How will these resources help you? 

Liberation theologist Archbishop Dom Helder Camara stated: ‘When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.’ The aim of liberation theology is not only to minister to the needs of disadvantaged people, but to change the structures that are keeping them in poverty. This approach to religion is not without its controversies. These resources aim to help students evaluate some of these, and to extend understanding of key teachings within faiths and worldviews through seeing them being put into action. In addition, this topic is a great opportunity to apply the social sciences more broadly to the topic of religion – especially the application of a Marxist view of society within a religion as the means for transforming it, rather than religion being simply an 'opiate' for the masses. 

Liberation theology 50 years on

After 50 years, 'liberation theology' is still reshaping Catholicism and politics – but what is it?

by Leo Guardado, published by The Conversation, (2022)

This succinct, comprehensive article outlines the Catholic roots of liberation theology within Latin America, explaining the socio-political legacy of colonialism in having put many people in impoverished situations. It then addresses some of the main controversies and challenges posed to liberation theology from those in power, as well as those with concerns over the Marxist influences. The author concludes with references to how liberation theology can serve as an inspiration to other faith groups and settings in the world today. This article offers the opportunity to discuss with students the structures and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and to extend discussions around an anti-racist religious education that seeks to decolonise the subject. 

Liberation theology in world religions

The Hope of Liberation in World Religions

by Miguel A. De La Torre, published by Baylor University Press, (2008), 9781932792508

These essays explore the idea of liberation theology within the Catholic setting from where it began, and within a wide variety of religious and non-religious worldviews. The aim of this book is not to essentialize all religions into a common aim, however, and the editor stresses throughout that the truth claims of each religion are not up for debate, rather that liberation theology can show that the ‘Powerless and disenfranchised of the world can look to their belief systems to articulate a liberationist perspective of hope’. The essays on main world religions (for example Zen Buddhism and Hinduism) and liberation theology will be a fascinating reading to accompany the study of those religions in the classroom, while the discussion of Confucianism, Minjung theology and Orisha traditions give an opportunity for students to explore less studied worldviews. 

The Sikhi Path and Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology and The Example of the Sikh Gurus

by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa, published by SikhNet, (2013)

With a focus on the principle within liberation theology for concern for and preferential treatment for the poor, the author outlines in this article some of the issues in organised religions with accepting liberation theologies. She discusses in depth the approach to wealth and the poor within key Sikhi scriptures and examples from the Gurus to show that liberation theology can be part of the Sikhi path, in addition to the Catholic faith in which the author was raised. Students may be aware of the central theme of equality shown through the Sikhi path with Guru Nanak, the founder, abolishing the Caste System within the faith and installing the Langar Kitchen and meal as part of the practices. Teachers could use this article in the classroom to explore further the notion of equality within Sikhism, and the interaction between religion and society more generally. 

Ali Shariati: a case study on Islam and liberation theology

An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shariati

by Ali Rahnema, published by I.B. Tauris, (2013), 9781780768021

The central teaching of Tawhid within Islam instructs Muslims to worship none but Allah. This is essential to Shariati’s critique of societies that worship wealth and status, which leads to systematic oppression of the poor. Rather than dismissing the religion of his countrymen as a barrier to their liberation (as Marxist theory would hold), Shariati argued that religion was central to the success of the revolution for his people against the corrupt Shah who terrorised them. Through the symbolism of the Martyrdom of Imam Hussein, long believed to have been killed for standing against a corrupt Caliph, and the prophetic tradition of Musa and Isa who spoke on behalf of the poor and enslaved, Shariati put forward many of the principles of liberation theology. His case-study illustrates how much of Muslim teachings address inequality and social justice. The book will help students explore current events surrounding the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the importance of Imam Hussein within Shia Islam. 

Audiovisual clip

The Battle for Christianity - Christianity and politics

published by BBC One, (2016)

An insight into how individuals can use their religion as a catalyst for social and political change, with Christian photographer, Marksteen Adamson, talking about his work, with a focus on the refugee experience.
Further materials
The Battle for Christianity by Robert Beckford, published by BBC One, (2016) Watch this video
Jewish Liberation Theology: A Revolutionary Faith by Barack Mandela, published by The Times of Israel, (2022) Read this article
Theology Without Deception: God, the poor and reality in El Salvador by Jon Sobrino, published by Orbis Books, (2023), 9781626985216 Find this book
True Peace Work: Essential Writings on Engaged Buddhism by Jacob Surpin, published by Parallax Press, (2019), 9781946764454 Find this book
Ruth Marx teaches Religion and Worldviews, is a Consultant for Religious Studies and PSHE, a Farmington Fellowship Scholar and a published blogger on Re:Online.

Text © Ruth Marx, 2023.