This article examines the nature and impact of liberation theology in Latin America and considers prospects for the future. Liberation theology's fundamental ideas are explored, and the reasons for its emergence and appeal are considered in detail. As a system of ideas, liberation theology first appears during a period of great social change, ecclesiological debate, and political upheaval. The convergence of these elements helps explain the theology's appeal within the churches, makes sense of its characteristically activist identification with the poor, and helps account for the popular appeal of the new organizational structures it has inspired. These convergences also suggest possible constraints and the long-term political impact of this theology. Throughout the article I argue that analysis of impacts must go beyond the ideas of liberation theology to ask how and why such ideas are received and acted upon in concrete settings.
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