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The Costa Rican Catholic Church, Social Justice, and the Rights of Workers, 1979-1996

by Dana Sawchuk

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also available: eBook Paperback
category: Religion
published: 2004

Provides a new understanding of the relationship between Church and State in 20th-century Costa Rica.

Understanding the relationship between religion and social justice in Costa Rica involves piecing together the complex interrelationships between Church and State — between priests, popes, politics, and the people. This book does just that.

Dana Sawchuk chronicles the fortunes of the country’s two competing forms of labour organizations during the 1980s and demonstrates how different factions within the Church came to support either the union movement or Costa Rica’s home-grown Solidarity movement.

Challenging the conventional understanding of Costa Rica as a wholly peaceful and prosperous nation, and traditional interpretations of Catholic Social Teaching, this book introduces readers to a Church largely unknown outside Costa Rica. Sawchuk has carefully analyzed material from a multitude of sources — interviews, newspapers, books, and articles, as well as official Church documents, editorials, and statements by Church representativesto provide a firmly rooted socio-economic history of the experiences of workers, and the Catholic Church’s responses to workers in Costa Rica.

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Editorial Reviews

''This is a very well researched book and is especially successful in explaining the apparently contradictory actions by different organizations and leaders within the Catholic Church in Costa Rica....A fascinating portrait of the inner workings of the Church and its broader impact....The strength of the book, and the reason scholars of Church-state relations, industrial relations, and Latin Americanists in general, need to read it, is its strength in using archival resources and interviews with leading actors. The author does an excellent job of illustrating and explaining the complexities of internal Church actions and their impact on the political process.''

— Journal of Latin American Studies, Number 38, 2005

''Après le pléthore de travaux pour la plupart idéologiques exaltaant la théologie de la libération et les communautés ecclésiales de bases des annés 1970 et 1980, il est bon de revenir á une perspective plus englobante et ojectivante sur le rôle social de l'Église catholique en Amérique latine. Rares sont les ouvrages qui tentent de saisir sa politique sociale récente ; aussi cette étude sur l'Église catholique du Costa Rica et les droits des travailleurs durant le dernier quart du vingtiéme siécle est particulièrement bienvenue.''

— Revue D'Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses, Tome 87 # 1, 2007

''This is a brilliant book written by a social scientist on the pastoral policies adopted by the Catholic Church in Costa Rica, a small country in Central America. The extensive literature on church and society in Latin America has paid next to no attention to Costa Rica, a country looked upon by many as a peaceful oasis on the deeply divided continent. The origin of this myth is the welfare state created in Costa Rica withthe Church's support in the 1940s. Yet since then, under the impact of internal and external forces, the country has suffered an economic decline, abandoned its progressive social legislation and became deeply divided between rich and poor. How did the workers react to the new conditions: And, more especially, how did the Catholic Church react to this crisis and define its relationship to the workers' movement? These are the questions examined in this book....My admiration for this study is due to the author's effort to analyze the larger historical context of the Church's pastoral involvement...I regard this book as a perfect model for research on the relation of church and society.''

— Studies in Religion, Volume 35 #1, 2006

''Relevant and richly informative for researchers in the sociology of religion, the sociology of history, and for those in Latin American studies. Her complex and holistic analysis is invaluable.''

— Sociology of Religion, Volume 68 #2, Summer 2007

''Compared to the troubled conditions and civil wars in neighborourin countries like Guatelmal, El Salvador, and Honduras, there is much to be thankful for in Costa Rica. However, as Dana Sawchuk demonstrates in this study, it is not the paradise that the U.S. government (which has a vested economic and political interest) and other proponents suggest. Sawchuk's study [is a]...well-researched and well-written work.... The end product is a valuable socio-economic, cultural, and political study of a country that has often been misinterpreted by well-meaning outsiders.''

— Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006

''Sawchuk's fresh analysis is essential reading for both scholars and activists dealing with Catholic social teaching or Latin American spirituality and popular movements.''

— Journal of Church and State, Volume 47 #3, Summer 2005
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About the Author

Dana Sawchuk

Dana Sawchuk is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
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