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Black Theology 3.1

January 2005

Major Articles

  • Black Theology of Liberation - Dwight N. Hopkins (pp. 11 - 31)

    The article begins with a survey that engages the theoretical underpinnings of that has come to be called "Black Theology" - the history and historical roots (both Afro- and Euro-centrist), the common heritage of slavery and struggle, and the robust notion of gender (with a nod to the Womanist theologies developing out of this tradition). Hopkins (like Cone before him) also places Christian scripture as a chief source of this tradition.

    Hopkins notes the historic split between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokeley Carmichael when the latter began the mantra of "Black power". This call to militancy exposed the quietism rampant among the liberal white churches of the time. Hopkins delineates the rise of James Cone in the midst of this clash. He then examines 'second generation' Black theologians who followed in Cone's wake (notable many womanists, Hopkins himself, and our own Victor Anderson).

    From this comprehensive survey, Hopkins ends with a brief and forward looking "Future Agenda", in which he calls for the forging of new and renewed ties with carribian, latin american, and pacific theologies. "Through the particularity of the African-American experience and a conscious reaching out beyond that social location, perhaps the contours of a new human being and new society will surface in our midst" [29].

  • Towards a Womanist Pneumatological Pedagogy: An Investigation into the Development and Implementation of a Theological Pedagogy by and for the Marginalized - Maxine Eudalee Howell-Baker (pp. 32 - 54)

    The term "Womanism," first deployed by Alice Walker to describe Black feminism, is nuanced here by Howell-Baker. As she puts it, "the cultural codes of Walker’s definition enables theologians to pursue enquiries committed to bringing to the centre of the Christian hermeneutical circle Black women’s experience, while simultaneously pursuing enquiries intent on: engaging in dialogue and collaborative action with diverse groups and individuals; challenging unjust forms of liturgy (church worship, language and thought); and developing a model of teaching and learning that heralds a Black women’s ethics" [34n]. Chief among the moves that Howell-Baker considers in this process is the rehabilitation of the notion of experience as a valid source for theology.

    While not without its own limitations, this appeal to experience, as Howell-Baker claims, "is a more democratic approach to scripture, tradition and locating Christ in the world today, and is, therefore, just" [35]. Experience, voiced and respected, actively deconstructs the convenent stereotypes of hegemony, and thus is a key term in any justice-centered reconsideration of pedagogy. Pedagogy is deployed in this article as a means to transform, not merely reform, current societies which perpetuate borgeois hegemonies [38].

    Experience is validated through various types of liberation theologies as well, dismantling the notions of an objective reality "out there" and championing the voices of lived practice. As such, we may responsibly look to testimony and narrative as vital sources for theological refelction. Howell-Baker turns in the secodn half of the essay to a reflective assessment of her own experiences that have shaped her work as a Womanist Christian teacher.

    After her analysis of her own upbringing and spiritual formation, Howell-Baker suggests a new paradigm for pedagogy: "This new paradigm is a Womanist Pneumatological Pedagogy (WPP)—a theological pedagogy that is free of the oppressive modes of thinking and acting because, at its inception, it is entrenched in the experiences of ordinary Black women and consequently generates and celebrates a way of knowing and acting that is in the interest of the marginalized" [51]. Unfortunately, this claim heralds the rapid conclusion of the article, and the fleshing-out of this very admirable claim is left "to be expanded greatly in the main body of [her] PhD thesis" [51].

  • Markan Subalterns / The Crown and Their Strategies of Resistance: A Postcolonial Critique - David Joy (pp. 55 - 74)

    The first five pages of this article consist in Joy 'establishing the case' for and the methodology of - not simply his postcolonial reading, but - postcolonial readings in general. For anyone reasonable familiar with the literature of PC (pun intended) readings, his analysis is a tad jargon-y and exercised, even for this jargon-laden genre. The usual suspects are accounted for: Sugitharajah, Spivak, and Liew are among the notable names dropped.

    The analysis moves after this to Mark itself. "Since the author of Mark ideologically presented the voices of conflict and resistance in the Gospel, it is argued that he was a representative of the anti-imperial movement in Palestine" [59]. Joy draws parallels to Mark with the writings of the Qumran community, parallels which are "structural" and admittedly not "historical" with the community of the Cynic philosophers as well [61]. ('History' is in fact a noneffectual category for Joy throughout this article. A chief example of this is the continued (I would argue ideological and covertly anti-Semitic) reference to the geographical region of Mark and Canaan/Israel during the centuries BCE as "Palestine" - despite the historical fact that 'Palestine' is not a name of this region until 63 CE). Unfortunately, the analysis here seems to be driven more by de jour than by detail.

    Joy then rehearses the general argument of 'Roman imperialism' as the framing context of the Gospel (while a useful category, we are reminded by Barker and others that this analysis is often short on accuracy and long on rhetoric, as evinced here). "These people, the representatives of the crowd, behaved as the guiding force to the movement of Jesus, as they could offer new theological and ideological direction. Moreover, they forced the movement to position itself within the cultural and political framework of anti-colonialism" [65].

    Such analyses fail to take account for the marked temporal distance between the community described in a Gospel account and the Gospel text itself. They are not identical, and drawing political conclusions about Jesus' time and context from the writings about Jesus plays fast and loose with (dare I mention the word again) history.

    Joy concludes by stating "the postcolonial reading of Mark might offer new directions in terms of interpreting the Bible with an intention to highlighting the unrepresented and unheard voices in the postcolonial milieu" [72], and I agree that this is a worthy and desireable goal. Unfortunately, this essay offers neither the historical acumen nor exegetical depth to achieve this lofty aim.

  • Issues in African Liberation Theology - Jonathan Gichaara (pp. 75 - 85)

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