Born in Cuba months before the Castro Revolution, Miguel A. De La Torre and his family came to the United States as refugees when he was six months old. For a while the U.S. government considered him an “illegal immigrant” asking him to “self-deport” in 1960. He attended Blessed Sacrament School in Queens, New York and was baptized and confirmed by the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, his parents were devotees and priest/priestess of the religion Santería. De La Torre’s early childhood was marked by a spiritual hybridity based on his Catholic and Santería faiths and up-bringing. He left Queens, moving to Miami, Florida in his teens. At the age of nineteen, he began a real estate company in Miami called Championship Realty, Century 21. The office grew to over 100 sales agents. During this time he also obtained a Masters in Public Administration from American University in Washington, DC. Eventually he was elected president of the Miami Board of Realtors. He was also active in local politics, becoming the founding president of the West Dade Young Republicans. In 1988 he was a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, District 115, but lost to Mario Diaz-Balart.
In his early twenties he became a “born-again” Christian and joined University Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Florida. His real estate firm was a financial success; however, De La Torre dissolved the thirteen-year-old company and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in order to obtain a Masters in Divinity. During his seminary training he served as pastor to a rural congregation, Goshen Baptist Church in Glen Dean, Kentucky.
De La Torre continued his theological training and obtained a doctorate from Temple University in social ethics. The focus of his academic pursuit has been ethics within contemporary U.S. thought, specifically how religion affects race, class, and gender oppression. De La Torre specializes in applying a social scientific approach to Latinx religiosity within this country, Liberation theologies in the Caribbean and Latin America, and postmodern/postcolonial social theory.
De La Torre taught Christian Ethics at Hope College in Holland, MI from 1999 to 2005. After obtaining his doctorate degree, he co-founded the international Tulipanes Latino Art & Film Festival in Michigan, a festival which continues to this day. The festival’s purpose was to focus on the contributions of Latinxs through art. In 2005 he wrote a column for the local newspaper, The Holland Sentinel, titled “When the Bible is Used for Hatred.” The article was a satirical piece commenting on Focus on the Family’s James Dobson outing of SpongeBob Square Pants. A few days later, Mr. Dobson responded to the article. Due to various circumstances arising from the encounter, Dr. De La Torre resigned his tenure. Since then, he has been serving as the Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.
He was the founding editor of the Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Religion (2010-2015), a scholarly journal exploring different religious disciplines from the perspective of, or in conversation with, racial and ethnic marginalized communities. In 2013, he co-founded the Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion, an academic conference for scholars interested in issues affecting communities of color which has been gathering biennially since. In 2019, he began an Eco-justice Center at my institution charged with scheduling conferences that brings together scholars, scientists, journalists, international lawyers and community activists to discuss environmental racism. In 2020 the American Academy of Religion bestowed upon him the 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award.
Before marriage equality became the law of the land, he was the only cis-gendered male member of the Religious Council at the Human Rights Campaign, assigned to biblically preach on LGBTQI+ civil rights at conservative churches and gatherings around the country. Additionally, he wrote the bilingual eBook for Latinx religious families dealing with children “coming out of the closet.” The 2011 eBook, A la familia has not only been used in the U.S., but throughout Latin America, especially in Cuba.
It should be noted that not only has he published well-received books on immigration he also wrote the screenplay and co-produced a documentary on the topic. The one-hour documentary has won eighteen film awards while touring the festival circuit. The film has been purchased by and shown at hundreds of universities, theological schools, churches and among activist groups. This research is based on the many church and student groups I led in the desert providing food, water and medical aid to migrants crossing borders.
Since obtaining his doctorate in 1999, Dr. De La Torre has authored hundreds of scholarly articles and forty-two books, including national book awards for Reading the Bible from the Margins, (Orbis, 2002); Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004); Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, (Orbis, 2004); Encyclopedia on Hispanic American Religious Culture, Volume 1 & 2, (ABC-CLIO, 2009); and Faith and Resistance in an Age of Trump (Orbis, 2017).
Within the academy he has served as a director to the Society of Christian Ethics and the American Academy of Religion. Additionally, he has been co-chair of the Ethics Section at the American Academy of Religion. In 2012, he was elected President of the Society of Christian Ethics. That same year he received a Fulbright, teaching a course on postcolonialism and Christianity in Indonesia. In 2014, he taught a course on Liberative Ethics in South Africa. And in 2017, he taught on Immigration in Germany. An international scholar, he has also made academic presentations in Costa Rica, Thailand, Mexico, Taiwan, Cuba, UK and elsewhere. In 2018 he gave a plenary talk at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Toronto to 8,000 attendees, and in 2019 he was the featured week-long speaker at the Chautauqua Institute where he was on a panel with Wynton Marsalis discussing the intersection of race and his musical piece The Ever Fonky Lowdown.and
During the 2021 gathering of the American Academy of Religion, Dr. De La Torre was presented with the two most prestigious awards from his guild. The Martin E. Marty Public Understanding of Religion Award and the Excellence in Teaching Award. He is the first Latino to be given either of these awards and the first scholar to have been given both.
Dr. De La Torre has been an expert commentator concerning ethical issues (mainly Latinx religiosity, LGBTQI+ civil rights, and immigration rights) on several local, national, and international media outlets. A scholar-activist, Dr. De La Torre has written numerous articles in popular media.