III Congreso Internacional Historia a Debate Santiago de Compostela

III Congreso Internacional Historia a Debate
Santiago de Compostela, 14-18 de julio de 2004

Formación histórica del sujeto político

Tema IV.3. Formación hístórica del sujeto político

Patrick Wilkinson (Institute for Advanced Cultural Studies, Duesseldorf, Germany)
Unbecoming Redemption Religious vs Political Models of Socio-Historical Transformation


When thinking of the religious vocation and the conception of history at least three names come to mind Venerable Bede, Thomas More, and Gustavo Gutierrez.

Once the Church ceased to be the primary institution of European culture, it may have ceased to be the final arbiter of written history but, it by no means ceased to inform the way in which time and events have been perceived and made history. When Bede wrote his history of the Church in England he could do so with an as member of an institution which had yet to attain the pinacle of global power. Already Thomas More's "Utopia", although not strictly a history, was an attempt to formulate a vision of transformation which did not rely solely upon the "history of redemption"-the paradigm of the Church.

But even as the Reformation had loosened the monopoly of the Roman Church on Europe and European thought, the idea of "redemption" in history was retained. The French Revolution although ostensibly opening the way for a history freed from the dictates of either Protestant or Catholic ecclesiologies, merely introduced a highly unstable "secular redemption" to the construction of history. Up to this point however, the focus had been the redemption of a European world or a world at least narrated by Europeans.

The beginning of history from the Western hemisphere has been largely determined by the "redemptive" quality attributed to the idea of "America" as such. Even the banal identification of the Americas as the "New World" reveals an implicit link between the "discovery" and the "redemption" offered by a fresh, new chance to be something very different.

If it is tentatively possible to separate the economic processes from the social movements-and here I would do this just for the sake of argument-then the "New World" or written large, the colonization process was very quickly linked to the creation of a "new church", a new religious foundation. It might be explored further what the particulars of these visions were in each new territory but one thing remains clear. When the European continent was in the throes of secularization and abandonment of church structures, the discovered lands were in the process of erecting them anew.This disparity or asynchronism in historical development was and remains a frequent source of conflict and frustration. For example, when after 1848 exiled revolutionaries from Europe went to the United States they frequently complained that the local inhabitants were unwilling to abandon their churches and clerics in political life. The strong anti-clericalism of Anneke and Schurz was rejected by those Americans who had come to see the congregation as an essential part of social structure-even when fighting for social change.

A similar process can be found in Latin America where despite the survival of authoritarian Roman Catholicism, social movements developed with strong religious and clerical leadership. Whatever other obstacles socialists and communists faced in Central and South America, the most dynamic movements appear to have emerged not in secular parties but in religious movements. Gutierrez was just one of several authors who have attempted to systematize this history.

Where colonization has meant a missionizing process, the narrative of events has retained its redemptive orientation. This has often been a source of tremendous strength in social movements. However, it has equally restrained what might be called the transition to the political or (if political is aimed at democracy), the transformation of a religious society into a political society. I believe however this conflict between religious and political (church v. secular) is a formal conflict which obscures the underlying conflict between "redemptive" and "non-redemptive" history.

This paper will discuss the conflict between "redemptive" and "non-redemptive" history. The author's work on Brazil, South Africa, and Germany and the USA will be brought to bear. The focus of the argument is that there is no necessary contradiction between religious and political

models of social-historical transformation. The conflicts arise from unresolvable demands of a "salvation" driven society.

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