Guatemalan Kairos : Catholic social thought, liberation, and the course of history, 1965-1976
Guatemalan Kairos chronicles the rise of the discourse of liberation in Guatemala’s Catholic Church in the decade following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). In these years, as this study reveals, faith and human history comprised a double helix, constituting two interdependent and mutually supporting sides of the same soteriological vision. Rooted in Vatican II’s call to read the “signs of the times,” this historically conscious theological framework not only propelled Guatemala’s burgeoning progressive Catholic Church to redirect its pastoral practices toward the poor and the marginalized, especially Guatemala’s indigenous majority through an indigenized Catholicism. That new approach also sought to reshape the nation’s history by redrawing its socioeconomic, epistemological, and cultural landscape, in part through the formation of socially engaged lay leaders (catechists). Scholarship on the liberationist church has largely focused on how, as Guatemala’s Cold War civil war (1960-1996) sunk to its nadir in the late 1970s, state repression targeted the church as “subversive.” This dissertation, by contrast, seeks to step back from this prevailing attention on later repression to reconstruct the social and cultural liberative imagination prior to this religious revolution and state counterrevolution. In so doing, it cautions against historical interpretations that have ineluctably connected liberationist praxis in the decade after Vatican II to the—often catechist-led—armed or covert revolutionary activity of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Moreover, intensified by the defeat of the Guatemalan Left, the post-Peace Accords (December 1996) entrenchment of neoliberalism has brought hard times for critical historical consciousness. Indeed, as this study’s concluding chapter outlines, how to read the signs of the current historically fragmented times and craft a narrative for liberation amid today’s deep structural injustice remains a formidable obstacle. Perhaps the most daunting hurdle in this endeavor is to raise awareness of the need itself, particularly given that Guatemala’s historical record remains confronted by the perils inherent in harnessing faith and history in order to shape contemporary circumstances.