Anno 1971: Roots and Routes of TdL

1971 World Events Overview

1971 was as eventful as any year, depending on where you were during it. A brief survey of global events will give us some background for the theologies (and theologians) that sought to make sense of their times. Newspapers, radios, and television sets would broadcast globally the most pressing world news of that year: whether it was the decrease of U.S. troops-on-the-ground in Vietnam (part of Nixon’s “Vietnamization”) or the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the 500,000-strong Moratorium March in Washington D.C. (against the war) or the Pentagon Papers being published in The New York Times; whether it was news about the Republic of China (Taiwan) or about the People’s Republic of China (i.e. China), be it in the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, or in the end of U.S. embargos and the announcements of cordial upcoming visits by the Nixon administration; or news from Southern Asia where Pakistan’s military would finally succumb to Bengali separatists recently bolstered by Indian forces in an East Pakistan that was becoming Bangladesh. It was a year of space shuttles, strong men, and Soviet-U.S. competition over decolonising regions in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.

There is Idi Amin who takes power in Uganda, while Egypt and Libya sign a confederation agreement with Syria. Siaka Stevens declares Sierra Leone a republic, and in Malawi Hastings Banda declares himself president for life. Mobutu Sese Seko declares the name Zaire for what is now the DRC. There are coup attempts in Egypt, Morocco, Madagascar, and Sudan. In Guinea, collaborators with Portuguese colonial forces are sentenced to death / hard labour. Idi Amin’s first border clashes with Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere begin; at the end of the decade Nyerere will exile Amin after seizing Kampala in response to encroachments in the Kagera Region. Africa’s newly independent states are undergoing tumultuous times, and different decolonial and neocolonial paths are being taken by various states.

Nationalisation of resources and infrastructure are apace in many parts of the world. Ceylon (called Sri Lanka by the next year) would nationalise its graphite mines, Bolivia its zinc, Chile its copper, Algeria its natural gas and crude oil deposits as well as pipelines. In the U.K., Rolls Royce was nationalised after bankruptcy. In the U.S.A., Amtrak was created as a government-owned corporation to relieve freight-railroads of passenger-service obligations. Nationalising of resources and infrastructure was among the debates of the time, for Third World countries and First World, but the consequences of doing so in the Third World could spell Gen. Hugo Banzer’s military coup in Bolivia in August to counteract the appropriation of U.S.-owned zinc interests in April, or Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in Chile in 1973 to re-establish U.S.-client relations and defeat the reforms of the elected socialist government. Later on, the liberation theologians who lived in this era, and their interpreters, will describe 1972-onwards as the end of the optimism and euphoria that accompanied the surge of socialist politics in Latin America which culminated in the Chilean election of Salvador Allende in September of 1970.

Meanwhile, in the Arabic-speaking world, as in parts of Africa, whole countries were just now becoming new nations after the period of formal colonisation by Western powers. As resource-rich (specifically oil-producing) countries, 1971 saw the emergence of Bahrain on August 14, Qatar on September 3, and Oman on November 18. There were pressures and options facing the countries and cantons of the Arabian Peninsula, such as joining the emerging United Arab Emirates (Trucial States) or the modernising Saudi Arabia of King Saud’s son and successor, King Faisal. To secure a footing in the Persian Gulf, Iranian forces occupied the strategic islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs on Nov 30, in collaboration with the Sharjah Emirate against the interests of the Ras Al Khaimah Emirate. (Sam Dalrymple’s recent study is investigating how the colonial British India once included certain princely Arabian states, which were partitioned so as to remain in British control during the independence and partition of India and Pakistan, keeping the oil-rich Arabian regions for British extraction.) Earlier in the year it had been Tehran that hosted the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) that negotiated with twenty-three Western oil companies in January and February of that year. After the U.S. Gulf Oil Company lost its Bolivian interests in 1969, it was the last straw when Phillips Brothers and U.S. Steel lost the Bolivian zinc in ’71. (In the year 2021 we have more recent examples from Bolivia to speak of, with Glencore’s disputes over Pres. Evo Morales’ nationalisations in 2007 and 2010, and the re-nationalising of the hydrocarbons industry from Enron, Shell and Repsol YPF who were awarded the IMF-and World Bank-backed bids in ’96.)

Elsewhere, Jordan and Syria broke off ties over border disputes, while Jordanian forces sought to expel Palestinian forces gathering south of Amman. Neighbouring Turkey declared new governments and new states of siege to quell civil unrest, paralleling Uruguay’s emergency powers during a spate of Tupamaro kidnappings (including of the British ambassador who was held hostage for 9 months) and Pakistan’s state of emergency in order to keep its grip over disputed territories. Transitions of power in many developing countries would happen by violent shifts, often exploited by outside actors and internal interests to keep power in the hands of a wealthy few (or to take it from them … but too often into the hands of some few others), while elsewhere would be business as usual, or where despised but seemingly permanent structures would replicate, sometimes in the form of family dynasties. In ’71, Hafez al-Assad took power and partitioned Syria’s Sunni and Alawite sects into different administrative roles, replicating a colonial technique that goes back to ancient imperial practices. Bashar al-Assad retains control over that since-destroyed country after taking his father’s position in 2000, even after sectarian divisions and political rivalries coupled with NATO interventionism to depose the Alawite supremacy in 2011, a sad situation now replaced by other news cycles. Likewise, in ’71, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier died in Haiti where he ruled since ’57 through the machetes and rifles of his Tonton Makoute deathsquads on behalf of U.S. interests and on behalf of his own; his son Jean-Claude (or “Baby Doc”) took over and stayed in power until 1987. It would be a liberation theology proponent, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who would lead the opposition to the Duvalier dynasty in the late 1980s and ’90s, although his democratic election would last no longer than Allende’s before neocolonial interests saw to his replacement.

This is the year 1971, when the Pentagon Papers are first unfolding, only to be eclipsed by Watergate in coming years; when U.S. Army Lt. Calley is sentenced, on the same day, to life imprisonment for 22 murders during the My Lai Massacre, as Charles Manson and three followers are given the death penalty for their own. It is a year of global stirrings and the year of All in the Family airing while U.S. cigarette advertising comes to an end; of the Baltimore Colts taking the NFL Super Bowl, the Baltimore Bullets losing the NBA World Championship, and the Baltimore Orioles losing Game 4 of the MLB World Series; of Apollo 14 and Salyut 1 (and Mars 2 and Mariner 9 and Soyuz 11 and England dropping out of the space race); of Nasdaq; of Earth Day and Médecins Sans Frontières; of Evel Knievel’s 19-car jump; and Led Zeppelin playing “Stairway” live in Belfast while British security forces detain hundreds without trial in Long Kesh Prison, and 3,000 flee Belfast and Derry, and Rev. Ian Paisley forms his Democratic Unionist Party, and McGurk’s Bar is bombed by the Ulster Volunteer Force. It is the year that Frazier defeats Ali at Madison Square Gardens and that the Allman Brothers Band play the Fillmore East; that Gen. Lanusse takes Argentina in a military coup; and Mt. Etna erupts; and Starbucks is founded; Disney World, too. It is the year the U.S. dollar threatens the Deutschmark by flood; the year of the end of the Bretton Woods fixed gold standard; and the second time in history that the same dollar devalues: it is not the same dollar anymore. It is the year of the War on Drugs and of FedEx; of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and 1,362 ft on the tallest of Twin Towers. McDonalds opens in Australia while Neville Bonner becomes the first Aboriginal person in Parliament. Clube Atlético Mineiro wins the Brazil Football Championship and seventy Brazilian political prisoners are released into exile in Chile, exchanged for the Swiss ambassador Bucher. It is a year of many firsts, 1971.

Into this year, the arrival of a book by an Indigenous Quechua Peruvian priest wouldn’t seem to be an event.

While the various histories of liberation theology start at one point or another — whether it’s at Medellín in 1968, or Vatican II (1962-1965), or in that first meeting of minds in Petrópolis, 1964, hosted by none other than the strange prophet of Cuernavaca, Ivan Illich — nobody bypasses the singular event of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s Teología de la liberación: perspectivas, published in Lima, in 1971. Into the tumultuous world of the early 1970s, the arrival of a theological book by an Indigenous priest of Peru shouldn’t seem to make world history. 50 years on, as I write this, the work of Gutiérrez, and the generation and movement he was writing for, still generate controversy. He was 43-years-old when he wrote that book, which makes him 93 now. Most of his contemporaries have crossed over in old age, while some others died violently for the teachings of the theology of liberation. 50 years on there are young students like me — the grandchild of Argentina/os — working on timelines to trace a movement that began (or did it?) with some small books and turned into Enemy Number One of the Vatican, the CIA, and the dictatorships of the era.

These are notes from my own study of the timeline of emerging liberation theologies alongside other decolonial projects. As a historian of the movement, I wanted to get to grips with the roots and routes of this social and theological movement.


Assmann, Hugo (Brazil), Opresión-Liberación: Desafío a los Cristianos. Montevideo: Tierra Nueva, 1971
“The contextual starting point of a ‘theology of liberation’ is the historical situation of domination experienced by the peoples of the Third World” (p. 50). A collection of several essays, the content of this book is also found in Teología desde la praxis de la liberaciónEnsayo teológico desde la América dependiente (Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, 1973) and in English in Theology for a Nomad Church (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1976). By the time of that English translation, Assmann had been forced out of Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile. The English Nomad Church back-cover describes the contents … read more

Berrigan, Daniel & Robert Coles (USA), Geography of Faith: Conversations Between Daniel Berrigan, When Underground, and Robert Coles. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971
Robert Coles had visited the U.S. Catholic Peace Movement leaders Philip Berrigan and David Eberhardt in Lewisburg Federal Prison, where they were in solitary confinement: pressure, they alleged, put on them in order to flush out Daniel Berrigan who was still underground. Two weeks before Daniel Berrigan’s capture, Coles met with the priest and began a series of recorded conversations. Those conversations are recorded in Geography of Faith … read more

Croatto, J. Severino (Argentina) “Liberación y Libertad. Reflexiones hermenéuticas en torno al Antiguo Testamento”, Revista Bíblica Vol. 33/No. 1, pp. 3-7.
An early example of Latin American liberationist biblical hermeneutics comes from the Argentine biblical scholar, José Severino Croatto. This short article in the Revista Bíblica bears witness to some of its author’s own history, and the history of the movement that he was becoming a part of, from the unique viewpoint of a biblical specialist. The contents of this essay would be expanded in the book Liberación y Libertad: pautas hermenéuticas (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Mundo Nuevo, 1973), translated into English as Exodus: A Hermeneutics of Freedom (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1981). We are fortunate to have the original article as well as previews of the revised Spanish book available free online … read more

Daly, Mary (USA), “The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Liberation” in Notes from the Third Year: Women’s Liberation. New York, [publisher?]: 1971
Mary Daly is a name synonymous with the rise of Feminist Theology. She had already at this stage written The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and published the article “Women and the Catholic Church” (1970) in what is still one of the most widely available anthologies of Second Wave Feminism, Sisterhood is Powerful, banned in short succession in Chile, South Africa, and China. In “The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Liberation”, Daly is writing to a secular audience and introduces the contours of that spiritual dimension as it relates to the struggle inside and outside of the church and synagogue, relating all-the-while that, whether women leave or remain within the faith-tradition and the institution, they live in a society that is shaped by and shaping religious patriarchy and its alternatives. Luckily, online is available the article reprinted in … read more

More book / chapter / articles from 1971 overviews available soon for supporters of NonSoloPossibile!

  • Baldwin, James & Margaret Mead (USA), A Rap on Race. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1971
  • Bennett, Robert A. (USA), “Black Experience and the Bible” Theology Today, Vol 27 (January 1971), pp. 422-433.
  • [Coming soon] Camara, Helder (Brazil), Spiral of Violence. London: Sheed and Ward Stagbooks, 1971
  • Campen, H.C. (USA), “Black Theology: The Concept and Its Development” Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 23 (November 1971), pp. 388-399.
  • Cone, James H. (USA), “An Introduction to Black Theology” Enquiry (March-May 1971), pp. 51-80.
  • [Coming soon] Cone, James H. (USA), and William Hordern (USA), “Dialogue on Black Theology” Christian Century, Vol. 88 (September 15, 1971), pp. 1079-1080.
  • Freire, Paulo (Brazil), “To the coordinator of a “culture circles.” Convergence, 4(1)
  • Gardiner, James J. (USA), and J. Deotis Roberts (eds.) (USA), Quest for Black Theology. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1971.
  • [Coming soon] Gerassi, John (ed.) (Colombia/USA): Revolutionary Priest: The Complete Writings & Message of Camilo Torres. London: Cape Publishing, 1971
  • [Coming soon] Gutiérrez, Gustavo (Peru), Teología de la liberación: perspectivas. Lima: CEP, 1971
  • [Coming soon] Hamid, Idris (Barbados), In Search of New Perspectives. Trinidad: Caribbean Ecumenical Consultation for Development, 1971
  • [Coming soon] Illich, Iván (USA/Mexico), Deschooling Society. New York: Harper & Row, 1971
  • Jeffers, R.A. (USA), “Poor of God and the Black Christian in America” Catholic World, Vol. 213 (June 1971), pp. 126-129.
  • Johnson, Joseph A., Jr. (USA), The Soul of Black Preachers. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1971.
  • Jones, Major J. (USA), Black Awareness. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971.
  • Jones, Williams R. (USA), “Theodicy and Methodology in Black Theology: Critique of Washington, Cone and Cleage” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 64 (October 1971), pp. 451-557.
  • [Coming soon] Long, Charles H. (USA), “Perspectives for a Study of Afro-American Religion in the U.S.” History of Religions, Vol 2 (August 1971), pp. 54-66.
  • Mbiti, John S. (Kenya), New Testament Eschatology in an African Background: a study of the encounter between New Testament theology and traditional African concepts. London: Oxford University Press, 1971
  • McKinney, Richard I. (USA), “The Black Church” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 64 (October 1971), pp. 452-481.
  • [Coming soon] Miranda, José Porfirio (Mexico), Marx y la biblia: Crítica a la filosofía de la opresión. Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, 1971
  • Roberts, J. Deotis (USA), “Black Theology and the Theological Revolution” Journal of Religious Thought, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring-Summer 1971), pp. 5-20.
  • [Coming soon] Roberts, J. Deotis (USA), Liberation and Reconciliation. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971
  • [Coming soon] Ruether, Rosemary Radford (USA), “The Black Theology of James Cone” Catholic World, Vol. 214 (October 1971), pp. 18-20.
  • Ruether, Rosemary Radford (USA), “Male Chauvinist Theology and the Anger of Women” CrossCurrents, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 173-185. (
  • Sawyerr, Harry (Sierra Leone), “What Is African Theology?” African Theological Journal: 1971
  • Thomas, M.M. (India), Salvation and Humanization: Some Crucial Issues of the Theology of Mission in Contemporary India. Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1971
  • William, A.R (USA), “A Black Pastor Looks at Black Theology” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 64 (October 1971), pp. 559-567.
Read more about Opresión-Liberación: Desafío a los Cristianos.

“Two-thirds of humanity live in brutalizing poverty. At least thirty million die each year of starvation, and millions more face daily the spectre of malnutrition and the diseases which it spawns. Unless Christian theology–even in the affluent and powerful countries–sinks its roots deep into realities like these, contends Assmann, then it will have little to say to anyone, anywhere, any more. Assmann, together with Gustavo Gutierrez and Juan Luis Segundo, is a major architect of the “theology of liberation,” which begins by asking: What can the Gospel, the Good News, possibly mean to a world scarred by hunger, illiteracy, and political repression? Pressing his point close, Assmann indicates that Christians are called to participate in the subversion of unjust law and institutionalized disorder. In so doing they will often be cast into the desert–a nomad Church founded by a wandering preacher put to death by the religious and political powers who understood him all too clearly.”

Ironically, one of the best online descriptions of the contents of Opresion-Liberacion: Desafio … is found on an Opus Dei website, detailing what they believe are liberation theologians’ heresies.

Read more about Geography of Faith

… The conversation continued into Daniel Berrigan’s imprisonment in Danbury. Coles took an editorial hand to the conversations but reported that Berrigan “had ‘no reservations at all’ about sending the manuscripts to the publisher” … H/T Thomas Jeannot’s chapter, “Berrigan Underground”, in James L. Marsh and Anna J. Brown’s (eds.) Faith, Resistance, and the Future: Daniel Berrigan’s Challenge to Catholic Social Thought (New York: Fordham, 2012). Jeannot also points us to the interesting fact that “[m]eanwhile […] the conversations between Berrigan and Coles were serialized in the New York Review of Books in 1971 and Time Magazine ran an excerpt from that series in its March 22, 1971 edition”.

Read more about Liberación y Libertad. Reflexiones hermenéuticas en torno..

… online. The original article has been made public on the website of the Asociación Bíblica Argentina. It is a brief outline (“apenas un esbozo”) of the Exodus theme that it posits is the governing supposition of the “master lines” of the biblical theology, based upon a presentation at the 1970 meeting of SASPE, the Sociedad Argentina de Profesores de Sagradas Escrituras. What Croatto tries to do in this article is to go beyond the academic exegesis of the Exodus narrative in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament into the hermeneutical question of the exodus story of his own generation in Argentina/Latin America: “como hombre de esta generación, ya no puedo “quedarme” en el éxodo de los hebreos del siglo XIII a.C. No sólo he de leer el texto sagrado sino que éste debe “leerme” a mí.” Croatto is likely speaking with his biblical studies guild as his target audience when he writes that “el acontecimiento del éxodo-“liberación” es tan fundamental en la teología bíblica de la salvación, no podemos desoír tan fácilmente los movimientos contemporáneos de “liberación”, sobre todo cuando son inspirados en la fe.” He is encouraging his colleagues and the pastoral leadership who will be reading the Revista Bíblica that “liberation” is fundamental to biblical theology and that, if they can recognise it, there is a biblical basis for the liberation movements of the day.


For the preview of the 1978 revised edition of Liberación y Libertad: pautas hermenéuticas, (published by CEP, Lima, Peru) it can be viewed on Scribd.

Read more about The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Liberation

… the anthology, Radical Feminism (1973) in pdf format here at The reprint’s by-line for Daly situates her teaching and activism: “Mary Daly belongs to NOW and is active in the task force on women and organized religion. She is also active in women’s liberation at Boston College, where she teaches, and is one of the organizers of the Catholic Women’s Caucus. She holds several degrees in theology and philosophy and is the author of The Church and the Second Sex (Harper & Row, 1968) which explores sexism in the history of the church.” It is that early Daly who writes this succinct account of how the church justifies a societal order that justifies the church (and back and forth) in the subordination of women — citing motifs from Genesis to St. Paul, from church fathers to Thomas Aquinas to Pope Pius XII and Karl Barth and even the liberal congregations who recognise but do little about sexism — and what this means for women within that tradition. To take just one example that we might all relate to in some way — and that Daly’s audience must all have related to, religious or not — she discusses the psychological control of patriarchal religion: “Given the fact that the vicious circle is not foolproof, there is always the possibility that beliefs may lose their credibility. For this reason they are often buttressed by notions of “faith” that leave no room for dissent. For example, the believer is often commended to assent blindly to doctrines handed down by authority (all male). The inculcation of anxieties and guilt feelings over “heresy” and “losing the faith” has been a powerful method used by institutional religion to immunize itself from criticism. Women especially have been victimized by this” (Radical Feminism, p. 262). I was going to write that at this point Daly has not yet rejected the church and theology as hopelessly beyond hope, as she will do in Beyond God the Father (1973), but then I recalled that it was November 1971 that Daly, preaching at Harvard Memorial Chapel (the first woman to do so), invited the women (and men) in the audience to walk away from an irredeemably patriarchal Christianity, and actually left the room with most of the women and some men following her. I wonder now when this article was written. Odds have it as earlier in the year than November, five-to-one, so we can read this article and wonder about how one year can change a person, a theologian and theorist, an individual activist and a movement no less.

Encuentros: Meetings and Encounters of Liberation and Contextual Theologians in 1971

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: