Alain Mayama

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2007


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Marie L. Baird

Committee Member

George S. Worgul

Committee Member

William Thompson-Uberuaga


Intersubjective, Philosophy, Subject, The Other, Theology


My dissertation establishes some conceptual affinities between the philosophical project of Emmanuel Levinas and liberation theology. I analyze Levinas's work by comparing it to two important liberation theologians, Gustavo Gutiérrez and Jon Sobrino, whose work, like his, needs to be brought into greater contemporary debate about the subject's encounter with the other. I argue that fundamental to Levinas, Gutiérrez, and Sobrino is the fact that they all bring forth one major characteristic: the dimension of the divine opens forth in the human face. For Levinas, Gutiérrez and Sobrino, commitment to the neighbor is the necessary context for "understanding" God. They posit the human other as the possibility of the subject's subjectivity. To be human is to act with love toward one's neighbor.

Using an analytical-comparative method and without claiming a perfect matching between Levinas's philosophy and liberation theology, my dissertation demonstrates that the dialogue between these two approaches addresses the insufficiency of the modern philosophical turn to the subject to appropriately address the question of the non-recognition of the human other in history; I also assert that their unwavering commitment to the human neighbor reveals something of postmodern sensitivity defined, in this study, in terms of otherness and difference, relationality and interdependence. I contend that Levinas's transcendental ethics provides liberation theology with a viable philosophical framework that is compatible with the truth of Christianity: the concern for the neighbor. On its part, liberation theology's conversion to the neighbor bears witness to Levinas's ethical responsibility in the real time of history. In order to show the relevance of Levinas's philosophy for Christian theology in general, I discuss three Christian scholars, Enrique Dussel, Jean-Luc Marion, and Michael Purcell, who, while challenging some aspects of Levinas's philosophy, still see its significance for Christian theological anthropology.

This dissertation concludes by proposing Levinas's philosophy and liberation theology's turn to the neighbor as significant for addressing contemporary sub-Saharan Africa socio-political and ethnic conflicts. I also point out a couple of concrete historical examples of this turn to the neighbor which, if followed, could lessen the degradation of the human other in sub-Saharan Africa and in the world in general.