially-situated, intersubjective
“I” and the “original” argument is understood as being deeply indebted
to a wealth of already existing scholarship that I reconfigure in an original way. As author of this book, I  am inextricably linked to the many
influences—both scholarly and personal—that have helped to shape my
thinking. A few words should be said at the outset about those personal
relationships that have guided, supported, and nurtured me in bringing
this work to completion.
I am first indebted to two advisors I  was blessed to have both as an
undergraduate student at Princeton University and as a graduate student
at Harvard University:  David Carrasco and Cornel West. Both were not
only intellectual mentors but also personal inspirations who encouraged
me to pursue graduate work in the first place. Without them, I am not sure
I would be in academia today. Both have been a sustaining force for me
over the years, and I hope that I may impart to my students the kind of
wisdom and goodwill that they have imparted to me.
As a graduate student, I  also had the good fortune of working with
Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, who served as my dissertation advisor.
Fiorenza helped me deepen my study of liberation theology through the
related fields of political theology and critical social theory. And when
I became interested in pragmatism, his support and suggestions proved
invaluable. I  wish to thank to two other members of my dissertation

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd ix

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM



committee, David Lamberth and James Kloppenberg, for their sharp
insights and advice.
I have benefitted greatly from my participation in several scholarly
communities that have helped me to bridge liberationist thought and
US pragmatism. I  am thankful to those members of the Academy of
Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) who
have so generously read my work and offered suggestions and critiques,
especially Timothy Matovina, Michelle Gonzalez, Ada María Isasi-Díaz,
María Pilar Aquino, and Virgilio Elizondo. Likewise, through my affiliation with the John Courtney Murray Group, I  have profited much
from the conversations I have had with Don Gelpi, Frank Oppenheim,
Bob Lassalle-Klein, Alejandro García-Rivera, and Pat Lippert. I am also
grateful for the many relationships I  have made through the Society
for the Advancement of American Philosophy (SAAP). Gregory Pappas,
Kenneth Stikkers, Larry Hickman, Doug Anderson, Alex Stehn, and
Tom Alexander have helped me to sharpen my work, and I  am especially thankful to Jim Garrison for his unwavering counsel and support. SAAP provided financial support that enabled me to attend two
inter-American philosophical conferences in Mexico City and Mazatlán,
Mexico. These conferences helped to confirm that my efforts to forge an
inter-American dialogue between liberation theology and pragmatism
were not only possible but also necessary.
Over the years, I have received many other forms of foundational assistance, all of which have helped me to complete various parts of this book.
I am grateful for the support of the following organizations and institutions:  the Hispanic Theological Initiative (Doctoral Award, Mentoring
Award, and Dissertation Year Award), the David Rockefeller Center for
Latin American Studies, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute,
the Fund for Theological Education (North American Doctoral Fellow
Award), the Louisville Institute (Honorary Dissertation Fellow Award),
the Ford Foundation (Dissertation Fellowship and Postdoctoral Diversity
Fellowship), and DePaul University (two Summer Research Grants and
two University Research Council Grants). Special mention should also be
made of the two departmental chairs—Jeff Groves (Harvey Mudd College)
and James Halstead (DePaul University)—who have been highly supportive of my professional endeavors to date.
Within the academy, there are a number of other mentors and readers who have offered me wise counsel. I would like to thank Kimberly

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd x

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM



Connor for being such a generous and perspicacious reader and editor.
She was the first at Oxford University Press (OUP) to take an interest in
my project, and I hold dear the support and friendship she has shown
me over the years. I am also deeply grateful to Ted Vial, Cynthia Read,
and Marcela Maxfield for taking on my project in OUP’s Reflection
and Theory in the Study of Religion Series and for helping me to see
it through production. Rudy Busto, David Kyuman Kim, and Anthea
Butler offered guidance and words of wisdom along the way. Enrique
Dussel, David Tracy, Irene Winter, and Doris Sommer helped me to
think through certain arguments in the early stages of writing. Eddie
Glaude, Jr., Karen Mary Davalos, and Chad Broughton offered astute
comments of later stages of the manuscript.
As the reader will find, my experience of the Good Friday liturgies
at the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas serves as a pivotal
backdrop to this study. I  would like to thank the following individuals for being so kind with their time and insights during my visits to
San Antonio: David García, Jake Empereur, Sally T. Gomez-Jung, Lupita
Mandujano, Mario Mandujano, Marty Vermales, Janie Dillard, and
Ruben Alfaro.
Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge my family, whose love
and support makes my work possible. My grandmother, María Luisa
Tinajero, now deceased, was a pillar of strength and love for me, and
my parents, Daniel and Maria Luisa Tirres, continue to be so for me
today. I would also like to thank my in-laws, Blaine and Mardi Brownell,
for so generously opening the door to their home as I was finishing up
my dissertation and as my wife and I  were having our second child.
I give thanks for my children, Eloisa, Mateo, and Ana Luz, who are the
greatest and most wonderful creations of my life, and for Allison, to
whom this work is dedicated. She has been an incisive editor, a dedicated mother, a supportive spouse, and, for nearly two decades now, my
best friend.

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd xi

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd xii

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM

The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd xiii

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd xiv

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM


American Faith in a New Key

[The] announcement of the demise of liberation theology is both parochial and questionable. With the
violence, poverty, and oppression continuing and worsening in the world, the need for the liberating voice has
not disappeared; rather liberation theology needs to be
and has been restated for the new situation on a more
global level.
—rosemary radford ruether, in The Hope of
Liberation in World Religions

Prophetic pragmatism conceives of philosophy as a
historically circumscribed quest for wisdom that puts
forward new interpretations of the world based on past
traditions in order to promote existential sustenance
and political relevance.
—cornel west, The American Evasion of Philosophy

over the past forty years, liberation theologies have contributed to a
major revitalization of faith throughout the Americas. Liberation traditions as diverse as Latin American liberation theology, feminist theology,
Queer theology, Black theology, Native American liberation theology, and
US Latino/a theology warn against structural and institutional forms of
sin, they approach the Kingdom of God as a reality that may be partially
realized here-and-now, and they understand faith not only as an interior

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd 1

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM


the aesthetics and ethics of faith

affair of the heart but also as a shared and communal experience of solidarity on behalf of “the least of these,” the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society.1
Undergirding all of these positions is the central belief that faith, at its
best, is less a matter of assenting to certain doctrines and more a matter of
engaged living. In no small measure, liberation theologies in the Americas
have helped everyday practitioners to reclaim faith as a vital, active, and
mindful way of being in the world. They have also shaped the way that
professional theologians and scholars of religion approach their disciplines. Today, for example, it is difficult for scholars in these disciplines
to engage their discourses without engaging some of the key insights of
liberation methodologies, including the central idea that human praxis
gives meaning to human hope and ideas of salvation.
The momentous rise of liberation theologies in the Americas has,
however, occasioned a variety of critiques. Since the 1970s and 1980s, liberation movements throughout the Americas have faced numerous challenges on a variety of levels. At the political level, leading Latin American
liberation theologians have been physically threatened, tortured, and
killed by right-wing military forces.2 At the ecclesial level, the Vatican has
systematically replaced progressive bishops and cardinals throughout
the Americas with more conservative ones. At the academic level, several critics, including leading communitarians and defenders of radical
orthodoxy, have maintained that liberation theology is theologically and
philosophically suspect. And at the level of popular culture, one sees vitriolic attacks on liberationist approaches to religion, such as was the case
with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a leading Christian progressive, during the
2008 US presidential campaign. Wright’s prophetic Black theology of liberation was summarily mischaracterized by several prominent news outlets as a “theology of hate.”
Such pushbacks serve as sober reminders of the considerable challenges
that face liberationist approaches today. While liberation methodologies

1. There is a vast literature on these diverse liberation traditions. One useful and recent
place to begin is The Hope of Liberation in World Religions, ed. Miguel De La Torre. This
collection contains insightful essays on liberationist orientations not only in respect to
Christianity but also in terms of other non-Christian world religions, such as Judaism,
Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, African traditional religions,
American Indian religious traditions, and humanism.
2. Tombs, Latin American Liberation Theology.

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd 2

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM

Introduction: Faith in a New Key


continue to inform the manner in which people practice and reflect upon
their faith, many liberation thinkers themselves acknowledge the need to
respond to new problems and challenges as well as to deepen fundamental insights within the tradition. Today, liberation scholars, pastors, and
activists are asking questions as diverse as the following: What does “liberation” mean in a post-socialist context? How can Christian-based liberation theologies meet the demands of religious pluralism? How effectively
can liberation motifs be applied to non-theological discourses? How can
liberation theology address more conservative forms of lived religion that
are not liberationist? What fundamental epistemological shifts do liberation theologies still need to make in order to respond adequately to issues
of gender, sexuality, and ecology? And how can liberationist discourse be
more explicitly connected to concrete historical projects and institutions of
social change? These are all important questions that are being addressed
on multiple fronts by multiple constituencies.
This book takes as its point of departure one question that continues to
be at the heart of liberationist discourse—What do we mean by “integral
liberation”?—and it utilizes the method of pragmatism to address it. From
its earliest days, critics have charged that liberation theologies reduce faith
to politics and, in doing so, fall short of an encompassing, or “integral,”
sense of liberation. This was often a favorite critique of the Vatican, especially in the early 1980s. Whereas, on the one hand, the Vatican clearly
reaffirms liberation theology’s preferential option for the poor, it takes
issue with liberation theology’s “temptation to reduce the gospel to an
earthly gospel,” on the other. In one of its most pointed critiques of liberation theology, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
(CDF) argues that Latin American liberation reduces salvation to class
struggle through its use of Marxist analysis and its related hermeneutics of suspicion. The CDF writes: “Concepts uncritically borrowed from
Marxist ideology and recourse to theses of a biblical hermeneutics marked
by rationalism are at the basis of the new interpretation which is corrupting whatever was authentic in the general initial commitment on behalf
of the poor.”3
Latin American liberation theologians have responded to this critique
in a variety of ways. They have pointed out that Marxist analysis is but
one of many social scientific tools for reading “the signs of the times.”
And even when it has been used, it is employed in a selective, careful, and
3. Congregation, “Instruction,” in Liberation Theology, 400–401.

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd 3

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM


the aesthetics and ethics of faith

critical way. Liberation theologians have also responded to the charge of
reductionism by pointing out that integral liberation may be expressed in
a variety of ways. Direct political activism is one expression, to be sure, but
so too are spirituality, biblical interpretation, various engagements with
the social sciences, and pedagogy. All told, the charge of reductionism
against Latin American liberation theology has been its most prominent
and public critique.
On closer inspection, however, there exists deeper a debate between the
detractors and supporters of liberationist approaches. This deeper debate
has to do with differences concerning basic philosophical orientations
and commitments, especially around issues of methodology, hermeneutics, metaphysics, and praxis. Put another way, the debate over liberation
theology’s adherence to an integral understanding of liberation encompasses much more than the question of its use of Marxist analysis. Rather,
the debate begs some fundamental philosophical questions regarding the
very nature of faith and how one approaches faith in light of other realms
of human experience, such as culture, politics, and gender. It is in light
of this philosophical frame that US pragmatism may be of tremendous
This book proceeds from two basic premises. The first is that critiques
of liberation theology’s reduction of faith to politics have been largely
misguided, since these critiques have not fully grappled with some of liberation theology’s core background assumptions. Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff puts it well when he says that critics often fail to hear
the distinctive “tone” of liberation theology. Boff’s point here is not that
liberation theology is a “new theology”—for it continues a long tradition
of reflecting on various Christian sources and themes—but rather, that it
is a new way of doing theology. That is, it not only approaches Christian
sources and themes from the starting point of the poor and oppressed but
also it maintains that theology, as a critical reflection on human praxis,
can itself be liberating insofar as it serves as a tool for social criticism. The
core Christian melody is thus still present in liberation theology, but it is
expressed in new tonalities. US theologian Robert McAfee Brown echoes
this idea when he describes liberation theology as theology “in a new key.”
Just as musicians generally work within a set of established rules and
conventions, so too does theology tend to follow hallowed methodologies.
However, there are times when creative musicians and theologians alike
must reframe and reconstruct the rules, offering new harmonic patterns
and approaches. “Failure or success in doing so,” writes Brown, “marks

oxfordhb-9780199352531.indd 4

12/4/2013 11:08:39 PM

© 2018-2019 All rights reserved