In this century, but increasingly since the middle of this century, we have been in a period when theology has sought to incorporate the social sciences. It is a task which cannot be avoided since the social sciences have been bringing to light many of the forces at work in human life, including moral and religious life. This book is clearly a theological book, and the term inculturation is openly made into a theological (Roman Catholic) concept and treated as such. Nevertheless, the book in its very use of the term inculturation is deliberately incorporating social scientific perspectives related to the important concept of culture. A review of this book from a social scientific perspective has a difficult task because of this blending of theology with social science. My own view is that although knowledge is ultimately one, and some kind of unification is probably made within most people, the various disciplines (in this case theology and the social sciences) are probably advanced most effectively when distinctions are maintained between them. Even theology, which has the more comprehensive task than the social sciences for uniting knowledge, would probably be better served if distinctions were maintained between social scientific and theological perspectives.
The book is clearly written by a person who has thought deeply and who expressed himself with feeling and in a highly nuanced (to use one of the favorite words of our day) way about the Latin America of today. A social scientist would like to have a good description of Andean society, with which he is very familiar, but this is not attempted. The author is only interested in what is clearly conceived of as a process which he terms inculturation. Descriptive definitions, sometimes in straight Biblical terms, are sprinkled throughout the book.
The major contribution of this review is not to evaluate the book theologically, but to raise questions, not only for the author, but for the large group of missiologists and other theologians who are now using concepts from the social sciences. (The book is in the "Faith and Cultures Series, An Orbis Series on Contextualizing Gospel and Church under the General Editor, Robert J. Schreiter, C.PP.S.") Because of my approach here, this review may be controversial, but I hope that it will at least stimulate discussion and thought among missiologists and particularly between missiologists and sociologists of religion. The author is not the only one employing inculturation. It has become a major term in Roman Catholic documents arising from official meetings, as he makes clear. He does not agree with various approaches used in the church to inculturation, and this debate is important in itself. However, my major point is that it is time for church thinkers to reassess their use of the concept of culture. Theologians and intellectuals generally have been greatly attracted to the concept of culture. A certain "elective affinity" exists between the concept and the theological thought because of the large "world view" and "values" element in culture. What is unfortunate, however, is that the social and societal interactions that produce (currently almost on a daily basis) the highly variable content of cultures tends to be ignored. This is doubly strange because of the strong Biblical emphasis on the importance of right human relationships. In short, inculturation is a highly diversified process that is a dependent variable and the major independent variables for the process as a whole and its various stages need to be identified.
The social sciences (I am including economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and, yes, psychology) are overlapping, some more than others, but unfortunately their organization (institutionalization) along lines of specialization and sub-specialization has tended to isolate them from one another and helped to distort the employment of them by others. Missiologists, for example, have almost naturally had a major encounter with anthropology, especially cultural anthropology, but are in need of a stronger dose of sociology. This is my major criticism of this book, as brilliant as it is. The author deals with a very important subject now in sociology of religion, popular religion. A great deal of popular religion has to do with coping with life, including resistance to elite religion. Important mutual concessions are usually made between elite and popular religions. Sociologists of religion are finally getting around to examining the world religions from a sociological perspective and recognizing the interactions producing elite and popular religions. Stephen Sharot's (2001, Orbis Books) Comparative Sociology of World Religions is a good example. Irarrázaval's sympathies are clearly with popular religion, and he strongly favors the "option for the poor" along with the repeated declaration of his church (although he does not always agree with his church's approach), but the social interactions that have taken place over the years and are expressed in continuing institutional structures need to be analyzed for their effect on popular religion. "Contextualization," another favorite "in word" among missiologists, especially Protestants, will not do. What is needed is more measurement and more operationalization of the concepts (variables) used, and then analysis of the varying effects on such processes as inculturation. I hope these comments will increase dialogue between missiologists and social scientists.