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SAAP Annual Meeting

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Liberating Faith: Popular Ritual, Zapatismo, and Prophetic Pragmatism

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Chris Tirres
DePaul University
United States

Mariana Alessandri
University of Texas-Pan American
United States

Alexander Stehn
University of Texas-Pan American
United States

This panel explores liberating forms of religious faith across the Americas. Although “religion” is often understood in terms of its institutional structures and doctrinal commitments, it may also refer to ways of being in the world that are shaped by various forms of faith-in-action, from ritual practice to civic activism. Thus, rather than focus exclusively on the institutional or doctrinal dimensions of religion, this panel looks at religious faith as a dynamic form of faith-in-action, with its own unique arcs of narrative and drama harboring significant potential for social change. While institutionalized religions frequently play an explicit role in North American and Latin American social movements, the subtler religious dimensions of experience, which often draw heavily on the human imagination, undoubtedly play a role as well. As Dewey boldly suggests: “Any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality” (LW 9:19).

While Dewey’s distinction between religion as a noun and religious as an adjective is helpful in some ways, he needlessly forecloses the possible continuities between the two. Contrary to what Dewey argues in A Common Faith, this panel affirms that religion can itself prove to be “religious” in Dewey’s sense of word. A number of scholars, including John Herman Randall, Jr., Thomas Alexander, and Steven Rockefeller, have argued along these lines. This panel seeks to deepen and extend this position by looking specifically at faith-based praxis as it has emerged within the context of the Americas.

Within the past 40 years, significant expressions of faith-in-action have emerged out of Latin America, as well as Latino/a and African American communities in the U.S. The three papers that comprise this panel will consider some of these American expressions of faith-in-action in terms of: 1) particular ritual practices (the Good Friday liturgies at the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio), 2) particular social movements (Zapatismo), and 3) a meta-philosophical discourse bridging different theoretizations of faith-in-action (namely, Enrique Dussel’s liberation philosophy and Cornel West’s prophetic pragmatism.)

The first paper argues that the divide Dewey creates between religion and the religious may be significantly lessened by turning to resources in his theory of education, which connect formal structures of learning with the qualitative transformation of experience. The paper shows that San Fernando’s Good Friday liturgies utilize pedagogies that are akin to Dewey’s idea of reconstructive education, and, as such, these liturgies educate participants in a deeply “religious” way. The second paper argues that argues that both religion and the religious have played an undeniable role in the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Although Subcomandante Marcos verbally rejects the Catholic Church (or religion) when he says, “We want liberation - but not the theology,” Zapatismo is saturated with formal religion. This paper thus argues that the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) is: 1) religious in its practices and 2) effectively dependent upon religion given the influence of Liberation Theology and Bishop Samuel Ruiz. The third paper makes the case that when it comes to understanding and reconstructing the influence of both the religious and religion on ethical and political life, an inter-American philosophical alliance might be formed between contemporary pragmatism and liberation philosophy (as articulated by Cornel West and Enrique Dussel respectively). In short, our panel aims at being attentive to the historical and contextual nuances of particulars—drawn from faith-based movements across the Americas from the 1960s to the present—while at the same time suggesting that these struggles might be fruitfully conceptualized through a wider, inter-American philosophical and pragmatic lens.


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