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1s a graduate student in theology,
I lived in a large university town
near San Francisco. My room
was in the basement of the

house, where I spent many hours studying
some of the best thinkers in the Christian
tradition. After getting up one morning, I
looked out my window. On the other side of
the wall from where I had slept was a home-
less man. Physically we were little more than
a foot-and-a-half away from each other.
Existentially, however, we lived in two differ-
ent worlds. My reality was a comfortable
home, a warm bed and a life of the mind; his
was distress and discomfort, a brick mat-
tress and a life of the streets. That experi-
ence changed not only the way I thought
about theology but also the way I began to
do it.

I pondered what the world might look
like from his side of the wall: how he
thought about life, what he learned about
people and, more to the point, if and how he
understood God. I had read enough Scripture to know of
Christ’s self-identification with the hungry, thirsty, naked,
sick, imprisoned and estranged (Mt 25:31-46), but I won-
dered if my neighbor’s social location gave him a better van-
tage point than my own from which to understand theolog-
ical realities.

Gradually I started “migrating” from the comfort of my
room, library and ideas about God in search of insight
among the vulnerable of the world, the living “texts” of the
poor and the challenge of the living God. I began to study
theology with “the crucified peoples of today,” as the theolo-
gian Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., described them.

For two decades I have been a “border theologian” doing
what might be called “theological ethnography,” which stud-
ies Christian faith experience among cultural groups. The

A Theology of Migration
A new method for understanding a God on the move


18 America February 7, 2011

method for this approach is shaped primarily by Christian
spirituality, or following of Jesus, and Christian theology, a
reflection on that experience within the social context of a
faith that does justice. The method is rooted in an attempt
to understand the gift and challenge of Christian faith,
beginning with those who live with acute human suffering,
like undocumented migrants or victims of human traffick-

Geographically, my work is rooted in the narratives of
those who migrate between Mexico and the United States,
Spain and Morocco, Malta and Libya, Slovakia and
Ukraine, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Theologically, it explores human experience in frontier
spaces in light of theological themes like creation and
redemption, grace and sin, life and death. I search for reve-
lation in deserts, mountains, canals, detention facilities, bor-
der towns and broken highways, as well as in the Scriptures,
the early church, the work of contemporary writers,
Catholic social teaching, the social sciences and the deep
desires of the human heart. The pathways into these worlds

DANIEL G. GROODY, C.S.C., an associate professo

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