represented both by progressive Church leaders and by the CPT, has evolved its understanding of Church duty and how this has been manifested in its work with social movements. The general goal of asking these questions, consequently, is to explore what it means to talk about liberation theology in the 21st century, given liberation theology’s historical significance and the changes that have occurred in relevant institutions since the era it began. Specifically, the questions above are designed to procure the following information and understanding:
The state of the Church during its most progressive era
The form and existence of that progressivism today
The past work of the CPT as compared to its work today
Whether or not religious faith maintains a role for the rural movements today similar to what it had in the early days of liberation theology
Why relations between Church forces and social movements have changed, if they have changed
The consequent effect of this changing milieu on the work and success of rural movements For the purposes of this study, the term “liberation theology” is understood as having a three-part
significance. First, it is a theory of the Church’s need to align its work with the fate of the poor. Second, it is an attempt by Church leaders and Church-affiliated agents to practice that theory by actively participating in the campaigns for social justice coordinated by people’s organizations. Third, it has a historical connotation of having been not just a development in theology, but a force in inciting revolutionary movements in Latin America during the second half of the 20th century.
This third significance is also the basis for choosing the research topic. In the Brazilian Amazon as in the world at large, social injustices remain rampant and appalling, even as scores of committed and compassionate organizers develop new ways of confronting this injustice. The onslaught of globalization and the overwhelming power of international corporate elites in determining the fates of millions of people create an increasingly difficult environment in which to fight for land, economic equality, and human rights. Given that liberation theology played an important role in these fights during the second half of the 20th century, it is important to understand what its power can be today. We are in need of any tools we can find to support movements for social justice, because the lives of human beings are at stake. Religiously based organizing could be one of these tools, and research about religious forces in progressive contexts is consequently important to shape our understanding of how the world can most effectively be made a better place.
This introduction is followed by an explanation of the methodology and research tools used for this study, a deeper exploration of relevant background topics, a presentation of primary themes from the research results, an analysis of these results, and finally, a conclusion that discusses what research might come next in exploring this topic.