This dissertation is a case study of the theological politics that fuel, undergird, and transform Catholic efforts to alleviate poverty across borders. Focusing on Chimbote, Peru, I analyze how Catholic sisters’ work in Peru, aligned with and later critiqued John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress in order to better understand how Peruvian people, theology, and politics impacted the U.S. through networks of religious women. I argue that Catholic sisters’ encounter with the Peruvian critiques of development—especially those distilled in liberation theology—provided missionary sisters with the language to criticize their own charitable aid efforts in Peru. This same language of liberation would later contribute to an intersectional understanding marginalization in society on the basis of class, gender, and nationality, an increased emphasis on educating the powerful and the marginalized through consciousness raising efforts, and a focus on direct service to and with the marginalized.
While current scholarship on liberation theology emphasizes the importance of male authors and priests, my dissertation shows how women participated in the liberation theology movement and also implemented its theological praxis across the United States, even though their formal roles in the group remained restricted because of their status as women. One of this dissertation’s major contributions is recovering some of the women who participated in the dialectical process out of which liberation theology emerged and tracing its reinterpretation by returned female missionaries in their home communities across the United States.