Robert A. Bourgeois
October 8, 2013
Efforts to learn and understand the Dominican tradition led to the creation of a course for the Global Studies Program at Albertus Magnus College, “Human Rights and Religious Witness in Latin America,“ which is situated at the intersection of globalization and the Dominican mission.
By globalization, I refer to the processes by which the peoples of the world are being pulled into a single planetary network.
By the Dominican mission I refer to a double vocation: to contemplate the revelation of God through Jesus Christ and to preach about this revelation, not only for theologians and the Church, but also for and in dialogue with the culture.
The New World
The discovery by Columbus of the New World is an event of world-historical importance because it brought two halves of the planet, unknown to each other for 15,000 years, into contact and for the first time into a single network of trade and exchange, an exchange of organisms, worldviews, diseases, technologies, peoples and cultures.
The Spaniards were motivated by a lust for gold, but also by faith. At the peak of confidence, Spain of the conquista exuded a belligerent Catholicism, and losReyes Católicos enjoined the conquerors to treat the Indians with Christian charity and to bring them into the faith, and at the same time ordered the Church to protect the Indians from the rapacity of the conquistadores, who used the indigenous peoples as beasts of burden, enslaved them, and drove them into the mines, but who also blended blood and culture with them.
In the cultural domain the Dominicans re-examined the Christian tradition in light of the encounter with peoples so different and exotic to Europeans that the fundamental question of imperial policy makers was not, “how do we govern these strange humans,” but rather, “are these humans?”
The Fight Against Oppression
The royal order to respect the indigenous peoples and the struggle for the ensuing five centuries to assert their human dignity have arisen in no small measure from contributions made by Dominicans in the earliest years of the Conquest: Pedro de Córdoba and the initial community of Dominicans in the Americas, which included Antonio de Montesinos, elected to preach the first denunciation of the Spanish system of the encomienda, which was a grant of land and indigenous laborers who toiled in practical slavery; Francisco de Vitoria, founder of the school of Salamanca, who applied theological reflection to the novel challenges faced by Córdoba; and Bartolomé de Las Casas, who as a child saw Columbus parade his Indian slaves through the streets of Seville and spent 50 years in the Americas and Europe in prophetic debate with justifications of oppression.
The Dominican dialogue with the Other continues. Dominicans, men and women, religious and lay, with a joyful confidence in God’s grace, find God in the face of the oppressed around the world, and, to quote Pope Francis, “walk through the dark night with them.”
Dr. Robert Bourgeois is the Associate Professor of Anthropology, Humanities, and Global Studies, and the Director of Global Studies at Albertus Magnus College. He received his B.A. from Yale University, and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He joined the Albertus faculty in 2005.