July 19 2024

In Memoriam: Otto Maduro


Otto Maduro, past president of the American Academy of Religion and renowned philosopher and sociologist of religion, died on May 9 at the age of 68. Professor Maduro’s prolific body of work included over one hundred articles published in a dozen languages, and his work in the Academy was grounded in the pursuit of the liberation of marginalized peoples. Just before his death, Otto retired from his position as professor of world Christianity and Latin American Christianity at Drew Theological School where he had taught since 1992.

He is the author of several books about religion, liberation, and Maxism, including Mapas para la Fiesta, Religión y Conflicto Social, and Marxismo y Religión (which won the 1977-78 Best Essay of the Year by the National Council for Cultural Affairs, Venezuela). In 2002 he was chosen as a recipient of the Positive Men of Color Award by the Generations Center at Princeton University, and in June 2012 he received the annual Virgilio Elizondo Award "for distinguished achievement in theology" at the annual colloquium of the Academy of Hispanic Catholic Theologians of the United States.

His work as a scholar and teacher was characterized by his integrity and contagious passion. His teaching, mentoring, and scholarly work emphasized epistemologies, Pentecostalism, LGBT and Latino/a liberation, inequalities, and the sociology of religion through the theories of Marx and Pierre Bourdieu. An immigrant to the United States himself, Otto cared deeply about the challenges faced by people who immigrated to this country—especially those from Latin and South America—and devoted himself to studying with and among other Latino immigrants in his community. He was also beloved by his students and colleagues, who have shared their memories of him on the university’s online memorial.

Otto brought his ethic of care to his term of presidency at the American Academy of Religion. Under his leadership, the organization developed guidelines for handling labor disputes that affect the Annual Meetings and restructured its investments in a more socially responsible manner. He also chose the topic of “migrants’ religions under imperial duress” as the plenary theme of the 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago. Religious Studies News interviewed Otto last year about his background, his growth as a scholar and theologian, and his vision of the development of the Academy.

He is survived by his wife Nancy and son Mateo. He is remembered as a scholar, an activist, a teacher, and a friend.

Two sessions at the Annual Meetings will be held to honor Otto and his life’s work. La Comunidad of Hispanic Scholars will host a session on Saturday morning, 9:00–11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Baltimore, Blake room (P23-118).  A special topics forum, “Honoring the Legacy and Life of Otto Maduro” will take place on Sunday, 3:00–4:30 p.m. in the Renaissance Harborplace hotel, Baltimore Ballroom B (A24-287).