Where We Come From

Our work has its roots in the complex political realities of the past half century. Coming of age in the 1970s we were charged by history with assessing and acting on with the legacy of the movements of the previous decade: for civil rights, peace, and national liberation, for the protection of the ecosystem and the liberation of women. And as students in faculties of humanities, social sciences, and theology we were objectively part of the movement of resistance to the proletarianization of the humanistic intelligentsia which accompanied the rapid expansion of higher education. We were were influenced by, though not at the center of, the effort to crystalize out of what remained of those movements a leadership which could provide strategic direction for fundamental structural transformation over the longue duree. We were, in this regard, inspired especially by the humanistic tradition of Lukacs and Fromm and, from a strategic perspective, by the tradition of Gramsci, which stressed the importance of engaging and transforming all social institutions, not just the state. We believed that we saw this strategy at work in the national liberation movements in Latin America, with their profound engagement with and by religious institutions.

It was these commitments which shaped our participation in the movement of resistance to the neoliberal ascendency of the 1980s and 1990s. We worked especially in the effort to build on resistance centered in local religious communities, through interfaith/institutionally based organizing –work which extended into inter-religious dialogue and deliberation in response to the attacks on Islam which followed events of 9/11. This work helped forge our critique of decisionist political theology and the concept of sovereignty, and shaped our understanding of democracy as a deliberation around the ends of human life.

But this was also a period of coming to terms with the limitations of our starting point. On the one hand, the collapse of the Soviet bloc set in motion a long and indeed still ongoing effort to come to terms with the ambiguities of historic socialism. On the other hand, our work in inter-religious dialogue brought home just how fundamental antisemitism is to the identity of Christian societies and the way in which it serves as a reservoir of authoritarianism on which patriarchy and racism –and capitalist productivism– can then draw. And we came to understand the rightward movement of the Catholic Church, which ultimately rendered our engagement with that institution impossible, as rooted in a theology which was antisemitic not just in (mis)interpretation or (mis)application, but at its very core.

Pushed out of our original base in the Catholic Church we have worked for the past quarter century primarily in the academy and especially in institutions serving historically oppressed communities. There our focus has been on making a liberal education accessible to these communities, cultivating free human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality capable of acting effectively in the public arena to build a world in which a meaningful life is possible. This has also involved us in the defense of academic freedom and faculty governance, on which the liberal arts depend. Precisely because of the historic role of the humanistic intelligentsia in giving voice to and organizing historically oppressed communities, the humanistic academy, like the liberationist wing of the Church before it, has been a particular target for Capital.