Material help, moral concerns : the Chilean ecclesiastical hierarchy and the Social Question 1891-1931




Sanchez Manriquez, Karin Andrea

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This dissertation examines the Chilean Catholic Church’s response to the social problems of the working class, phenomenon called “Social Question,” between 1891 and 1931. In these forty years, the Chilean Catholic Church acted under the guidelines of the first main Vatican document that focused exclusively on social issues: the encyclical Rerum Novarum, issued in 1891. The revision of the Catholic social ideas present in sermons, pastoral letters, lectures, speeches, and articles written by some of the leading priests of the ecclesiastical hierarchy shows this influence, but also they show that the Chilean Catholic Church experienced its own secularization process. The main argument of this dissertation is, then, that the Chilean ecclesiastical hierarchy made a religious reading of modernity in order to maintain a hierarchical and paternalistic social organization. The Church adopted a discourse within the new modern context, playing modern rules by taking some concepts of modernity but making their own reading. Thus, they accepted some principles of modernity only when were within a Christian context, like “Christian Democracy,” for example. On that account, my project demonstrates how the way the Chilean Catholic Church faced modernity was more complex than the simple dichotomy between progressivism and traditionalism. Several factors explained this: the rigid doctrine from the Vatican; the particular circumstances of Chilean society and differences within the provinces; and the perpetuation through time of a certain way of social organization determined by Catholicism four centuries before. My work engages with religious and cultural studies by contributing to a better understanding of the path followed by Catholicism in the public space in Western countries in the last two centuries, following the repercussions of Enlightenment. This dissertation also seeks to contribute to historiography about the Catholic Church in Chile by bringing in a refreshing interpretation of Catholic social thought. Overall, this dissertation illuminates the process by which Chilean Catholicism faced modernity and shows the complexity of the experience of industrialization and secularization within the Chilean society in a crucial period of its modernization process as significant social and economic changes made possible the beginning in Chile of definitive modernity.



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