Public Theology and the Brazilian Religious Field: Questions and Contributions from an Anglican Perspective

by The Very Revd Dr Gustavo Gilson Oliveira

Date added: 25/04/2017

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Brazil National Conference – Recife

24-27 April 2017


Public Theology in the Brazilian Religious Field: Elements for Debate from the Trajectory of Anglicanism

Gustavo Gilson Oliveira[i]


The characteristic of Anglican Theology, in spite of the enormous diversity of schools, seems to me to rest on deeper bases. There is what we could call an Anglican ethos permeating all the thought that is produced in this portion of the Holy Catholic Church. This ethos, this soul, is present in the thought and action of the Church.[ii]

 [Richard Hooker] is perhaps the first major European theologian to assume that history, corporate and individual, matters for theology; and he is one of the inventors of that distinctive Anglican mood which I have elsewhere called ‘contemplative pragmatism’.[iii]


Christian theologies were constituted as public discourses - logoi. Both in the sense of the essentially public character of Christian mission, witness and proclamation in the initial movement of Jesus from the first century – addressed to the peoples/nations – and in the sense of the elaboration of a systematic discourse of explanation, justification and positioning of the Christian faith before classical philosophy and political reason in the period of patristics. The way Augustine of Hippo[iv]  appropriates the division of Theology into three "genres" – "fabulous/poetic," "natural/philosophical," and "civil," – as established by the Stoic thought of Varro, demonstrates that the development of Christian theology takes place, from its beginnings, in dialogue and dispute with the discourses that constituted the dominant social and political imaginary. It further shows that its authors were fully aware of the implications that the debates in the field of rational/natural theology could and should have for civil theology, for social practices, and for public life. Thus, if both "pre-Christian" Hellenistic theology and Christian theology itself are constituted inescapably and undeniably from an “public” scenario, why does it now become necessary to speak of "public theology" as a (new) specific genre of Theology[v]? Is it simply a contemporary version of the classic "civil theology" of Varro and Augustine? Why has the proposal of and the debates around a public theology attracted so much interest in Latin America, and especially in Brazil? What are the specific characteristics and dilemmas that the project of a contemporary public theology has faced in Latin American and Brazilian contexts? Adding another element to the debate, how can a Christian tradition such as the Anglican – deeply influenced by its history as the official/established Church of England and by its expansion associated with British colonial and commercial enterprises – stand and contribute to reflection on and for the development of a public theology in the region and in the country? These are the main issues to be explored throughout this essay.

The (non) places of theology in the West and in modern metanarratives

To deepen the discussion about the meaning and relevance of the current movement for a public theology in the Latin American and Brazilian scenario, it is necessary to point out initially that the relations between theologies, churches and public dynamics have assumed and still use to assume quite different configurations in different contexts through the stories that constituted the modern West and the contemporary "glocalised" reality. The presuppositions, logics and expectations that cross the current demands and disputes about public theology in Latin America cannot be understood without taking into account the trajectory of these relations.

Christianity is born and structures itself, in its first three centuries of existence, as a forbidden "sect", considered dangerous by the Roman Empire. Made up by followers of an alleged anticolonial rebel leader, convicted and executed for sedition, they were accused of preaching subversion against the authority and laws of the Empire. By the beginning of the fourth century, however, the Christian movement had spread to such an extent – including among the Roman civil authorities – that its social and political influence could no longer be denied and neglected. From the time of Constantine, Christian ecclesiastical polity became increasingly integrated with imperial politics and, therefore, Christian theological and doctrinal debates became increasingly seen and treated as a matter of state, regulated by logics and procedures embodied directly from Roman law. After the fragmentation of imperial power in the West, with the multiplication of the small territories governed by local aristocratic families, the Christian Church in Europe – under the supreme leadership of the Bishop of Rome and already separated from the Eastern Churches – became the main structure of support for a system of continental relations based on ancient Roman traditions and laws. This is the period when the so-called "Two-Swords doctrine[vi]" prevails in Europe, according to which God rules the world through two instances of authority; The "spiritual" power, operated by the Church, and the "temporal" power, operated by the nobility and the soldiers in submission to the authority of the Church. In this context, Christian theology becomes partially a kind of civil-political code that is assumed as a source of authority in public life, but whose administration and reproduction becomes rigidly controlled by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The multiplication of centres of debate and theological production in the European context through various movements such as scholasticism, humanism and especially the protestant reformation represented an insurmountable challenge for this model. As Jose Casanova and Peter Beyer[vii] have repeatedly observed, however, protestant movements and the emergence of modern nation-states did not result in an immediate program of separation between religion and State and of privatization of religion as the simpler secularization narratives usually enunciate. The break of the institutional religious unity and the fissure in the traditional imaginary that provided the theological-political support to the aristocratic power in Europe led initially to the construction of a model of association between State and religion in which each sovereign happens to be considered autonomous to establish what would be the official Church in its own territory. Within the limits of the Christian matrix of course. This is the "cuius regio, eius religio" principle, consecrated in the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). Which ended the so-called "wars of religion" and laid the foundations of the modern international system. Parallel to the Westphalian system, the "Two Kingdoms" or "Two Governments" doctrine, developed by Martin Luther[viii], Philip Melancthon, and initially also adopted by the Calvinists, affirmed that "worldly" rule – the kingdom of the Law – is ordained by God to control the wickedness of infidels, but that Christians should submit to their authority as long as it does not try to legislate about their personal faith. The Church, in turn, must be concerned with the government of the spiritual life – the kingdom of Grace – in which true Christians participate.

The strengthening of European national states and the consolidation of the principle of state sovereignty over religion led to the development of quite different models of relationship between theology and public life from the seventeenth century. While in Protestant countries and regions the appearance of several Lutheran or Calvinist official churches is observed. In the Catholic countries, the Pope proceeds to delegate to loyal monarchs the power to regulate or even more and more manage the affairs of the Church in their territory. In the Iberian countries, there is a reaffirmation and strengthening of the so-called regime of "padroado", an arrangement by which the sovereigns of Portugal and Spain would be "patrons" of the Church and would have the power to directly govern Catholic structures in their kingdoms and colonies. This system had a decisive influence on the way Christianity came to be implanted and configured in Latin America. Despite the specific characteristics of each context, however, in virtually all Western countries, Christian churches have come to play a central role – for good or bad – in the development of modern public institutions, especially in education, health and welfare systems. The main European universities are created directly or indirectly in touch with Christian cathedrals, monasteries and organizations and maintain faculties of theology directed both to the formation of church clerics, managers and political-ecclesiastical operators, and to the formation of academic theologians, less restricted by the constraints of ecclesiastical functions and regular work with the churches.

Only with the American (1776) and French (1789) revolutions the question of institutional separation between churches and State becomes a central theme for the modern debate. British colonization in North America was strongly inspired by a Christian religious narrative of the pursuit for the "promised land" and was largely effected by groups attached to religious minorities – especially Puritans and Anabaptists – who had been victims and/or considered themselves vulnerable to discrimination and religious persecution in England. Thus, the theme of "religious freedom" has always had significant relevance in the political debates of the American colonies. The principle of the "separation wall between church and State" was therefore affirmed in the new constitution of the country as the best way of guaranteeing the freedoms of conscience and worship – within Christian parameters – as well as preventing the State from interfering in matters of religion. The First Amendment of the American Constitution states textually that the “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In the case of France, the visceral identification between the catholic tradition and the aristocracy of the ancien régime made the revolutionary movement assume a strongly anticlerical character. The defence of the principle of laïcité in the French context therefore sought above all to protect the State and the public interest from the demand for privileges and from the undue interference of aristocratic-religious powers. It is within this context that one can perceive the confluence between the “republican” and “liberal” discourses, as Joanildo Burity indicates, around the notions of laicity or separation between religion and State:

The modern regime of relationship between religion and the public sphere is marked by the history of the various forms of articulation and opposition between the liberal and republican metanarratives. The point of encounter between them is often expressed in juridical-political terms by defending the separation of church and State or, more abstractly, from the circumscription of religion to the private sphere of belief, moral formation of personality, community and associative life, While the State becomes the center of gravity of the different domains of social life and coextensive with the public sphere. For distinct fundamental reasons – affirmation of individual liberty in liberalism, or protection of political institutions from (arbitrary) interference of religious authority in republicanism – both emphasize the need to keep religious habits and religious institutions at a distance, apart from language and practices of public life[ix].

The paradigmatic influence of the American and French models as well as liberal and republican discourses on European bourgeois revolutions and anticolonial independence movements between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries meant that not only the principle of separation of church and State, but also the ideal of privatization of religious beliefs and practices would be prominent in the metanarratives of political and social modernization in the West. In practice, however, as indicated by several contemporary writers, this ideal of privatization of the "religious" and creation of a purely rational and neutral public space has never been realized in a full and absolute way, not even in the more secularized of the Western countries. In fact, the lesser commitment of churches – and especially of mainstream churches, with a greater academic tradition – to the State and government policies in several countries has created conditions for the emergence of several significant theological movements with an explicitly critical profile in relation to the social, cultural, political and economic contexts of the modern world. Movements such as English Christian Socialism, Catholic Humanism, German Theology of Crisis, Latin American Liberation Theology and others have developed vigorous theological-political discourses with a strong relevance in public debates and historical processes throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

There are several factors to take into consideration here. First, the fact that there is a "disestablishment" or a break in the formal bond between a church and the State does not immediately and necessarily mean a rupture of all its relations with public institutions. Often, the functioning or even the existence of some local public institutions depends on maintaining formal or informal partnerships with churches and religious organizations. Second, the end of the association between a religious institution and the State bureaucracy does not necessarily cause its privatization. In many cases – including in the case of the Catholic Church in Brazil – the separation from the State structure allows the religious organization to have greater autonomy, freedom and agility to intensify its participation in the public space as part of civil society. Third, legal/formal separation between religious institutions and the State does not automatically purge the presence of religious beliefs, logics, and images of memory and culture that constitute public spaces. The traditional religious discourses and logics remain present and active in culture – often creating a "civil religion[x]" – even when agents do not identify or even recognize themselves as religious. Fourth, religious discourses and practices often play a fundamental role in structuring the identities of various individuals and groups that make up society. Preventing public recognition of this dimension can become a way of excluding and/or subjugating these social groups, especially when it comes to minorities, immigrants and groups with restricted access and/or presence in formal education systems. Fifth, it is important to recognize, as postcolonial authors like Talal Asad[xi] indicate, that most of the institutions and discourses considered "secular" and "neutral" in the West were constituted from presuppositions and logics originated from the Christian imaginary. Turning away from this debate may, ironically, become an inverted way of imposing a certain strand of the Christian cultural matrix, simply purging it of the name "religion". It is important to point out yet, as Joanildo Burity does, that the crisis of meaning of modern metanarratives opens the way for several current political discourses, both form liberal and republican backgrounds, to recognize again the public relevance of the religious factor.

Protests and perplexities aside, not to mention a modern history in which religion is an undeniable source of both, today’s liberal and republican traditions have been faced with a growing engagement of religious groups in public life in the situation of uncertainties, risks and relative impotence that accompany an uneasy malaise in the democratic life of Western countries (...) religion is (re)presented as possessing organizational, material and symbolic resources to fulfill a role of guarantor of sociability, values ​​and of the community, generating "social capital", when (it) realizes that the State and other competitors in the general field of culture (including science and technology) fail to provide such references. It is in this context that, in the weak (liberal) form of "social capital generation", or in the strong (republican) "reactivation of democratic citizenship", a variety of participatory formats has opened space for religious (re-)engagement in public life, with different ideological connections. [xii]

The dilemmas of the (new) public theology

From these panoramic observations on some of the main historical processes and debates that sought to define and/or circumscribe a place and a role for religion and Christian theology – establishing its (un)relation with the public space – in the formation of the West and of the modern world. It is possible to understand more clearly how the contemporary demand and endeavour for the legitimization and production of a public theology were constituted. It is also possible to highlight some of the specificities of this demand and of this movement in the Latin American and Brazilian realities. The current project of a public theology thus emerges in a glocal scenario of displacement traversed by two strong crises. Firstly, the crisis brought about by the weakening and apparent exhaustion of a model/ideal of privatization of religious discourses that has been dominant in academia, public life and the political arena over the last two centuries. Secondly, the crisis of the modern Christian theological-political discourses themselves, entangled with the metanarratives of progress and emancipation that permeated modernity. In this sense, contemporary public theology is born and consolidated as part of a current dynamic of "deprivatisation" of Christian faith and theological discourses. It differs from the conception of civil theology developed by Varro and appropriated by Augustine – which is closer to Robert Bellah's notion of "civil religion" – insofar as it does not propose to establish a set of national (semi-)religious beliefs or practices, but seeks to retake the tradition of intentional and explicit participation of theological discourses in public debates.

In relation to the first crisis mentioned, it is necessary to observe that the current movement for a public theology arises after a long period of vigorous questioning about the reliability of theology as a rational and academic discipline, as well as of the legitimacy of its permanence in the universities – especially public ones – as an area of social interest. The return of religious themes and discourses to contemporary sociopolitical debates seems to provide a strong point and a promising way to indicate that theology is necessary in today's world and that it is possible to produce a relevant theology – of public benefit – in academic spaces. In this context, some of the early proponents of this (new) public theology in Brazil – such as Rudolf von Sinner – seem to imagine their role as that of an academic theology that would have the capacity and the function of thinking public problems in dialogue with Religious language and traditions – particularly Christian traditions – and to mediate and offer resources to guide the work of churches in public spaces within the acceptable parameters to the established liberal-republican model.

Pluralism, respect for other opinions and negotiation are essential elements for a society and its public discourse. Therefore, a public theology that intends to reflect on the contribution that churches can make in the public space, aiming at the common good or well-being, should both encourage this contribution among people who tend to see the world as evil and to be enclosed in Its churches as the community of those who await the second coming of Christ, and how to restrict it among those who wish to impose their belief, their values, corporate interests, and power to the whole of society. Both phenomena are present globally, also in Brazil. A public theology aims to give guidance to the churches as to their performance beyond their membership, in constant dialogue with society (civil) and the university, the economy, the media and other "public".[xiii]

This project, however, presents some problems and faces some significant obstacles that need to be highlighted. The main problem is that this perspective seems to assume that ecclesiastical institutions and religious denominations – especially traditional Christian churches with strong academic traditions – would be the natural and/or privileged subjects for the articulation of discourses and action in the religious field. The empirical analysis of religious realities in Latin America and Brazil, however, has shown that this perception becomes increasingly misleading. In an open, plural and mediatized religious scenario, crossed by intense dynamics of dispute, negotiation and articulation between discourses produced in the most varied fields, traditional ecclesiastical institutions have rapidly lost much of their capacity for leadership and their power of nucleation and mobilization of identities. Intra-/inter-/trans-/para-/non-ecclesiastical religious movements – more engaged and dynamic in social debates, whether progressive or conservative, – opinion formers, charismatic tele-evangelists, “gospel” media celebrities, religious politicians and, above all, the agents of the media industry have now become subjects as or more important than the churches in the religious reality of Brazil and of several countries in Latin America.

The churches that demonstrate greater power and ability to act in the public life today do not follow the traditional ecclesiastical model. They are (neo-)Pentecostal churches that practically ignore the academic discourses and which are constituted, precisely, from the appropriation of these new forms of subjectivation. It is important to emphasize that this "deinstitutionalization" or "reconfiguration of the institutional frame" of the religious field has not implied a weakening of the religious presence in the public space. On the contrary, this movement has been the basis of the process of "deprivatisation" and public emergency of religion in Brazil.

Another problem, less visible but also relevant, to be faced by this perspective of public theology is that, given the risks – concrete and/or imaginary – that the (new) socio-political emergency of religious agents and discourses seems to represent, both for the classical democratic ideal and for most of the emancipation plans that (still) are outlined in the academic world, universities and educational policies have also witnessed the resurgence of secularist discourses of various shades – sometimes aggressively anti-religious – who once again defend the immunization of public spaces against any element associated with religious identities.

Therefore, if contemporary public theology seeks to become a relevant forum and an important discursive resource in the current debates about the relations between religion and public space in the Brazilian and Latin American contexts, it must, first of all, give up the notion that churches and ecclesiastic institutions would be the privileged agents of this process and become capable of recognizing, problematizing and interacting creatively with the multiple poles and dynamics that permeate these relations. It is necessary to assume that theological discourses – academic or ecclesiastical – do not have the authority or power to control these subjects and processes and that consequently, to have some relevance in the debate, they would have to participate horizontally in the public space itself. It is also necessary to overcome the perception that the historical Christian model would represent the natural form of production and organization of religious identities and discourses and open a dialogue and a more attentive and systematic reflection with and on discourses and practices from other religious traditions. At the same time and in an articulated way to the previous debate, the (new) public theology would need to justify more consistently its relevance and belonging in the academic scenario – since in most Latin American countries the academic world is structured around state universities – by developing a deeper discussion of pluralism – political, cultural, religious – and demonstrating to what extent and why such a perspective would be more promising than established secular discourses. Some indications in this sense have already been given by authors like Nicolas Panotto[xiv], but they have not yet been sufficiently incorporated into the central debates of public theology.

In relation to the second crisis that constitutes the current scenario of emergency of the public theology – the crisis of theological metanarratives that embrace, even if critically, modern projects of progress and emancipation – it is possible to perceive that several authors of the movement have developed a new conception of public theology, differentiating it from the political theologies of the second half of the twentieth century, as a theology more concerned with the work of Christian churches in the democratic political spaces already constituted, less focused on political contestation and construction of utopian projects. Rudolf Von Sinner, in the Brazilian context, explicitly seeks to differentiate public theology from liberation theology – even though it recognizes the latter as a kind of public theology – by pointing out that public theology would be characterized as a more "neutral" field in which different discourses on the relationship between religion and public space could circulate. Public theology, therefore, would not have a clearly defined project – such as liberation – and would therefore be more able to deal with the diversity of contextual demands of democracy from a constructive perspective, working on minor practical solutions. Von Sinner has argued that the theme of "citizenship" should be the main focus of contemporary public theology in Brazil, since the main demands in the current Brazilian context would be for inclusion and seeking social welfare.

(...) public theology is more generalizing than liberation theologies, and for this reason it is more a dimension than a specific line of thought. In fact, liberation theologies can be considered public theologies (...). In relation to liberation theologies, public theology is more "neutral" in the sense that it does not have to explain immediately who it seeks to liberate and for what, and therefore it is able to react to more diverse political situations, looking for the construction of dialogue rather than resistance. (...) The advantage of public theology is that it is more open to a critical and constructive approach, seeking to make citizenship available to all in a democratic society. [xv]

While efforts to question and decentre the overly totalizing, universalist, and evolutionary tendencies of some of the more "modernist" currents of liberation theology and progressive theologies are necessary and productive, some care must also be taken in this debate. First, even if the (new) public theology in Brazil presents itself as a proposal configured within a democratic-republican referential – with a clearly more pragmatic and delimited perspective than the approach of political theologies – there is not only one conception of democracy. The current debates around the definition of what democracy should be or should be in the glocalised world and in the Latin American and Brazilian contexts are extremely conflictive and, in this sense, not assuming a position means already taking a position in favour of the alleged naturalness of the established liberal model. For example, insofar as public theology defends the legitimacy of – albeit limited – participation of religious discourses and subjects in public spaces, it is – whether or not it recognizes this – in direct confrontation with a conception of democracy that does not admit this possibility.

Secondly, it is important to remember, what has already been pointed out, that even within the religious field – or public religious space – divergent or sometimes antagonistic positions can arise. Those positions can be and should be seriously analysed, discussed and confronted by public theologies. The current movement of academic public theology does not find a public space empty of "theologies". In addition to the humanists and liberation theologies, traditionally recognized in the academic sphere, it is the neo-Pentecostal theological-political discourse – or public theology, even if it does not claim that name – that has assumed hegemony in the Brazilian public space and in most countries of Latin America. It is this theological-political discourse – even if it can be easily labelled "mythical" or "fabulous" – that has established the dominant modes of thinking and structuring relations between religion and public space in countries like Brazil. The conceptions and proposals of academic public theology will only have significant relevance in these scenarios, therefore, to the extent that they can recognize and position themselves before the logic established by this hegemony.

Thirdly, it is necessary to keep in mind that the search for partial and contextual solutions within the limits of the rules of citizenship and the political possibilities currently existing in public spaces do not prevent the development of a critique of these rules and possibilities. The recent parliamentary coups in Paraguay and Brazil as well as the control of large financial and media corporations over electoral and legal processes in practically the whole of Latin America show us that democracy is often only a mise-en-scène to legitimize corporate decisions. That is, it is necessary to observe the contextual reality without losing sight of the possible counterfactual utopian horizons that show us that this reality is neither necessary nor neutral. At this point, the deepening of dialogue with narratives such as the theologies of liberation and hope remain fundamental.

Possible contributions of Anglicanism to the debates on public theology in Brazil

In the light of the discussion so far, it remains necessary to question in what sense and in what way the Anglican theological tradition and the experience/trajectory of appropriation and development of this tradition in Brazilian Anglicanism can contribute to a reflection on the current dilemmas of public theology in the national scenario.. A first aspect to be highlighted in this regard is that Anglicanism has already played a recognized and relevant historical role in the debates and configuration of the relations between religion, theology and public space in the Brazilian context. In institutional terms, although the Episcopal Church – later renamed the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil – has figured as one of the smallest "traditional" churches in the country in numerical terms, it has been present as an organization or through its members in practically all major ecumenical efforts and entities developed in the region since the late nineteenth century, when the presence of "non-Catholic" churches became formally authorized and recognized.

Apart from the Roman Catholic Church, which played a central role in the formation of Brazilian national culture and institutions – as in practically all Latin American countries – the ecumenical movement was the main articulator of the relations between Christian churches and public life in Brazil until the civil-military coup of 1964. Even after the coup, when the movement began to suffer intense persecution and vigilance, the networks established by ecumenical agents continued to function, experiencing an ever-closer relationship with Catholic movements linked to Liberation Theology. With democratic opening, from the 1980s onwards, these networks were instrumental in structuring the so-called "new social movements," and as a result the Church and various leaders of the Anglican tradition began to develop a strong partnership with these movements.

More important than acknowledging the work of the Anglican Church or even the leaders connected with it in the history of the public presence of religion in the country, however, is to reflect on how these experiences of approach, dialogue and confrontation between Christian theology and public problems can help us deal with the dilemmas of contemporary public theology. For historical, cultural, and theological reasons, Anglican theology was rarely produced on behalf of the Anglican churches. One of the reasons is the policy of conciliation between Catholicism and Protestantism established since Elizabeth – via media, – the coexistence of several important centres and schools of thought within Anglicanism, the rescue and resignification of the liturgic rule in grounding a unity not exclusively based on doctrine – lex orandi, lex credenda – in addition to the theologico-political pragmatism of founding fathers as Richard Hooker. Some of the few examples of official theological production – which help confirm the rule – are the Books of Common Prayer, the Catechisms, and the Articles of Religion. On the other hand, due to these same reasons, the theology produced in Anglicanism has always been strongly recognized as public, both in the sense of its (public) practices/spaces of production and in the sense of the perception and problematization of its implications for reality.

In Latin America, Anglicanism arrives through the English maritime chaplaincies and through the missions of the American Episcopal Church as a religious tradition quite foreign to local cultures. These two origins lie in the formation of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. Anglican theology is spread and rooted in the country, thus, through five main routes: a) The constant presence of American and English missionaries; b) The participation of IEAB clergy and lay persons in training courses, conferences, commissions and activities in other contexts of the Anglican Communion; c) The creation of seminars, courses and training activities at IEAB; d) The perception of the public performance – especially liturgical, theological and diaconal – of the Church and of Anglican leaderships; e) The dissemination and reception of theological and pastoral literature produced by foreign and national Anglican authors.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Episcopal missionary discourse in Brazil was structured – as in other Protestant missions – around the project of liberating the people of the country from the "errors" and "superstitions" of Catholicism. Since the post-war period, however, with the strengthening of the international ecumenical movement – with the intense participation of then-Archbishop Michael Ramsey – Brazilian Anglicanism opens strongly for dialogue with Catholicism and comes closer to a humanistic theological perspective, influenced by both English Christian Socialism and neo-orthodoxy, prevalent in the ecumenical environment. Between the decades of 1960-70, this movement leads to a strong approximation with Liberation Theology, that was beginning to be developed in Latin America. Thus, the appropriation of Anglican theology in Brazil seems to have played a significant role in breaking the "Protestantism of right doctrine" model, hegemonic among the Brazilian Protestant churches until then, and continues to play a key role in the current debates on critical issues such as gender, sexuality, the environment, race, ethnicity, land, etc. In addition, the emphasis on a "dispersed" theological production, based on the engagement with historical dilemmas and with other agents in social reality, has allowed the development of a model of public theology less centred on the figure of the church, in which ecclesiastical institutions come to be seen as (just) one of the spaces and subjects in the process of theological production.

From this initial exploration, I suggest that the contributions of Anglicanism to the current debate on the possibilities and dilemmas of public theology in Brazil could be thought of around five main themes or axes. First, the recognition of the inescapable character of the public dimension of theology. The Anglican experience – including in the Brazilian context – has been rich in demonstrating that the theological discourses that effectively constitute the religious realities in which people live are produced not only in the academic and ecclesiastical spaces formally intended for such production, but also – if not mainly – in community contexts, social movements, artistic and cultural activities, media debates, political forums and other unpredictable spaces. Second, the perspective of "contemplative pragmatism" that has characterized the theological production in the Anglican tradition. According to Rowan Williams, this perspective is associated with a way of doing theology that seeks to maintain a dynamic and creative tension between the dimensions of eternity and time; memory and creativity; Scripture, tradition and reason. Third, the affirmation of pluralism in public life and the search for the construction of a pluralistic and inclusive ethos in the community of faith itself as a theological value. Fourth, the recognition of the fundamental role of aesthetics – liturgy, music, poetry, plastic arts and others – in the construction of the public theological imaginary. Fifthly, the insistence on the Anglican theological tradition in keeping alive the tragic feeling of the partial, contingent, and insuperably contradictory dimension of human history in the light of Christian eschatology. Finally, it is important to note that these are not exclusive attributes and contributions of Anglicanism. On the contrary, they are theological experiences and elaborations experienced and developed in different ways and with different nuances by different Christian and religious traditions. In observing the trajectory of Anglicanism in Brazil, however, it is possible to affirm that its experience in relation to these themes can offer a relevant contribution to the current debates on public theology in the country.


[i] Dean of the Anglican Cathedral of the Good Samaritan, Anglican Diocese of Recife; lecturer, Federal University of Pernambuco.

[ii]  Jaci Maraschin, “Alguns problemas atuais na teologia anglicana”, Estudos Teológicos, v. 2 n. 2, 1962, p. 78. All quotations in other languages have been translated into English by the author of the article.

[iii]  Rowan Williams, Anglican Identities, (Cowley: Massachusetts, 2003, p. 26).

[iv]  Agostinho de Hipona, A Cidade de Deus. (Petrópolis: Vozes, 2000, p. 241).

[v]  Rudolf Von Sinner, “Teologia Pública no âmbito global”, In Teologia Pública em debate, edited by Cavalcante, Ronaldo; Von Sinner, Rudolf (São Leopoldo: Sinodal, 2011, p. 13).

[vi]  Pope Boniface VIII, “Bula Unam Sanctam”, 1302, accessed April 13, 2017,

[vii]  José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994);

Peter Bayer,, “Socially engaged religion in a post-westphalian global context: remodeling the secular/religious distinction”, Sociology of Religion, v. 73, n. 2, 2012, p. 109-129.

[viii]  Martinho Lutero, Sobre a autoridade secular, (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1995, p. 18).

[ix]  Joanildo Burity, A cena da religião pública: Contingência, dispersão e dinâmica relacional, Novos Estudos Cebrap, v. 102, 2015, p. 95.

[x]  Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America”, In Beyond Belief (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

[xi]  Talal Asad, Formations of the secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

[xii]  Burity, op. cit., p. 95-96.

[xiii]  Rudolf Von Sinner, op. cit., p. 12.

[xiv]  Nicolas Panotto, “Religión y incidencia politica”, In Teología Pública: un debate a partir de América Latina (São Leopoldo: EST, 2016, p. 15).

[xv]  Rudolf Von Sinner, op. cit., p. 19-20.

The Very Revd Dr Gustavo Gilson Oliveira

The Very Revd Dr Gustavo Gilson Oliveira



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