Major Papers


This paper uses New Social Movement theory to explore and explain the worldwide influence of Liberation Theology. Christian liberation theology, though born in Latin America, has spread throughout the world, influencing disparate groups of people in very different environments. One group that is connected to liberation theology is the North American sanctuary movement. Using the analysis provided by New Social Movement theory, the connections between the two movements become evident. The sanctuary movement can be considered part of the wider liberation theology movement and is evidence of the latter's transnational character.

New Social Movement theory explains how a social movement can be unorganized, informal and fluid, while still maintaining a common identity and solidarity. This flexibility allows social movements to extend transnationally. As well, transnational social movements use the space created by globalization to circulate and flourish elsewhere. Liberation theology has spread from Latin America to nearly every corner of the world. Liberating theologies are found in both developed and developing regions. Each of these articulations of liberation theory share a common goal with the original strain of Latin American liberation theology: a commitment to end oppression. The theology can be interpreted to take into account local differences, allowing people to use the analysis it provides to understand their individual situations. As well, each local articulation can abstract seemingly isolated problems into a macro cause. Acting locally while thinking globally gives local participants the feeling that they are working towards a common good with groups around the world.

The North American sanctuary movement is one expression of the ideas and social analysis inherent in liberation theology. Though the sanctuary movement is far removed from Latin America, New Social Movement theory highlights many ways the North American movement is part of the wider liberation theology movement. The sanctuary discussion in this paper demonstrates how the movement's members view themselves as part of a common struggle against oppression. Above all, the North American sanctuary movement is a clear example of how liberation theology is a transnational social movement.

Primary Advisor

B. Burton

Program Reader

R. Amore

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

Document Type

Major Research Paper