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Theologian Joerg Rieger’s research laboratory is located in the poverty-stricken streets of West Dallas.

At least once a month, Rieger and his seminary students visit the area to assist residents there and – by doing so – measure how their experiences impact their own lives. On the practical side, they build and repair homes, work at the United Methodist Mission Warehouse training high school dropouts for the job market, and try to build relationships with residents. On the ecclesiastical side, they experiment with the application of "liberation theology" in an urban setting.

"Liberation theology is neither liberal nor conservative, but reflection on a new encounter with God in places where we least expect it – at the margins of society," says Rieger, assistant professor of systematic theology in Perkins School of Theology. "These encounters lead to a better understanding of ourselves, including our political and economic commitments. Churches that claim to be above politics often end up endorsing the political status quo, which sometimes can be oppressive."

Rieger and his students bring their experiences in West Dallas back to the classroom, where they work on defining their social, political, and economic responsibilities in a religious context. These discussions and experiences have become the heart of several books he has written or edited on the subject, including the widely acclaimed Remember the Poor: The Challenge to Theology in the Twenty-First Century (1998) and Liberating the Future: God, Mammon and Theology (1998).

Liberation theology varies from one area to another, Rieger says. The liberation theology of Central Mexico is different from the liberation theology of an urban area because of the issues involved and how political systems affect them.

The same can be said for the liberation theology of African Americans, Hispanics, women, homosexuals, or any group that suffers at the hands of those in power.

"Liberation theology is looking at what hurts and what can be done in a religious context to correct that, modeling our actions after God’s own actions," Rieger says. "The issue is how do we revitalize those who are in need of help and revitalize ourselves at the same time. I tell my students that, if we’re honest with ourselves, going into West Dallas does a lot more for us than it does for the people there."

For more information: Joerg Rieger
E-mail: jrieger@mail.smu.edu
Web site: www.smu.edu/~theology/rieger.html

 



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