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‘Dialogue between theology and literature is urgent,’ says Puerto Rican theologian Luis Rivera Pagán

July 10, 2009

MATANZAS, Cuba, and LOUISVILLE

“The modern Latin American literary production has such evident tangencies and religious resonances, that my perplexity is awakened by the lack of attention on the part of the theological community,” Puerto Rican theologian Luis Rivera Pagán told a recent gathering here of church leaders from throughout Latin America.

“The dialogue between theology and literature in Latin America, is urgent for the obvious interests that both have in the mythical memory and the utopian visioning of the peoples, set apart from western modernity,” Rivera Pagan told the group at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas that was commemorating the 80th anniversary of the 1929 Hispanic American Evangelistic Congress of Havana.

The congress was also held in preparation for an ecumenical gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2010 to celebrate the centennial of a mission and evangelism conference largely credited for launching the modern ecumenical movement.

Unlike the 1910 conference, “Edinburgh 2010” will have a strong Latin American presence.

"I find it strange,” said Rivera Pagán, “that there should be a relative absence of interest on the part of Latin American theology, with regard to the modern literature of the continent.

“I find it strange because of the simultaneity of their rise and international fame, and because of how pertinent are the religious and ecclesiastical concerns of their themes and issues and, finally, for the audacity of the modern Latin American literature in the making of statements defiantly heterodox and theologically transgressing."

Rivera Pagán recalled the literary works that he believes have reflected and dealt with the cosmogony (theory of the evolution of the universe) of a faith in the continent, some with more luck than others, by taking a walk through the most transcendent in the Latin American literature of all times.

He proposed a dialogue between theology and literature with propositions and hypotheses that for him are fundamental. He criticized “the scarce or lack of attention that some critics give to the religious images of important literary texts ...” and said that he is in favor of a link between theology, prophecy and poetry as a formula for a much more rigorous theological rethinking that does not banish “poetic suggestiveness from its discourse." 

Rivera Pagán continued: “Maybe it is right to say that it has been the preachers who have given the most attention to the images and religious symbols in literature” when compared to the theologians. 

He called for a “mystical-magical theology,” quoting the Puerto Rican Francisan theogian Angel Dario Carrero: “In Latin America, the intersections between poetry, spirituality, the thinking of faith and human solidarity are multiple and very fertile.”

Such an approach is not new, Rivera Pagán insisted, noting that 19th century Cuban writer José Martí had said: “As always it is the humble ones, the barefooted ones, the abandoned ones, the sinners, who join together in the face of iniquity, shoulder to shoulder, and give flight, with their lit silver wings, to the Gospel! Truth is revealed best to the poor and those that suffer!”

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