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Year 13 began their Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE) lesson on Liberation Theology & Marxism with a quick-fire ‘download’ on a previous lesson’s learning. Working in a production-line, students had 30 seconds to write as much information, key names, key vocabulary and concepts as they could remember, before moving down a panel and then adding to their peers’ work. This simple, but effective pedagogical practice is known as ‘active retrieval’. Chelan Huddleston of University of California (Berkeley) outlines its importance:
Retrieval is an active reconstruction process, not a playback of a memory of an event, fact, concept, or process. Every time a memory is accessed for retrieval, that process modifies the memory itself; essentially re-encoding the memory. The good news: Retrieval makes the memory itself more recallable in the future.
The students were able to recall the foundations of Marxist influence on the Latin American Church in the 1960s, and how it transformed believers’ understanding of what ‘Church’ meant. Led by Roman Catholic priests Gustavo Guttierez, the Boff brothers, and Archbishop Oscar Romero (who was gunned down during Mass whilst delivering a sermon on the corruption of government soldiers), Liberation Theologians used Karl Marx’s theories (notably historical materialism & alienation) as tools to analyse structural sin and the economic models that allow it to persist at the expense of the poor and marginalised.
Their use of one of the most famous atheists in history, who famously declared religion to be ‘the opium of the people’, brought them into sharp conflict with Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (later to be known as Pope Benedict). In their next lesson, the students will analyse and evaluate Ratzinger’s criticisms of Liberation Theology, and draw their own conclusions about whether or not non-religious analyses of economic systems can be useful for a radical re-interpretation of the Christian Gospel.