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Religion without Redemption: Social Contradictions and Awakened Dreams in Latin America by Luis Martínez Andrade

Martínez Andrade, Luis. 2015. Religion without Redemption: Social Contradictions and Awakened Dreams in Latin America. London, UK: Pluto Press. 159 pages; $29.50 paper.

In Religion without Redemption: Social Contradictions and Awakened Dreams in Latin America, Mexican scholar Luis Martínez Andrade provides a forceful critique of capitalism and posits liberation theology, with its commitment to social movements and revolutionary struggles, as an alternative paradigm to the dominant systems of power.

Religion without Redemption is a collection of short but dense essays first published in Spanish in 2012. This is a review of the English-language edition first issued in 2015. The volume is interesting for its methodological approach: a combination of different academic disciplines such as Marxism, decolonial studies, philosophy, history, and liberation theology that sheds light on the working mechanisms of “the civilising triad (capitalism/modernity/coloniality)” (36). Martínez Andrade draws from an impressive array of theorists, both from Latin America and Europe, including Walter Benjamin and other theorists of the Frankfurt School, Ernst Bloch, Frantz Fanon, Walter Mignolo, Aníbal Quijano, Enrique Dussel, and, in particular, the French-Brazilian sociologist Michael Löwy. Although the author at times moves too quickly between sources in a way that could seem overwhelming to those uninitiated in critical theory, he writes with such passion that reading never becomes a tiring exercise. As Martínez Andrade expresses in the prologue, his essays were born out of rage and hope: rage because of the injustices of the world and hope “for that-which-is-not-yet,” for radical change (xi).

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, entitled “Entelechies and Cathedrals,” provides a socio-historical account of how the “civilising triad” has shaped relations of domination and exploitation in Latin America. The first chapter focuses on the sixteenth century as a pivotal moment for the emergence of the capitalist world-system, Western subjectivity and modernity, and the “coloniality of power”—a term coined by the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano. The latter refers to the “pattern of domination-exploitation” based on a racial division of labor, which was set up during the colonial period and is reproduced today by elite interests in order to justify the dispossession of peoples from their lands, as well as their identities, as these dominant forces frame Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, and others as “just Indians” (7-8). Martínez Andrade emphasizes that colonialism not only succeeded through the use of violent force, but also involved the coloniality of knowing and of doing, that is, the “subalternisation” of cultural, symbolic, and discursive practices of the indigenous peoples (9). Such coloniality gained strength with the spread of Enlightenment ideologies and with the emergence of the social sciences within the university system, which helped legitimize Eurocentric categories and perspectives by treating the theories and concepts of such thinkers as Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes as “universally valid in the study of humanity” (19).

The second chapter of the first part addresses the “cathedral” aspect of the section’s title, describing how capitalism functions as a sort of religion that has its own gods (the market, money, competition) and places of worship (the shopping mall). This essay—recipient of the “Thinking Against the Mainstream” award in 2009— draws from Marxist theory to emphasize that the workings of capitalism and coloniality in Latin America are inextricably linked to racism. Introducing the notion of “corporeal capital,” Martínez Andrade argues that “race, body, and face” are central in the lives of Latin Americans, for they shape social relations and determine boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, including who gets to enter spaces of leisure, such as clubs, bars, and shopping malls, and who does not (50-51). While classic Marxism tends to focus on economics as the basis of social inequalities, Martínez Andrade argues that somatic and cultural characteristics, as much as class, play a central role in reproducing inequalities in Latin America.

In the second half of Religion without Redemption, entitled “Utopia and Liberation,” Martínez Andrade reflects upon the utopic function of religion—and liberation theology in particular—and how this can advance the revolutionary projects of the Latin American region. He discusses at length Ernst Bloch and his philosophical treatise The Principle of Hope, in which Bloch argues that religion can be subversive and not only opium for the people. He then explores the works of Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff and the Argentine philosopher Enrique Dussel to show how and why liberation theology, with its unwavering critique of capitalism, has been a natural ally of marginalized populations and their economic, ecological, and social struggles.

Martínez Andrade concedes that liberation theology “no longer has the same intensity as before,” but insists on its subversive role and potential to liberate humanity and the planet (120). Martínez Andrade does not explain, however, how exactly religion functions on a practical level in social movements, such as the Mexican Zapatistas and the Brazilian land movement (MST), to cite his two recurring examples. How do people use religion in their everyday lives and to what end? Although Religion without Redemption is highly theoretical, it is also a powerful and inspiring piece of writing that imagines how the dominant systems of power can be destabilized to begin creating a more humane and just world.

Linnete Manrique is a PhD candidate in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her thesis explores how race and nation are entangled in the historical development of the myth of mestizaje in Mexico. She works as an Associate Lecturer for the Media and Communications department at Goldsmiths and currently teaches the course titled, “Race, Empire and Nation.” Manrique obtained her M.A. in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012 and her B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of San Diego in 2009.