Gustavo Gutiérrez presented the Gittler Prize

Gutiérrez is considered one of the founders and thought leaders of liberation theology

Photo/Heratch Ekmekjian

Gustavo Gutierrez smiles during his lecture prior to receiving the Gittler Prize Oct. 5.

The Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez was awarded the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize in a ceremony at Rapaporte Treasure Hall Oct. 5.

A Roman Catholic priest of the Dominican Order, Gutiérrez is considered one of the founders and thought leaders of liberation theology, which combines theology with social activism. His 1971 book "A Theology of Liberation" advocated for supporting the poor in protests against poverty and in efforts to be liberated from exploitation.

In an hour-long lecture before receiving the prize, Gutiérrez said he considered his theological work a series of attempts to express his love for his faith.

“For me to do theology is to write a letter, a love letter, to God, the God of my faith, to my people and to my church,” he said. “It is a love letter I cannot repeat in the same terms, but the expression of love is there.”

The prize, which includes $25,000 and a medal, is given to a person whose body of published work reflects scholarly excellence and makes a lasting contribution to racial, ethnic or religious relations.

Brandeis University President Frederick M. Lawrence presented Gutiérrez with the prize.

“The Gittler Prize in many ways represents what the heart of Brandeis is all about. It’s a place where scholarship and social action and social justice all meet … We don’t know too many people who come from such a powerful place of scholarship and a place of social action and a place of social justice,” Lawrence said of Gutierrez.

Gutiérrez was introduced by the Rev. Walter Cuenin, the Catholic chaplain and coordinator of  Multifaith Chaplaincy at Brandeis, who said Gutiérrez’s work has been an inspiration to him.

“Having people take power for themselves to be free, whether it is from poverty or injustice is so important,” Cuenin said. “We are honored to honor you.”

In his lecture, Gutiérrez said liberation theology should be considered beyond economic poverty, in all circumstances of inequality.

“When we speak about the commitment to the poor, to pay attention to only the economic question is not enough,” Gutiérrez said.

He described a goal of empowering the oppressed.

“My goal is not to be the voice of the voiceless. The goal must be that the voiceless have voice,” he said. 

A native of Peru, Gutiérrez studied medicine at the National University of Peru before beginning his studies in theology. He studied philosophy and psychology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium and was ordained a priest in 1959. He received his doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of Lyon in 1985.
He attended the Conference of Latin American Bishops in 1968 and wrote a paper in 1969 that laid the groundwork for "A Theology of Liberation." He has gone on to publish more than a dozen books on the subject and taught at universities around the world. He is now is the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. 

The Gittler Prize was established in 2007 with funds from the estate of Joseph Gittler, a sociology scholar, and is named after Gittler and his mother, Toby. It is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President. Gutiérrez is the sixth winner of the prize.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage