Whatever Happened to Liberation Theology? Demobilization of a Social Movement

Stephen Armet


This study uses Liberation Theology as a vehicle for understanding the demobilization of a religious social movement due to democratic consolidation. Building on social movement organizational literature, I analyze the case history of Departamento Ecuménico de Investigaciones in San José, Costa Rica in order to explain how a social movement remains effective in a competitive field of change organizations by becoming embedded in a representative organization that is able to mobilize its core constituency and maintain social influence. Macro organizational analysis is used to determine its position in the organizational field while organizational theory is used develop five characteristics of movement transformation that enable the organization to resist attrition and develop an enduring niche. Documentary and interview data of first and second generation Liberationists are used to provide an account of the structure and strategies that have enabled Liberation Theology to continue its influence in Latin America. I will argue that Liberation Theology has established a slow, protracted and unobtrusive strategy that has enabled the movement’s activists to extend their influence and establish a permanent niche in the socio-religious landscape of Latin America. This study contributes to the body of knowledge regarding social movement demobilization; particularly of a religious movement and contributes an update on the status of Liberation Theology in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22158/jrph.v5n2p37


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