The Theological Value of Social Class Analysis and Other Social Distinctions

Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


The majority of the theological productions that have emerged in the large Christian confessions, mostly in the North Atlantic region (especially those that have institutional support), have been, with some exceptions, rather naive in their approach to political and social realms; many times they have been openly favorable to dominant powers. This lack of critique is most evident in their reference to economics, of which, when not directly complicit with the great systems of domination and exploitation, there has been a generally superficial and asystemic vision. When these theologies or churches have offered critiques, they have addressed ethical issues where they perceive an unavoidable injustice, or individual corrupt practices. However, they have not identified the structural components of the problems. For a long time, a functional understanding of theology and the role of Christianity has been dominant. This understanding has been inherited from its alliance with the successive imperial powers in the West, which has led it to the mediation between theologies of hierarchy and order, the harmonization of conflicting interests, as well as the justification of domination and the status quo. Some theological and ecclesiastical alternatives have also developed, of course, but in many cases their claims became allegations that were then absorbed and co-opted by the workings of large institutions. At times these claims provided unclear schemes that failed to offer viable alternatives, waiting for some divine intervention to fall from the sky to solve social problems, or, conversely, for a heavenly rapture to take believers to paradise.


Social Class Social Formation Class Struggle Fundamental Class North Atlantic Region 
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    See, for example, Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 107–110; he calls this practice a “patriarchy of love,” without considering the oxymoron that this expression implies. It would be soon denounced by feminist authors.Google Scholar
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    An example of this discussion can be seen in the debate between Slavoj Žižek and Ernesto Laclau in separate articles appearing in Critical Enquiry. See Ernesto Laclau, “Why Constructing a People Is the Main Task of Radical Politics,” Critical Inquiry 32, Summer (2006): 646–680;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Joerg Rieger 2013

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