I reflect on the academic impact of HTI as part of the 1.5 generation in Latin@́ theologies, one among our generations Ñ who earned doctoral degrees momentitos after our pioneers but navigated graduate education before the acompañamiento offered by HTI. With the pioneers we were invited into un conjunto, a conspiracy of prophets of a tomorrow not entirely our own. Ecumenical in ways that sometimes were not conceivable in the pews of our respective iglesias, Latin@́ theologians and scholars of religion and sacred texts realized that surviving and thriving graduate programs y la vida académica necessitated communities of mutual accountability, networks of ongoing support, and the visible presence of Latin@́s as professors, administrators, deans, presidents and authors because it is hard enough to envision your place in a space without seeing your name, your face, tu gente already there among your teachers, your mentors, your sources, and your classmates.
After a quarter of a century of accompanying Latin@́s through doctoral studies, the numbers of qualified Latin@́s available for positions within the academy has surely expanded thanks in part to the tireless efforts of HTI. Within higher education, however, strategies of limited representation have not yet yielded the critical mass necessary to change most institutional cultures. In graduate theological education, Latin@́ faculty and leadership should, at the very least, proportionately reflect demographic growth in denominational and congregational life.
Those who have benefited from HTI recognize the investment of intersecting communities in their achievement, but the obligation to “pass it on” requires a vigilance that appreciates that “my” success does not mean “we” made it. The presence of Latin@́ professors and administrators becomes increasingly significant as both Latinx enrollment in higher education and the number of Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) experienced substantial growth in recent years—that is until the pandemic.
The presence of Latin@́s in the academy impacts the “doing” of scholarship, the processes as much as the content. Nuyorican biblical scholar and theologian Jean-Pierre Ruiz observes:
Friends and colleagues have claimed that I coined the phrase “the anthological imagination” to frame the ways in which Latino/a theologians and biblical scholars have worked to shape theologies that find expression less as the solo oeuvre of an individual thinker but in the shared energy of intense discussion and of the sort of in-depth analysis that is only possible in an atmosphere of deep trust and shared commitment. That approach is grounded in a theological anthropology according to which being human is always a matter of being in community with others, where the first person singular always implicates the first-person plural so that who I am has much to do with who we are.
This impulse is lived out in practical and concrete ways when it comes to shared projects, pedagogies, and publications. Among the reasons the concept of “anthological imagination” resonates so deeply is a rich corpus of edited volumes stretching across a quarter of a century. Relationships, many forged through intersecting experiences at HTI, have netted plethora resources, anthologies en y de conjunto. It is worth documenting this consistent commitment to traditioning from our particular and diverse contexts of latinidad because too often our scholarship is still found, if at all, on the margins of syllabi—suggested, recommended perhaps, but not required reading.
While certainly not comprehensive, the following bibliographic litany serves as a necessary reminder of the trajectory and wealth of sourcing cultivated by opportunities to conspire together in common spaces. The names of editors and contributing authors in this select chronological listing of books read like an HTI directory of fellows, alumni, and mentors.
Mestizo Christianity: Theology from the Latino Perspectives, Arturo J. Bañuelas, ed. (Orbis, 1995).
Hispanic/Latino Theology: Challenge and Promise, Fernando F. Segovia and Ada María Isasi-Díaz, eds. (Fortress, 1996).
Teología en Conjunto: A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology, José David Rodríguez and Loida Martell-Otero, eds. (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).
El Cuerpo de Cristo: The Hispanic Presence in the U.S. Catholic Church, Peter Casarella and Raúl Gómez SDS, eds. (Crossroad, 1998).
From the Heart of Our People: Latino/ a Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology, Miguel H. Díaz and Orlando Espín, eds. (Orbis, 1999).
A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, María Pilar Aquino, Jeanette Rodriguez, Daisy L. Machado, eds. (University of Texas Press, 2002).
Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States, Gastón Espinosa, Virgilio Elizondo, Jesse Miranda, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Futuring Our Past: Explorations in the Theology of Tradition, Orlando Espín and Gary Macy, eds. (Orbis, 2006).
Handbook of Latina/o Theologies, Edwin Aponte and Miguel De La Torre, eds. (Chalice Press, 2006).
Jesus in the Hispanic Community: Images of Christ from Theology to Popular Religion, Harold Recinos and Hugo Magallanes, eds. (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).
In Our Own Voices: Latino/a Renditions of Theology, Benjamín Valentín, ed. (Orbis, 2010).
Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy, Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Eduardo Mendieta, eds. (Fordham University Press, 2012).
Building Bridges, Doing Justice: Constructing a Latino/a Ecumenical Theology, Orlando Espín, ed. (Orbis, 2013).
Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins, by Loida I. Martell-Otero, Zaida Maldonado Pérez and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier (Cascade Books, 2013).
Immigrant Neighbors among Us: Immigration across Theological Traditions, M. Daniel Carroll R. and Leopoldo Sánchez, eds. (Wipf and Stock, 2015).
The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Latino/a Theology, Orlando O. Espín, ed. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).
Pentecostals and Charismatics in Latin America and Latino Communities, Néstor Medina and Sammy Alfaro, eds. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Latinxs, the Bible, and Migration, Efrain Agosto and Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, eds. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).
The Word Became Culture, Miguel H. Díaz, ed. (Orbis, 2021).
Scripted within this representative selection of anthologies en y de conjunto, as well as throughout a broader swath of Latin@́ scholarship (including the HTI sponsored peer-reviewed journal Perspectivas, the HTI Dissertation Series Collection, and the annual book prize) are cuentos de las luchas, narratives of struggles contemporary and ancient; reflections on being Latin@́ in our respective faith traditions; retrievals of histories and peoples too often forgotten, ignored, displaced. Migrations, embodied biological and cultural hybridities, ambiguities of borderlands and diasporas inform biblical hermeneutics and serve as loci theologici. Popular religious practices, testimonios, coritos, ofrendas, and Via Crucis are respected as sources for and articulations of popular theologizing. Ethnographies and qualitative studies unmask realities that pastoral care is not generic and that there are legacies of healing, local wisdoms, and curanderismo that offer helpful insights into the wholeness of the human person within communities. Prophetic voices within our scholarly circle insist that both Latin@́ complicity in and victimization by the enduring and pernicious tentacles of racism, colonization, empire, sexism and heteronormativity cannot be dismissed. As Latin@́ scholars, we bring to our research ethical responsibilities to interrogate criticallý our own cultural inheritances, productions and practices, and the non-innocent histories that continue to trouble, complicate, and jeopardize our relationships and alliances.
Theologizing in Public Plazas
“Do not settle for a desktop theology. Your place for reflection is las fronteras, the borderlands,” Pope Francis urged theologians in 2015. He continues, graphically suggesting that like good shepherds, good theologians “huelen a pueblo y a calle,” bear the scent of the people and of the streets. Such an insistence, I propose, aligns with the mission of HTI as lived through twenty-five years of scholars who seek to honor accountabilities to communities beyond academia, resisting artificial borders, including those between so-called academic and lived theologies, between “real” theology and “public” theology, between popular religion and popular culture. Some live this call through activism, others through ministry, still others put their scholarly skills to use ensuring access and opportunity, resisting forces that disenfranchise people and their perspectives from the very matters that affect their lives en sus vidas cotidianas.
The presence of Latin@́ scholars in these public and performative venues is not reducible to a tokenistic strategy to spice things up with a dash of sabor latino in the public square, on the National Mall, in St. Peter’s Square, or in cyberspace. The rise of digital media and increased dependence on interactive technologies are reshaping notions of educating and publishing, as well as inviting a re-envisioning of who the audiences are engaging scholarship.
New platforms and delivery systems allow for a democratization of the production of knowledge and the dissemination of ideas in timely, accessible, and responsive ways. The development of HTI Open Plaza is one such example. As an intentionally “conversational and interdisciplinary space” it engages, from multiple and emerging perspectives, “issues of religion, history, and social justice affecting Latinx communities.” Through podcasts, blogs and an active social media presence, this initiative demonstrates how the tools of scholarship can be imagined broadly while concretely addressing the lacuna of Latin@́ perspectives in the public square. Drawing on an ever-growing network of alums and affiliated scholars, Open Plaza features informed commentaries and conversations contributing to wider social and ecclesial discourses yet resourcing congregations, classrooms, and grassroots communities.
The struggles faced by generations of Latin@́ scholars in the academy cannot be underestimated. Among the obstacles to student and faculty success were limited opportunities for publication, dismissal of Latin@́ focused research as parochial, and biases against Spanish in fulfillment of modern language requirements in graduate studies. These attitudes, practices, and policies hampered both the production and availability of sources. Coupled with the fallacy that Latin@́s do not write in English, the consequences included a lack of diverse resourcing of courses and programs in higher education as well as in the preparation of pastoral leaders.
Through various venues promoting Latin@́ scholarship, HTI participates in the steady stream of Latin@́ theologians, biblical interpreters, and scholars of religion who create spaces in what has otherwise been too often experienced as impenetrable and even toxic environments. Nurtured en la lucha was a dynamic sense of agency and urgency to redress this absence of scholarship accomplished latinamente. In 1980, the pioneering ecumenical and bilingual journal Apuntes was established under the aegis of what was then called the Mexican American Program of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. In 1993, the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) launched the peer-reviewed Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. In 1998 HTI began publishing Perspectivas, an Occasional Papers series that evolved into a peer-reviewed journal. All three journals continue as respected online publications not only resourcing academy and church but pushing the edges of latinidad while providing credible and necessary spaces for faculty to participate in peer-reviewed publishing.
Through these ventures, HTI partakes in efforts that support Latin@́ faculty success yet also challenge static notions of la vida académica. En conjunto with scholars particularly from underrepresented communities, the HTI network is part of a trend questioning and expanding what qualifies scholarship, publication, and service as criteria for promotions and tenure especially in a virtual age accelerated by a global pandemic.
Tiempo de Fiesta
Twenty-five years of accomplishments among las luchas, of surviving against the odds, of building tomorrows not entirely our own deserves a fiesta. HTI participates in and was brought into existence from the creative swirls of larger intersecting motions, moments and movements stirring in and among Latin@́s within the USA and Puerto Rico. For well over forty years our Latin@́ presence has disrupted academy and church by demonstrating that particularity in theologizing and hermeneutics is not a mark of exclusion. Construction and deconstruction of identities en lo cotidiano, at borders, on hyphens, and @ (at) all sorts of places indicate both agency and an ethic of situating interpreters and contextualizing research.
Fiestas are not escapes from reality. They are acts of resistance against suffering within the contexts of daily living. Fiestas often challenge the status quo and point toward the upending of expectations that violate the dignity of life and creation. Whether one’s eschatology is realized or realizing, in-breaking or even broken, fiestas signal hope in a tomorrow that is just and shared, lived well together, in a spirit of convivencia. Fiestas are vital to the business of graduate and theological education accomplished latinamente!