Latin America

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Module Assignments

  • Study the assigned curriculum — both Parts 1 and 2.
  • Submit your essay (or your contracted alternative), which must include thoughts on both parts of each module.
  • Your peer exchanges are due two days after your essay is due.

The essays are designed to be meaningful exercises of self-exploration (reflections) rather than busy work (summaries).

The practice of philosophy is a major goal of your essays and exchanges. This practice promotes and supports independent, creative and original thinking.

Essays Due by 11:00 PM on Mondays and Thursdays.

  • Your essays need to be a thoughtful “journal-like” reflections.
  • Essays must address both part 1 and part 2 of each module’s curriculum.
  • A good reflection is one that I could not have read before. This is because it is the essay that only you could have written — due to your unique set of life experiences.

Minimum Requirements

  • Essays are not summaries. That is busy work.
  • Summaries do not receive credit because they do not require serious thought — simply the ability to record information.
  • Your essays must be more than 700 words to receive credit and be eligible for a C, more than 800 words to be eligible for a B, and more than 900 words to be eligible for an A.
  • Your assignments are not eligible for A’s if they require proofreading.
  • Assignments that are partial (not meeting minimum requirements) do not receive partial credit.
  • Late assignments are not eligible for credit.

Essay Prompts

You are not required to use the following prompts, but they may help you think about what you are studying:

  • What did you learn? What surprised you and/or caused enough doubt that you were inspired to do a little research and fact checking?
  • Did you find any specific ideas confusing or difficult?
  • Did you have an emotional response, negative or positive? Do you know why?
  • Have you had any experiences you are willing to share with our class that help you relate to and understand any of the material in this module?
  • Did this assignment contain any “awakening” ideas, those that inspire you rather than depress you?
  • Did you find any of the ideas surprising? Why?

Final Assessment Prompts

You do not need to use these final assessment prompts either, but they may help you put what you are studying this semester into a larger perspective.

  • Can you give an example or two in your essay that demonstrates you were engaging with, and thinking about, our curriculum in a serious way?
  • Did you study everything required or did you rush and skim?
  • Did you find yourself thinking about class content when you did not have to, such as finding yourself discussing ideas with friends or family?
  • Did you seek clarification about class material that confused you? If not, why not?
  • Have your studies contributed to any increase in self-knowledge (how you understand the world and your place in it) or a deeper understanding of one’s current world view?


Study Part 1: Latin America

Latin America: Mesoamerican Philosophy

Background: Shamanism

The masks that were presented to Cortes had a long history and a number of levels of symbolic meaning. In fact, the beginning of their history and the source of their meaning must be sought in a time long before any actual masks appear in the archaeological record. The roots of the ritual and symbolic use of masks characteristic of Mesoamerican religion are deep in the shamanistic base from which that religion grew. By Mesoamericans we mean the peoples who inhabited southern Mexico and adjoining parts of Central America before the Spanish arrival. Throughout the long history of its development, Mesoamerica continually drew sustenance from the basic conceptions brought across the Bering Straits land bridge as early as 40,000 years ago by the first discoverers, explorers, and settlers of the New World. It was bequeathed by those first Americans to all the generations who were to follow them in the development of what was to become the indigenous thought of the high cultures of Mesoamerica. All the subtlety, intricacy, complexity, and beauty of the thought and ritual of the highly developed religious institutions of Mesoamerica at the time of that second contact with the Old World, known as the Conquest, can be seen as developments from the shamanic base, developments from that original archaic religious system built on the individual shaman’s ability to break through the normally impenetrable barriers that separate the planes of matter and spirit.

The shaman’s experience was an ecstatic personal experience with practical uses for his people, the hunting and gathering, nomadic peoples of the Early Paleolithic and later times. As magician, diviner, or curer, he was uniquely capable of bridging the gap between the mundane lives of the people of his community and the mysteries of the invisible world. These mysteries could give those lives purpose, direction, and meaning, and through which the ailments and problems of the individuals and the community could be dealt. Of course, the highly developed religions of the later civilizations of Mesoamerica no longer depended upon the central figure of the shaman and the trance through which he was able to enter the world of the spirit, but the outlines of that shadowy figure can still be seen in the basic assumptions and many of the practices of the religions he founded.

The significance of shamanism to Mesoamerican spiritual thought has been recognized both by those who study Mesoamerica and those who study mythology and religion in general. Joseph Campbell, for example, among the latter group, has pointed out that “in any broad review of the entire range of transformations of the life-structuring mythologies of the Native Americas, one outstanding feature becomes immediately apparent: the force, throughout, of shamanic influences.” In this, he concurs with Mircea Eliade who, in his definitive study of shamanism, shows that “a certain form of shamanism spread through the two American continents with the first waves of immigrants.” A brief treatment of those assumptions will illuminate their shamanic origin and, interestingly, suggest an important reason for the widespread mask use traced in Mesoamerican religious symbolism and ritual.

Masks and Mesoamerican Spirituality

Perhaps the most fundamental assumption shared by shamanism and Mesoamerican religion holds that all phenomena in the world of nature are animated by a spiritual essence, the common possession of which renders insignificant our usual distinctions between man and animal and even the organic and the inorganic. In the shamanic world, everything is alive and all life is part of one mysterious unity by virtue of its derivation from the spiritual source of life—the life force. Thus, each living being is in this sense merely a momentary manifestation of that eternal force, a mask, as it were, both covering and revealing the mysterious force of life itself. Furthermore, the commonality of the life force makes possible within the shamanic context the primordial capability of magical transformation; man and animal can assume each other’s outer form to become the alter ego, an ability central to the Mesoamerican concept of the sorcerer. Through this form of transformation, the shaman can explore the myriad dimensions of the material and psychological worlds; and through the concomitant liberation from the limitations of his own body; he can take the first step toward the exploration of the worlds of the spirit, the proper domain of his own spiritual essence. The ritual use of mask and costume clearly derives, at least in part, from that concept of magical transformation: through the mask, the ritual performer changes his physical form to enter the world of the spirit in a way much the same as the shaman’s magical transformation.

A second assumption of shamanism that underlies Mesoamerican religion follows directly from this first one. In the shamanic universe, the soul, or individual spiritual essence, is separable from the body in certain states or under certain conditions; the spirit can become autonomous and function free of the body. Humans are thus not necessarily limited to or by their physical existence; they are capable of moving equally well in each of the two equivalent worlds of which they are a part—the natural and the spiritual. This equivalence of the worlds of matter and spirit makes the common distinctions between dream and experience, this world and the afterworld, the sacred and the profane, as insignificant as those between man and animal, because the shaman demonstrates that the only true reality is spirit, albeit spirit that may be temporarily garbed in the material trappings of the world of nature. Just as the spirit of the shaman can transform itself into other forms of natural life, so it can leave the physical body entirely and “travel” unfettered in the spiritual realm.

It is there, of course, that the shaman finds what is needed to cure the ailments and solve the problems of his people; one of his primary functions in a world that believed the cause of everything in nature was to be found in the world of the spirit. Thus, the physical being of the shaman, and of living things generally, was a “mask” placed on the spiritual essence, a “mask” that could be removed and left behind in the shaman’s ecstatic journeys to the world of the spirit. The actual masks and costumes worn by shamans suggested symbolically the separability of the worlds of matter and spirit, and precisely this symbolic meaning of mask and costume was to remain constant throughout the development of Mesoamerican spirituality.

This belief in the separability of matter and spirit concurs with a third basic assumption of shamanism and of Mesoamerican religion—that the universe is essentially magical, rather than bound by what we would call the laws of cause and effect as they operate in nature. Since material realities were the results of spiritual causes, to change material reality, the spiritual causes had to be found and addressed through ritual and/or shamanic visionary activity. The magical universe consisted of two levels of spiritual reality, one above and one below the earthly plane, a shamanic conception that directly prefigures the structure of the cosmos as it was seen at every stage of the development of Mesoamerican spiritual thought. The three levels are connected by a central axis, often represented by a world tree, “soul ladder,” or stairway that links the planes of spirit and matter and provides the pathway for the shaman’s spiritual journeys. Again, shamanism posits a universe in which matter and spirit are separate yet joined, and that union both makes possible and is symbolized by the spiritual travel of the shaman when he takes off the “mask” of his physical being.

These assumptions are the core of shamanism. They suggest the fundamental spirituality of humanity and provide a conceptual base for the belief that through appropriate rituals performed by one who, by heredity, divine election, or the manifestation of a preference for the sacred, has acquired the ability to shed his physical being to become “pure” spirit, all boundaries can be crossed so that the zones of profane space and time can be transcended and the essential order of the cosmos revealed. The shaman is thus the mediator between the visible and the unseen worlds, the point of contact of natural and supernatural forces.

From the sense of the spiritual unity of the cosmos, the cultures of Mesoamerica developed a religion that saw humanity’s existence in essentially spiritual terms. It concentrated its ritual actions on symbolizing and breaking through the boundaries between the planes of matter and spirit. This was done through such means as the attainment of trancelike states induced by ritual privation, blood sacrifice, or the ingestion of hallucinogens; ritual human and animal sacrifice; and masked dance.

Shamanistic practices can be seen in connection with the rituals surrounding death, symbolic animal-human transformation, the attainment of trance states through the use of hallucinogens, and in the healing practices still associated with Mesoamerican spirituality.

Many masks found in or near burial sites combine animal figures with human skulls. This is often interpreted as representing life and death. That this symbol of the equivalence of life and death, matter and spirit is found in the shape of a ritual mask worn by a shamanic ritual figure further strengthens the contention that the cultures of Mesoamerica from very early times consciously used the mask as a primary symbol. It symbolized the idea that the material and spiritual worlds coexist in such a way that the material world acts as a covering for the world of the spirit, a covering that can be penetrated through the symbolic death of the shaman’s ecstatic trance. We can also see in these early symbols and ceremonies associated with death the roots of the complex system of communicating with the world of the spirit through human and animal sacrifice, which was characteristic of the cultures of Mesoamerica. That system of communication, suggested by the sacrificial victims in the Aztec religion, was perhaps a logical development from the deathlike trance of the shaman, which enabled him to enter the world of the spirit. In both cases, a form of death was seen as the necessary prerequisite for the spiritual journey.

Evidence of this transformation, through death, from matter to spirit is complemented in the archaeological record of early Mesoamerica by widespread indications of another sort of transformation, such as the merger of animal and human. Masks from the earliest times give evidence of the merging of human and animal features in the process of the transformation of matter into spirit through art and ritual. Numerous figurines depict or suggest such transformations of man into animal, often a jaguar or bird. Both of these creatures are associated with the shaman and both are potent factors in Mesoamerican spiritual symbolism. Such a transformation, of course, suggests the shaman’s ability to transcend the material world and to transform himself into other natural forms. This assumption of the outer form of an animal alter ego was no doubt “the most striking manifestation of his power” and was an integral part of his ability to enter the world of the spirit. And, significantly, the Aztec name for the shamanic sorcerer-priest-curer was the same as the word that denoted the animal alter ego into which the sorcerer could transform himself. According to Eliade, the “mystical journeys [of the shaman] were undertaken by superhuman means and in regions inaccessible to mankind”; thus, the magical transformation of the shaman into a bird or an animal that could move with superhuman speed would symbolically supply the powers needed to make the journey into that other realm of being.

Recent research indicates that both of these forms of transformation—from matter to spirit through a symbolic death and from man to animal—were often accomplished through the ingestion of psychotropic substances. These substances enable the shaman to attain the necessary mystical, ecstatic state that would enable him to transcend human time and space and gain insight into the divine order. That research provides evidence of the use of hallucinogens early in the development of Mesoamerican religion. The Aztecs considered psychotropic plants sacred and magical, serving shamans, and even ordinary people, as a bridge to the world beyond. Providing the ability to enable man to communicate with the gods and thereby to increase his power of inner sight, such hallucinogens were important enough to be associated with the gods. Many plants by which the shaman could induce his visions were included in the psychoactive pharmacies discovered by the Spanish conquerors. In addition to sacred mushrooms, the morning glory, and a very potent species of tobacco, there was peyote; a hallucinogen still widely used by the indigenous peoples of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States in ritual activity.

The evidence of shamanic practices within Mesoamerican religion, then, clearly shows a shamanistic emphasis on transformation, often accomplished through a hallucinogenic alteration of the mental state of the religious practitioner. As is the case with the traditional shaman of Siberia, in Mesoamerica, these transformations often served the purpose of healing the physical and psychic ills of members of the community. A wealth of evidence points to this link between shamanism and Mesoamerican healing practices which existed from the earliest times and continue to the present day. Many of these healing ceremonies are focused upon an individual “patient” regarded as “ill.” The illness is rarely defined as a physiological malfunctioning per se; rather, the physiological symptoms are viewed as surface manifestations of a deeper etiology; for example, “the ancestral gods have knocked out part of his soul because he was fighting with his relatives.” In the Valley of Mexico, the Aztecs placed great faith in the healing power of the sorcerer-priests who coexisted with the priests of the institutional religion of the temples.

The shamanic origin of Mesoamerican religion seems to be clearly indicated by many practices that derive from the fundamental assumptions of shamanism. More important than any of these particular forms of religious activity, however, is the fact that the way of seeing reality characteristic of Mesoamerican spirituality is the way of the shaman. This influence also explains the pervasive symbolic and ritual use of masks in both the symbolism and ritual of shamanism.

In ritual, the mask provides the shaman with one of the important means of accomplishing his essential function—the movement into the realm of the spirit. In a similar way, shamanic songs or incantations suggested that same transformation, as did even “disguised words” or the imitation of animal voices, which served as a “sign that the shaman can move freely through the three cosmic zones: underworld, earth, sky.” The new, music-like language of the liberated spirit of the shaman signified his movement away from the mundane world in his quest for sacred knowledge.

Masks, then, are the visual equivalent of the song or chant of the shaman, and both mask and song are symbolic of the sacred discourse of myth created by the mind. All three—masks, song, and myth—are products of culture operating at its most profound level in a search for order in the invisible or spiritual world. Eliade’s contention that the mask makes it possible for the shaman to transcend this life by enabling him “to become what he displays” and to exist as “the mythical ancestor portrayed by his mask” suggests precisely the necessary immersion in the sacred order of the world of the spirit.

Through the mask and the song, the shaman is transformed into something other, and with the vision of an animal, ancestor, or god symbolically acquired through this transformation, he is able to see into the mysteries of the spiritual realm. “He in a manner reestablishes the situation that existed in mythical times, when the divorce between man and the animal world had not yet occurred,” when the primordial order had not yet been hidden from man’s view. Now outside of space and time, “he mystically unites himself with a sacred order of being, beyond the dimension of this or that person in this or that particular body.” He is, in effect, reborn with the divine ability to see, behind the mask that both covers and reveals the essence of the cosmos, the divine order that alone can resolve the seeming chaos of the world of man. Thus, the mask is surely a clear reflection of and the perfect metaphor for this shamanic worldview, and Mesoamerican spirituality reveals its great debt to shamanism in its pervasive symbolic and ritual use of the mask.

Latin American Philosophy


“Recently, as universities strive to diversify the canons used to provide students with a liberal arts education, more attention is drawn to traditionally marginalized areas of philosophy, such as African and Latin American philosophy” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 9). “Scholars in the English-speaking world are turning to Latin America as a place of more than just magical realism and political turmoil, and discovering a rich and variegated philosophical tradition” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 10).

“The encounter between Iberia and pre-Columbian America posed new challenges to European thought and initiated new developments in both places. Given the colonial roots of Latin American philosophy, a strong concern for sociopolitical issues, such as human rights, and social justice, have guided philosophical development in the region. In addition to answering standard philosophical questions, such as What is goodness? What is beauty? What is truth? Latin American philosophers have demonstrated a firm commitment to more concrete problems involving educational policy, political organization, and social reform” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 13).

“Four major periods in the history of Latin American philosophy stand out and are represented in this lecture: colonial, independents, positivist, and contemporary. During the colonial period (ca. 1550-1750) scholasticism prevailed, partly as a result of its importance in Iberia at the time. However, growing and pressing social concerns forced the scholastic focus on technical metaphysical issues to make room for humanism and a concern with more concrete problems, such as the just way to treat ‘the Indians’ and how to determine their rights” (Latin American Philosophy, pp. 13-14).

These thinkers were more concerned with the political and legal questions raised by the colonization of the Americas. Arguably, the most important of these thinkers is Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566), a Dominican friar who became the leading champion of the rights of the ‘Indians.’ His long life was devoted to arguing before the Spanish Crown that Indians, although different, were just as human as the Spaniards and therefore just as deserving of the same basic human rights” (Latin American Philosophy, pp. 25-26). While I won’t have time to go into a bunch of thinkers in this lecture, I thought it might be interesting to focus on one early thinker who may have changed the course of history if the powers of his day had been able to listen to him.

Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566)

“It was Las Casas who first brought up what became known in Spain as the ‘Indian Question.’ As early as 1515, he began to petition the Crown to enact laws that would eliminate the whole system of slavery. Las Casas argued that it was unjust to wage war against the indigenous peoples and to enslave them” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 26).

“Las Casas was born in Sevilla in 1474, the son of a Spanish aristocrat. He studied theology and law in Salamanca. In 1502 he set sail for the New World and arrived in Santo Domingo. The source of many of his difficulties came from the publication in 1552 of a text entitled The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account. In this work, he documented the savageries that the Spaniards had committed against the Indians” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 31).

“This work offered startling figures on the number of Indians who had been killed during the conquest, victims of malaria, famine, forced labor, smallpox, and even of murder. In fact, however, his figures are more modest than those of some researchers who speak of genocide and claim that in Central Mexico alone the population dwindled from twenty-five million to six million” (Latin American Philosophy, pp. 31-32).

“Las Casa’s efforts to improve the lives of the native inhabitants of the New World met with much opposition from the Spaniards who had immigrated to the Spanish colonies. He was charged with treason and accused of being disloyal to the Crown, and had to make the long trip back to Spain on several occasions to defend himself. Las Casas died in Madrid, Spain, in 1566. He was neither a revolutionary nor a radical. He was loyal both to the Catholic Church and to the Spanish Crown, he fought for the equal rights of the Indians, yet for him the notion of a radical transformation of the social order, which would allow Indians to choose a religion other than Catholicism, was unthinkable” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 32).

In Defense of the Indians

“They who teach, either in word or in writing, that the natives of the New World, whom we commonly call Indians, ought to be conquered and subjugated by war before the gospel is proclaimed and preached to them so that, after they have finally been subjugated, they may be instructed and hear the word of God, make two disgraceful mistakes. First, in connection with divine and human law they abuse God’s words and do violence to the Scriptures, to papal decrees, and to the teaching handed down from the holy fathers. And they go wrong again by quoting histories that are nothing but sheer fables and shameless nonsense. By means of these, men who are totally hostile to the poor Indians and who are their utterly deceitful enemies betray them” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 33).

Post-Colonial Philosophy

“A more complete break with scholasticism took place during the independentist period (1750-1850), which takes its name from the goals of the intellectuals in the New World who wished to gain independence from Portugal and Spain” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 14). These philosophers were interested in the ideas promoting liberty that were flourishing in France and the United States. They were interested in promoting the inherent rights that were considered to be self-evident. This was the outcome of philosophical ideas stemming from the European Enlightenment.

“Once political independence had been achieved, a somewhat more stable period began. This, known as positivism (1850-1910), shaped a great part of philosophy in the twentieth century. With the exception of scholasticism, positivism has been the most widespread and deeply rooted philosophical current in Latin America. The depth of its impact was due to historical factors: it arrived at the proper time and it addressed the need for nation building in the region. Positivism was initiated by French philosopher Auguste Comte (1793-1857), who attempted to develop a rigorous and systematic understanding of human beings, in both their individual and their social dimensions. He emphasized experience over theoretical speculation and empirical science over metaphysics. The value of knowledge rested, according to Comte, on its practical applications. He was not moved by a mere desire to know: Knowledge was a servant of action and should lead to the solution of concrete problems. This practical aspect was one of the most captivating aspects of positivism for Latin Americans, who wished to overcome anarchy, eradicate poverty and disease, and place their own countries on the path of progress” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 14).

“This, however, was not the only reason for the wide acceptance that positivism experienced. There were also reasons of a strictly cultural and theoretical nature. Since the colonial period, Latin American philosophy had been nurtured by scholasticism and, consequently, important practical issues had been neglected. Conceptual and terminological vagueness, expansive speculation, as well as unfounded and archaic dogmatism were predominant characteristics of much of the philosophy done in the region. Positivism, by contrast, emphasized principles based on experience and logical rigor, and offered the assurance of progress, insisting that its claims rested on solid empirical evidence. There would be no more fruitless theories, idle speculations, and vain attempts. The newly liberated republics of Latin America would finally leave not only the political legacy of colonization behind, but the philosophical one as well” (Latin American Philosophy, pp. 14-15).

“Positivism benefited greatly from the increasing prestige of science, because it proposed to limit its methods to those used by natural scientists. It was widely believed by the thinkers who favored this perspective that a new era had begun in which scientific study would make it possible to identify the causes of social evils and to eliminate them, just as medicine had begun to eradicate endemic diseases. Comte’s law of the three stages captured the attention of many Latin American intellectuals. According to this law, humanity passers through three stages, the theological, the metaphysical, and the scientific or positive. In the theological stage, the interpretation of reality is founded on prejudice and superstition. The metaphysical stage is dominated by speculation in which facts are either ignored or are not given adequate attention. Finally, in the positive stage, speculation is replaced by the establishment of facts, and knowledge is founded on experience” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 15).

“The general decline of positivism stems from several factors. The first general cause is the disappointment that Latin American intellectuals experienced when reality did not measure up to positivism’s promises and aspirations. Immediate and assured results were envisioned and anxiously awaited, but progress was slow and uncertain. To uphold general principles and criteria for the study of social problems is one thing, but it is quite a different matter to develop effective, scientifically based procedures that can be applied in order to solve concrete problems. Stark reality shattered many illusions. The ideal of a scientific knowledge of social reality began to crumble in the face of difficulties, and the initial, naïve optimism gave way to corroding pessimism. Philosophical theory should not be converted into dogma; rather, it needs a continuing creative direction since its application to reality is not a routine, mechanical task” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 16).

In addition, “many thinkers began to discover fundamental theoretical shortcomings in positivism. The indiscriminate application of the principle of causality to everything led positivism to deny freedom to human beings. Theoretical objections to determinism acquired great momentum in the moral realm. No one can be responsible for an act if it is determined, the critics of positivism claimed. If an act is a physically determined bodily movement, there is no room left for human will; human actions become mere mechanical occurrences, and the human firing of a gun and killing of another human being is no different than a tornado destroying a house. Positivism seemed to lead to an ethical dead end. Hence, when Henri Bergson’s vitalism, with its rejection of determinism and its defense of liberty, crossed the ocean from France, it is not surprising that it met with a warm reception in Latin America” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 17).

“One feature of positivism that led to frustration and its ultimate rejection in Latin America had to do with the devastating effects that its proposed determinism was perceived to have for aesthetic creation. If humans are not free, how can they be aesthetic agents? A mechanical explanation of the creative process factored out the very meaning of artistic creation, something that many Latin American thinkers found unacceptable” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 17).

“The contemporary period, which is how we refer to the period that follows positivism, can be broken down into three phases: foundational stage (1910-1940), period of normalcy (1940-1960), and period of maturity (1960-present). The first is usually referred to as the stage of the founders, a description introduced by Francisco Romero. The philosophers who are included in this group were the first to reject positivism even thought some of them had been among the first to embrace it” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 18).

“The generation that followed the ‘founders’ continued in their thrust, further developing the vitalism and intuitionism that had been picked up in the wake of positivism’s demise but adding a dimension inspired by German thought, thereby expanding the philosophical horizons of the entire region. Major thrusts of this group include historicism, existentialism, and philosophical anthropology. Throughout the history of Latin American thought there is a tension between those philosophers who focus on the universal human condition and those who focus on the particular conditions of specific cultural circumstances. In Mexico, for example, many philosophers have discussed the impact of colonization on the development of culture. This particularist tendency grew out of a historical event that brought two traditions into close contact with one another and heralded yet another stage in the development of Latin American philosophy” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 19).

“During the late 1930s and 1940s, owing to the upheavals created by the Spanish civil war, a significant group of thinkers from Spain arrived in Latin America. These philosophers became known as the translanded, those who had crossed over from their land to settle in various Latin American countries. Their presence helped to break some of the national barriers that had existed in Latin America before their arrival. Their influence showed itself more strongly when the generation born around 1910 reached maturity” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 19).

The Mexican Samuel Ramos also influenced these Spanish immigrant philosopher’s unique philosophical approach. The latter’s existential, psychoanalytic approach to the problem of cultural identity was transformed by Mexican philosophers into a critique of philosophy and the articulation of a “mixed” consciousness. The term “mixed race” “points to an interest in issues associated with race and culture, and opens a philosophical discussion concerning the meaning of the being of a person who is of both Spanish and indigenous heritage. The source of this line of questioning can be traced back to the events following colonization, when the Spaniards mixed with indigenous people to create what became known in the cultures of Latin America as a new, mixed race” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 20).

“During this period, philosophers from different countries in Latin America began to respond to each other and to interact critically with one another. This Pan-American trend continues and is further supported by the activities of several philosophical societies founded to facilitate meetings and publications. During the last fifty years, the level of philosophical activity in several Latin American countries has improved significantly. This is due, in part, to the institutionalization of philosophy. The number of national philosophical societies and of centers, institutes, faculties, and departments that have as their exclusive end the teaching and investigation of philosophy has increased substantially as has the number of philosophy journals. All of this activity has begun to awaken interest outside of Latin America” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 20).

In ritual, the mask provides the shaman with one of the important means of accomplishing his essential function—the movement into the realm of the spirit. In a similar way, shamanic songs or incantations suggested that same transformation, as did even “disguised words” or the imitation of animal voices, which served as a “sign that the shaman can move freely through the three cosmic zones: underworld, earth, sky. The new, music-like language of the liberated spirit of the shaman signified his movement away from the mundane world in his quest for sacred knowledge.

Liberation Theology

Among Roman Catholics in the 20th century, liberation theology, which originated in Latin America, has emphasized the importance of fighting oppression and aiding the poor through active roles in political affairs. Since the 1980s it has been strongly criticized by the church hierarchy. Under Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church strongly reasserted its control over the teaching of theology by Catholic theologians, removing official sanction from Hans Küng and others who deviated from church doctrine.

Liberation theology is the effort to think clearly about the meaning of religious faith in the context of oppression, war, poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. It is the effort to live a compassionate, courageous and life-sustaining response to those conditions, a response that both addresses the needs of those who are injured and oppressed, and also works to change the structures and ongoing processes of injury and oppression. Liberation theology varies greatly according to the culture in which it arises. It is a work in progress, born out of pain and hope, which is sure to inspire many and offend many.

“God has the keenest memory of the least and most forgotten.”-Bartolome de Las Casas, Spanish Missionary and advocate for the American Indians in the 1500’s.

“Liberation theology addresses systemic issues such as class conflict, racism, and sexism. It arose in Africa, to reject colonialism, and apartheid, and in Latin America, to reject political, military, and economic oppression. In Latin America it has played a role in church and state conflicts. Major themes in liberation theology include: God’s favoring of the poor and the oppressed; Jesus’ identification with the poor; the imperative for Christians to act with and for the poor; biblical mandates for justice; necessity of confrontation or conflict to bring about justice.”

A group of Brazilian bishops stated what they wanted instead of capitalism (though they did not say how to bring it about):

“We want a world where the fruits of work will belong to everyone.”

“We want a world where people will work not to get rich but so that all will have what they need to live on: food, healthcare, housing, schooling, clothes, shoes, water, electricity.”

“We want a world where money will be at the service of human beings and not human beings at the service of money.”

“We want a world in which the people will be one, and the division between rich and poor will be abolished.”

Much contemporary theology seems to start from the challenge of the nonbeliever. He questions our religious world and faces it with a demand for profound purification and renewal… [However, the] challenge in a continent like Latin America does not come primarily from the man who does not believe, but from the man who is not a man, who is not recognized as such by the existing social order: he is in the ranks of the poor, the exploited; he is the man, who scarcely knows that he is a man. His challenge is not aimed first at our religious world, but at our economic, social, political, and cultural world; therefore, it is an appeal for a revolutionary transformation of the very bases of a dehumanizing society. The question is not therefore how to speak of God in an adult world, but how to proclaim Him as a Father in a world that is not human. [“Liberation, Theology, and Proclamation,” in C. Geffre and G. Gutierrez, Eds, (1974) The Mystical and Political Dimensions of the Christian Faith, pg. 69].

Real Christian love is founded on commitment to a more just society and action to bring it about. [G. Gutierrez, (1973) A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, pg. 278]

From the last sermon of Oscar Romero: “Let no one be offended because we use the divine words read at our mass to shed light on the social, political and economic situation of our people. Not to do so would be unchristian. Christ desires to unite himself with humanity, so that the light he brings from God might become life for nations and individuals…

I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God that says, “Thou shall not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.

The church preaches your liberation just as we have studied it in the holy Bible today. It is a liberation that has, above all else, respect for the dignity of the person, hope for humanity’s common good, and the transcendence that looks before all to God and only from God derives its hope and its strength.”


The shamanic vision can be found in every aspect of Mesoamerican spiritual thought making up that structure: in the underlying temporal order of the universe demonstrated in both the solar cycles and the cycles of generation from birth to death to regeneration; in the spatial order derived from the regular movements of the heavenly bodies; in the mathematically expressed abstractions of eternal cyclical order found in the calendrical system; and most of all, in the understanding of divinity as the fundamental life-force that is, at the same time, the source of all order. Ultimately, this vision reveals itself in the symbolic use of the mask as the most important metaphor for the essentially shamanic presentation of the vision of inner reality to the outer world.

“Latin American philosophy has a rich and variegated history. Latin American philosophers continue to address specific social and political problems that plague the population of the Americas, while remaining engaged with the universal concerns that have characterized philosophy since its inception. These have to do with problems related to truth, goodness, and justice, among other – problems that are not the product of any political structure or geographical location, but part of the human condition itself” (Latin American Philosophy, p. 21).

One of the most interesting philosophies to emerge in recent times is the philosophy of liberation. This is the philosophy that is built on the insights of Liberation Theology. It is a philosophy based on the insights of the marginalized and the outsiders looking with a critical eye at contemporary power structures and cultures and how these influence human ideas about self identity.

We live in what is called the global village, and in this sense, we are moving into times when we celebrate things such as world music. Part of this movement is to see how intellectuals from around the world are thinking about important issues. As our world shrinks, we can be sure that the neglected thinkers of Latin America and Africa will be heard with more attention.


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