On the Margins of Theology – I

24 08 2009

altar nino

The phenomenology of the numinous in Catholic devotional practice

(photo found at this site)

During my Internet browsing, I became acquainted with this essay on the work of Orlando Espin, a kindred spirit it seems who has done work in the academia regarding Latino popular Catholicism. The author of the essay is critical of Espin’s work saying that the scholar pits the faith of the clergy against the faith of the popular classes. This excerpt is particularly illuminating in this regard:

I told Shirley that Professor Espin says that popular Latino Catholicism, even in Mexico, has never identified the Virgin of Guadalupe with Mary of Nazareth. He goes further: “Why can’t the Virgen be the Holy Spirit?” Espin wonders. “Is the Mary-Guadalupe identification really the people’s creation and discovery? Or is it possibly a historically understandable, defensive cover, naively (though sincerely) imposed by theological and ecclesiastical elites on themselves and on the people’s symbol system?”

Shirley agrees with Espin about one thing: “None of the people that I know say that it’s the Virgin Mary; they say it’s Our Lady of Guadalupe.” On the other hand, “everybody I know doesn’t separate the two.”

The rest of the essay has a rather snarky and cynical tone, portraying Espin as a scholar profoundly out of touch with the “orthodox” faith of the masses. For the essayist, Espin reads too much Derrida and not enough St. Thomas; he is trying to use religion as a means of subversion when it is really nothing of the sort.

While I can appreciate some of the author’s criticism, I do not think he is being fair to Espin or popular Catholicism in general.

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