What Does Mumbai Have to Do with Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology

By Abraham, Susan | Theological Studies, June 2008 | Go to article overview

What Does Mumbai Have to Do with Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology


Abraham, Susan, Theological Studies


TERTULLIAN'S QUESTION POSED after his conversion sometime ca. 197 C.E., "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? What have heretics to do with Christians?" identified the tension he felt between faith and reason. Athens, the home of pagan Greek philosophy, seemed to be diametric to Jerusalem, the center of Christian faith and revelation. Of course, the nuanced and complex development of the Christian intellectual heritage provided for the solution to the perceived problem between faith and reason: from Augustine's use of philosophy to grasp the deeper meaning of Scripture, to Aquinas's synthesis of faith and reason, to Bonaventure's braiding together the spiritual and intellectual quests, to Rahner's Thomistic framework for ontology, to Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's theological method of ideology critique and retrieval of egalitarian histories of male/female social relationships, to John Paul II's Fides et ratio, theological endeavors have resisted facile polarization of reason and faith.

In the last half of the 20th century, however, the theological terrain has been complicated by the history of decolonization and the formation of new nation-states. The phenomenon led to an expansion of the scope of religious studies and theology; "culture" seemed to provide a critical dimension to theological thought. Thus "faith" and "reason" could not be removed from their embedded contexts, which demonstrated important differences in their manifestation across cultural boundaries. The linking of imperial identity to colonized ones led to creative strategies for pointing out and addressing the limitations of universalizing modes of theological thought unable to deal with the painful memory of economic and cultural enslavement from afar. The first wave of such theological strategies was called "contextual theology" and presented nuanced analyses of theological ideas in relation to the contexts in which they appeared. (1)

They also revealed the particularity of history and culture in which universalizing theologies asserted their preeminence. Broadly, "place" and "time" became preoccupations of the postcolonial mindset in so far as authors emphasized the constructed nature of meaning ascribed to places and times, constructions created by relating place and time solely to the imperial totalizing vision of Euro-America. Consequently, a second trend soon asserted itself, engendered by the rise of cultural studies in secular universities and spearheaded by a new breed of postcolonial theorists. Here the trinity of fabulous fame--Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Homi Bhabha--affected the reading, teaching, and production of religion and theology in universities in the West by pointing out the culturally saturated framework that creates and sustains the disciplines of contemporary university and academic milieus.

The nexus of globalization theories, postcolonial theory, and theology produces an oppositional discourse that challenges theological method in the Western academy. Such a resolutely critical method does not yield any unified methodology of application. Since theology produced in the academic centers of the West is implicated in neocolonial relations between various geopolitical contexts, the emphasis on culture investigates theological production as a site tainted by power differentials. The claim of religion and theology to be sui generis fields requiring protective strategies such as excluding social, cultural, ethical, theoretical, or political methods to verify the intelligibility of its assertions is being steadily assailed by globalization and postcolonial theories. The assault on the self-proclaimed "sui generis" constitution of the field of religion and theology has resulted in the paradoxical contention that theology ought to become an integral part of the study of religion. (2) In other words, religion and theology are disciplines to the extent that their boundaries are policed by those who consider the frameworks to be thoroughly distinguishable from each other. …

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