Liberation Theologies in the United States: An Introduction

By Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas; Anthony B. Pinn | Go to book overview
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7

Native Feminist Theology

ANDREA SMITH


Historical Backdrop

While liberation theologies rooted in diverse communities of color have proliferated, the development of Native liberation theology, particularly Native women’s theology, has been a slow process.1 Nonetheless, Native women’s perspectives on spirituality and social justice have much to contribute to the field of liberation theology.

There are a number of reasons for the reluctance of many Native religious scholars to embrace theology. First, theology’s generally traditional emphasis on proscribing proper doctrines and beliefs often runs counter to indigenous spiritual practices. Jace Weaver argues that theology is inconsonant with indigenous worldviews, which hold that systematic study of God is both presumptuous and impossible. “Traditional Native religions are integrated totally into daily activity,” Weaver argues. “They are ways of life and not sets of principles or creedal formulation…. Native ‘religion’ does not concern itself—does not try to know or explain—‘what happens in the other world.’”2

Vine Deloria Jr., whose work became the foundation for almost all Native scholars in the field of religion or theology, argues that even liberation theology is grounded on a western European epistemological framework that is no less oppressive to Native communities than is mainstream theology. “Liberation theology,” Deloria cynically contends, “was an absolute necessity if the establishment was going to continue to control the minds of minorities. If a person of a minority group had not invented it, the liberal establishment most certainly would have created it.”3 According to Deloria, Native liberation must be grounded in indigenous epistemologies—epistemologies that are inconsistent with western epistemologies, of which liberation theology is a part: “If we are then to talk seriously about the necessity of liberation, we are talking about the destruction of the whole complex of Western theories of knowledge and the construction of a new and more comprehensive synthesis of human knowledge and experience.”4 Even if we distinguish the “lib

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