Thursday, December 29, 2011


Book Release at St. Thomas Church Thiruvalla Feb 7th, 2010

Indian Christian Theology

Paper presented at the National Seminar on Methodological Shifts in Indian Christian Theology: A Re-search held at the Ecumenical Christian Center (ECC), Whitefield, Bangalore from June 7-9, 2010 and published in the "Theology for our Tmes" Nov.2010 & NCCI Review, Nov. 2011.

Epistemic Shifts in Subaltern Discourse and Methodological Challenges to Indian Christian Theology

Rev. Y. T. Vinaya Raj

Yes, the ‘Subaltern’ can speak!
Subaltern is a military term that refers to a person of inferior rank. It was the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci used this term to designate the subordinated social groups/ subordinated class. The subaltern study group that emerged in India in 90’s, used this category to refer the general attribute of subordination in South Asian society ‘whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way.’[1] Since then we use this category in our discussions to delineate the political, aesthetical and epistemological engagements of the marginalized sections such as Dalits, Tribals, Adivasis, minorities, women and other forgotten people of Indian social history.
As a knowledge system, subaltern discourse locates itself as a ‘contested epistemology’.[2] Its politics is to interrogate the knowledge and institutional practices of any kinds of domination and hegemony. The social history of the subaltern discourses in India tell us the history of the struggles of the subjugated people through which they created constructive encounters with the power structures of domination like caste, patriarchy and hierarchy.
However, we need to bear in mind that the subalternity itself is a ‘contested disposition’. It was Gayatri Spivak who interrogated first with this category by raising the question; ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ (1985). According to Spivak the subaltern cannot speak because there is no ‘pure’/ ‘uncontaminated’ subaltern consciousness devoid of the imprints of the colonizer and thus somebody else must spoken for him/ her. All she wanted to clear is that subalternity itself is a ‘discursive construct’ and thus in order to re-figure the ‘marginality’ of the subaltern the transaction between the ‘colonizer’ and the subaltern needs to be deconstructed. It is in this process of deconstruction of the transaction; the subaltern can speak and re-look their subjectivity and their social engagement other than that of the subjectivity of ‘victimhood’. These discussions were in fact elucidating the politics of the subaltern discourses and its potentiality of resisting dominations. Thus the subalternity as a ‘contested disposition’ has envisaged new ways of being and resisting in the contemporary context of plurality.  
‘Ruptures’ or ‘Repetitions’? The Subaltern Discourses as the Methodological challenges to Christian Theology
The emergence of the new social movements of all colonized people such as Africans, Afro-Americans, Asians, women, Blacks, Dalits, Tribals and so on in the post colonial context that challenged the Euro-centric theological methodology, marked the epistemological shift in Indian Christian Theology. By rejecting the universal, monolithic and homogenizing methodology of modern theology, this new shift provided the space for the emergence of ‘contextual Theologies’. The subaltern aspirations for a just democratic-dialogic civil society  and a theology that attends to this passion for justice and transformation was well attended by these theologies such as Dalit Theology, Tribal Theology and Feminist Theology and thus opened a new face in the history of the Indian Christian Theology in the postcolonial context. However, the question that becomes inevitable today is that whether they were theological ‘ruptures’ or just ‘repetitions’ due to their inclination to the liberal humanistic foundation and symbiotic connection with the Latin American Liberation Theology.  
It is attempted here to delineate the contours of postmodern subaltern discourses by taking three vital issues of postmodern shift viz: epistemology, ontology and politics, as it poses new methodological challenges to Christian Theology and politics at large.
Need to ‘De-contextualize’ the Contextual Theologies?  The question of Epistemology
The significance of the postmodern subaltern epistemologies lie in its ability to enrich our understanding of how subordinate groups create knowledge that fosters both their subjectivity and resistance. Subaltern knowledges are embodied knowledges giving importance to emotions rather than reason that emerges out of their ‘lived experiences’ of self empowerment and resistance. The discourses of resisting dominations are embodied in their memories, myths and even in their bodies. These embodied histories constitute their epistemologies through which they create counter imaginations and aesthetics of transformation. As Chung Hyun Kyung says, “Asian Women’s epistemology is an epistemology from the broken body, a broken body longing for healing and wholeness…”[3]
Of course, the subaltern ‘lived experiences’ or ‘memories’ are to be deconstructed because they are constructed ‘discursively’.  In this process of deconstruction the ‘lived experiences’ are placed dialogically even with the knowledges that contest each other. Thus it demands the process of dialoging, listening, hearing, and sharing of the different ‘lived experiences’ within and outside. Here I want to mention the argument of Rev. Joe Arun, a Dalit academician, with regard to the misrepresentation of India as a ‘caste India’ by the British colonial epistemology. He says: “In the nineteenth century the colonial ethnography represented India as the place and the peoples that had to be ‘civilized’ and ‘ordered’. In this anthropology aligned with the colonial administration produced knowledge about the colonized who were only an object to be known and controlled: their agency and subjectivity had no place in it…One of the ways in which the Indians could be civilized was to ‘order’ all the customs, values and statuses into one or two ‘tidy’ systems. Lyall successfully persuaded the Viceroy of India in 1884 to classify the diverse caste (jati) groups into two major slots. This classification led to an understanding of Indian society as essentially a caste society and caste was the only element that characterized Indian social life”.[4] Joe Arun is not denying the fact that there were caste-like (jati) institutions before the British colonized India. But, according to him, it was ‘represented’ in colonial epistemology. Whether it is colonial epistemology or Brahmin epistemology, both of them were upholding a theory of essentialism.   
The contextual theologies assumed the ‘context’ and ‘identity’ as the essentialist/ unified systems and neglected the micro power relations inherent in it and silenced plural locations within the category such as women, children, disabled so on. These theologies of identity by locating the unified self at the centre, defined themselves as ‘binary opposite’ and rejected the possibility of having a ‘third location’ for subalternity. This is the major issue with related to the methodological challenges to Indian Christian Theologies. If not simplistic, Indian Christian Theology has never attempted to have a dialogue between the subaltern-elitist discourses in order to pin point specifically to reject the practices of domination within and without. Thus, the ‘contextual theologies’/ ‘theologies of identity’ are to be invited to ‘de-con-textualize’ for re-locating them dialogically and transactionally.
Yes, there can be a Dalit/ women without holding the theory of essentialism!  The question of ontology 
Like the caste epistemology, the modern essentialist ontology that gives us a ‘unified’/ ‘fixed’/ ‘static’  ‘identity’ is to be challenged for being homogenized and monolithic. We need a social theory that provides us the possibility of ontological redemption. Postmodernism as a counter knowledge system that tries to insurrect ‘the subjugated knowledges, provides the epistemological possibility of alterity-the possibility of being ‘different’. Body is given here the possibility of re-figuring and re-reading. Body is not just ‘biologically given’ rather it is ‘volatile’ and ‘alterable’. In fact, the body, as the ultimate site of all violations is an “inscribed surface of events”.[5] As Feminists say: “Our bodies our selves our histories”. Thus the task of the subaltern hermeneutics of body is to ask “what, when, where and how these events are being inscribed/ written-on/ embodied in our very bodies”. As Michel Foucault contents, freedom does not mean the freedom to do anything new; rather it is the possibility to reject all the colonial imprints inscribed on our bodies for several centuries.  Body as the subaltern hermeneutical key offers Dalits, women and the other subaltern groups to experience new relations with other social groups at church, at home and in streets.
Just like the body, every text is an ‘inter-text’. Deconstruction as the hermeneutical activity finds validity in postmodern subaltern discourse by engaging with all texts in which they have been figured as ‘invalid’/ ‘marginal’/ ‘variation’/untouchable. The Biblical hermeneutics for subaltern theologies is a political activity because it engages with the texts within and interrogates how they are being treated or represented. The Bible as a textual collection of the liberative memories of encountering dominations provides immense possibilities of having ‘counter subjectivity’ and social space. The church as a eucharist space for the celebration of the ‘broken body/ bodies’, and its liturgies of reconciliation gives the subaltern the theological space for a dialogical community experience. Formulating counter liturgies and ecclesiologies are the new resistances for the subaltern theology.
For the subaltern theological discourse, as it locates itself in the de-ontological understanding of the postmodernism, finds validity in the plural perceptions of God, where the concept of Trinity is to be read as the sign post of ‘non-fixity’ of the being of God.  It gives sanction for plural perceptions of God Viz: Dalit God, Women God etc. It is not just the alterity but also the mutuality, relationality and fraternity is also explicated in Trinity. By listening to the stories of our bodies and their struggles for re-figuration and resurrection, we celebrate a new kind of relationship where the ‘Other’ is re-visited and re-invented. The hermeneutics of body provides new possibility of multiple ways of being and resisting. Thus there can be a Dalit/ women without holding a theory of essentialism to have perspective of their own.    
Shifting from ‘identity politics’ to ‘the politics of difference’: The question of politics  
Modernity envisaged universal/ totalizing social engagements like class struggle in accordance with the development of the Reason. Unlike Marxism that founded on the Hegelian epistemology, the postmodern subaltern discourses promote ‘micro-politics’ and create empowering local practices through which they envisage renewed subjectivity and social agency. The consumerist body epistemology of the Market is being encountered dialogically by twisting it in a transformative way.
 It is in the context of plurality we talk about self-reflexivity. So we need to talk about transformation and transgression of finding connections between the differences. The differences of the life worlds are to be acknowledged. What is argued here is that we need to attend and acknowledge the ‘politics of difference’ within the church and society. Chandra T. Mohanty, a known feminist academician says: “…[T]hird world’ women/s writings on feminism have consistently focused on (1) the idea of the simultaneity of oppression as fundamental to the experience of social and political marginality and the grounding of feminist politics in the histories of racism and imperialism; (2) the crucial role of hegemonic state in circumscribing their/ our daily lives and struggles; (3) the significance of memory and writing in the creation of oppositional agency; and (4) the differences, conflicts, and contradictions internal to ‘third world’ women’s organizations and communities. In addition, they have insisted on the complex interrelationships between feminist, anti-racist, and nationalist struggles...”[6]
The Postmodern epistemological shift provides the theoretical possibilities for subaltern discourses to have different epistemology, ontology and politics. It calls for new theological engagements that transforms and transgress the ‘contexts’, ‘texts’ and bodies. As the postmodernism defines itself, the subaltern discourses are also open ended; open for interrogation and dialogue.  

[1]Ranjith  Guha, “Preface,” Selected subaltern Studies, (eds.) (Delhi: oxford University, 1999).
[2]Michel Foucault calls the counter epistemologies as ‘subjugated knowledges’ or ‘contested epistemologies’ whose resurrection creates resistances spontaneously. All dominations are power structures where some kind of knowledge systems is embodied and they are manifested through certain kind of social practices of marginalization and subjugation.  

[3] Chung, Hyun kyung, Struggle to the sun again: Introducing Asian  Women Theology, (London: SCM Press, 1991), p.39
[4] Joe Arun, Death of Representation: A Postmodern Challenge, VJTR 71 (2007) 267-8
[5] Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Paul Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader(New York: Random House, 1984), 83
[6] Chandra T. Mohanty, “cartographies of Struggle: Third world Women and the Politics of Feminism”, in  Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1991), 10

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


This article was first published in the Journal of Theologies and Cultures in Asia, 2008/2009, Volume 7&8 ISSN: 1682-6086. It was re-printed in "Challenges and Prospects of Mission in the emerging Context" (Faridabad: Dharma jyoti Vidya Peeth, 2010). 

Re-visiting ‘the other’: Towards a postmodern understanding of Christian mission

Rev. Y. T. Vinayaraj 
In the history of Christian mission there has always been the process of translating the faith into new languages and cultures. According to Andrew Walls the attempt to transmit faith in Christ across linguistic and cultural frontiers revealed that Christ had meanings and significance never guessed before.[1] However, the modern missionary movement bears the scars of its epistemological inclination with the colonial modernity. Colonial modernity that theoretically founded on the European enlightenment and Euro centrism, defined the modern Christian mission as the ‘White Man’s burden’ to reach ‘the unreached’/ ‘uncivilized’/ ‘undeveloped’/ ‘unevangelized’ of the ‘other’ part of the world.

Robert Young defines the Euro centrism as the epistemological search for the ‘other’.[2] The modern theology of mission[3] that constructed in the Euro-centric mould has been monolithic and assimilating. It consciously constituted a ‘missiological other’ by the programme of universal mission. The ‘metanarratives’ of modern universal mission stories but consciously neglected the voice of the local ‘missionized’ people. Of course, the encounter between the colonial missions and the ‘natives’ has constructed specific subjectivities for both. Lamin Sanneh contends that Christianity has grown as a result of its encounter with the “other”.[4] Time has come to re-visit this missiological ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Postmodernism as an epistemological shift, provides necessary tools to the people those who have been categorized as the ‘missiological other’ or ‘colonized’ to re-locate their subjectivity and create different discourses of Christian mission and theology. This paper looks at this issue and tries to sketch out the contours of a postmodern theology of Christian mission through a deconstructive reading of the biblical text Mark 5:1-21.

“Mission is not an innocent word”: postmodern< > modern dialectics
According to Jacques Derrida, the Euro centrism is nothing but ethnocentrism, the process in which ‘the West’ imposed itself upon the world. It is well evident in the programme of modern missionary movements. In parallel to the European colonial agenda, it carried on the universal mission programme especially ‘evangelizing’ the ‘aboriginals’ of Asia and Africa. In the modern sense the mission was always the mission to ‘the lost sheep’. Sociologically speaking, the mission envisaged by colonial modernity was empowerment programmes in order to ‘lift up’ the ‘weak’ and the ‘vulnerable’ to the modern/civilized/ developed civil life. Thus we had the ‘missions’ to Africans/ Afro-Americans/ Asians etc. The changed social-theoretical, epistemological and theological context challenges these colonial ‘missiological metanarratives’ and provides impetus to create new ‘little’/ ‘local’ conversion stories of the so-called ‘colonized’.

Postmodernism is more an active critique of the Euro centric premises of Western knowledge. In the postmodern theoretical framework[5], Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction programme shook the Euro-centric epistemic foundation, through which the project of modernity rationalized the existence of “non-European”-“variations”-“Marginal”-“colonized” subjectivities.[6] Derrida detected a series of binary oppositions in western thought that have been pivotal in efforts to establish an order of truth: viz, speech/ writing, presence/ absence, meaning/ form, soul/ body, masculine/ feminine, literal/ metaphorical, natural/ cultural, transcendental/ empirical, cause/ effect and so on. The two terms in these oppositions do not represent equal values. The first term is superior and the second is defined as a derivative or subordinate. There is a power/ knowledge play in the construction of meanings. Derrida undermines this hierarchy. By disrupting/ displacing the hierarchy, deconstruction allows the so-called “colonized” can represent themselves as active social agents rather than as a binary opposite. This is the political programme of deconstruction. For Robert young deconstruction is a deconstruction of the concept, the authority and the assumed primacy of ‘the West’.[7] This is the postmodern theoretical tool, in which the so-called “missionized people” find possibilities in their theological/ hermeneutical programme of altering subjectivity.  

Here an attempt is being made to sketch out the contours of a postmodern missiology through a deconstructive reading of the story of the ‘Gerasene Demoniac’ in Mark 5:1-21.

1. Re-defining discipleship: The integral motif of Christian mission
According to the Biblical theology, mission is the divine engagement for transformation (missio dei). People of God/ Church is the called out community to be a collective agency of this divine intervention of transformation. The mission of God is evidently embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Biblical theology defines the mission as a programme of calling everyone to the new life in Christ as a community. Mission entails movement, and this is the movement of invitation to discipleship. Christian discipleship is a kind of formation through which the human agents in association with the Divine transform themselves as the divine agents of kingdom of God.

In Mark’s Gospel the whole picture of ‘Gerasene demoniac’ comes into the midst of the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. The content of their dialogue is discipleship and it’s focus-the kingdom of God. Jesus constructs the message of kingdom of God consciously in order to re-construct divine subjectivities in the colonial setting of Roman imperialism. Roman imperialism provided a submissive ‘habitus’ for all through which it legitimized its power of slavery on all ‘subjects’. Jesus defines discipleship as a counter institution of a ‘discursive formation’[8] by which they re-define their subjectivity and social space (Mk.3: 13-15). This intentional strategy of Jesus is unknown to the common people (Ochlos). On the other hand the disciples are supposed to recognize it. Thus Jesus exhorts disciples not to be like the common people who do not realize the politics of the formation of subjectivity. That is why Jesus asks them on their way to Gerasene while there is a great storm, “why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (4:40). 

Entering in to the discipleship means engaging oneself for a renewed understanding of relationship. It is to enter in to the ‘responsibility for the other, being-for-the-other’.[9] It is an invitation to engage with new imaginations, new relationships, new practices and new dialogues of fraternity. The discourse of ‘Gerasene demoniac’ is also comes into the midst of these dialogical engagements of defining discipleship. 

2. Re-visiting the ‘other side’: Mission as the symbolic journey from hostility to hospitality
The phrase “let us go across to the other side” (4: 35) is very important here. The ‘region of the Gerasenes’ as a ‘pagan city’, is a ‘constitutive other’ of Jewish/ Roman territories. Roman imperialism constructed a mixed culture of Judaism and Greek-Hellenistic culture- by which they diffused the ‘other local identities’ in order to legitimize their political/ social power. Gerasene as a socio-symbolic space of ‘gentles’ is identified as Decapolis (means “ten towns”)-a Hellenistic region and loose territories of Roman empire.[10] The ‘natives’ were given a subjectivity of ‘the other’, which is evident in the picturisation of the ‘demoniac’.

The land in which the ‘demoniac’ lives is the ‘other side’ of the Roman/ Jewish inhabitance.  That is why Jesus consciously uses this term repeatedly (4:35; 5:1, 21; 6:45,53; 8:10, 13). There is a sea in between. Sea, for Jews is a symbol of chaos. The land across this sea is pictured as a terrific land as we used to tell in the fairy tales. It is the abode of evils-the demons, tombs, chains, swine, stones and cries. It is a place of violence and terror. In our society we use this imageries to talk about Dalit/ Tribal colonies!  Discipleship is an invitation to go beyond our own social constructions of ‘otherness’. 

By exhorting the disciples to “go across to the other side”, Jesus asks them to deconstruct their subjectivity conceptions and move beyond to an existence of fraternity. Jesus shows his interest to talk to them by sitting ‘in the boat’. The ‘boat’ symbolizes the reconciliation between the ‘shores’. Jesus was taking the disciples to a new understanding/ other side of humanity, which has been unknown/ foreign to them.  It was a journey into the new imaginations of fraternity. Here ‘crossing’ means ‘bridging’ and that is why it was a stormy journey for them. It was a symbolic journey form ‘hostility’ to ‘hospitality’ rather than a marine transit. Jacques Derrida when speaks about hospitality, cautions us that it is not a kind of patronage but recognizing the right of the ‘other’/ ‘stranger’ not to be treated with hostility.[11]

3. Re-positioning subjectivity: Mission as dialogic engagement for ‘alterity’
There are traces of ‘otherness’ in the representation of the demoniac too. He lives in a ‘submissive’ social space of violence and impurity. He is an ‘abnormal being’, who cries incessantly and ‘tormenting himself’ (5-1-5). He represents all submissive subjects under the Roman imperialism. He embodies the hegemonic power of Roman colonization. By naming himself as ‘legion’ (a Latin word, which means “a battalion of soldiers”[12]), he expresses his ‘colonized’ subjectivity. All subjectivities are power constructions. Here Roman imperialism provided him a ‘subordinate’/ ‘colonized’ subjectivity. It is evident even in his body. Of course, body is the ultimate site of all power violations!

He may be creating an imaginatory inner world to resist the Roman hegemony. Robert young puts it as ‘the Empire within’.[13] It is the power structures that determine the ways of resistances too. Here the colonial invasion is pictured as the ‘possession’ of (foreign) unclean spirit. Frantz Fanon says: “The colonial subject is always over determined from without”.[14]  Jesus invites him to a renewed subjectivity through the symbolic act of exorcism. It is a conversation where the language takes the form of a dialogue through which the dialogical partners take the position of alterity rather than oppositional. Alterity is the theoretical poison of Immanuel Levinas, by which he proposes ethics, ‘substituting a respect for the other for the grasping of it, and a theory of desire not as a negation and assimilation but as infinite separation’.[15]  This dialogical engagement disallows the taking up of any position beyond the partners from which they can be integrated into a larger totality. Here the ‘demoniac’ re-imagine himself as a democratic social agent who is capable enough to determine his own social space. Our freedom is determined by the epistemological re-understanding of our own socio-political agency/ space when we reject the social positioning of colonialism.

4. Ritual re-memory as a postmodern missiological method
Here the drowning of the herd possessed by the unclean spirit reminds us the drowning event of the pharaoh’s chariots and his army in the exodus event (Ex.14). Israelites always kept the logic of exodus to reject the imperial logic in their whole life situations. The re-articulation of this memory was a political/ pedagogical agenda for their new generations (ex.15: 1-2). Thus exodus event has become ritual memory through which they kept their new generations in an anti-colonial logic.[16] The ritual re-memories are effective tools/ discourses to re-constitute subjectivities. Here Jesus enables him to uphold his collective subjectivity of people of God embodied in his tradition and to reject the imperial logic invaded him.

Ritual re-memories are not external empowerment. Rather these are the discourses through which the subjectivity is being constructed. Thus these discourses are helpful tools to re-formulate subjectivity collectively and internally. Here is the importance of the liturgy, the rituals and sacraments of the church, which the modernity considered as invalids. The modern secular rational being, who is devoid of any internal bonding and the empty passive consumer who is devoid of any social commitment in the market logic have become ‘‘an orphan” in the postmodern period. Thus the contemporary culture of Market demands these ritual re-memories of liberative experiences in order to re-constitute a dialogic/ collective/ communitarian social existence for all.

5. Engaging locally: The focus of postmodern missiology
The ‘demoniac’ represents the ‘colonial imaginations’ of the local people as they live under the roman imperial power. The healing of the ‘demoniac’ is perceived as a fearful incident, because all social relations of that place are determined within the ‘colonial imaginations’ (5: 15). The subjectivity of the discipleship creates disturbances in the undemocratic social spaces. The local people ‘begged’ Jesus to leave their district (vs.18). The exercise of power is so local and specific and thus the resistances also must be local and plural. There is the need of constructing new social practices and languages of fraternity locally.

Jesus asks the ‘demoniac’ to go back to his home with the renewed subjectivity. Family is one of the basic/ specific local space in which we establish local democratic social practices of fraternity. Biblically speaking, family/ local church is the local embodiment of the kingdom of God. The colonial imaginations are rejected locally in this new social/ theological/ missiological relationship of fraternity. The hope of the future is located in our local social engagements of transformation. Local is not to be treated as the other of Global. In the postmodern context the global is localized and the local is globalized.[17]   Thus the local is the embodiment of the global. Envisaging the local church as a democratic dialogic community, in which the worshipers are re-imagined as creative social agents and creating new social/ liturgical practices and languages of fraternity determine the content, challenge and hope of the postmodern mission today.  

Christian mission, biblically speaking entails movement-a movement of invitation to Christian discipleship. Discipleship is a discursive formation through which we transform our subjectivity in to divine subjectivity. Discipleship is a journey towards new understandings and new imaginations. It is there we find new relationships of fraternity and we reject the conceptions of ‘otherness’. By rejecting the notions of ‘otherness’, Jesus invites the ‘Gerasene demoniac’ to deconstructs his social location/ position. The dialogical engagement enables him to re-place himself as an active social agent. This is actually a hermeneutical engagement of Jesus in his mission of envisaging local kingdom communities as against the Roman imperialisms. Unlike the colonial modernity and the modern missionary movement, postmodernism defines mission as a symbolic journey to hospitality where the ‘other’ is treated as a ‘neighbor’ or ‘friend’.  Postmodern mission understanding provides impetus for new hermeneutical engagements with the ‘other’ texts/ territories/ people. Mission is nothing but a hermeneutical engagement for the transformation of all.

[1]Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movements in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1996), p.xviii.
[2]Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (London and New York: Routledge, 1990)  
[3]The term mission is derived from the Latin word “mittere”, designating “to send”. Even though it is not a biblical word, the concept mission inherits a cardinal space in the biblical theology.  
[4]Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1989)
[5]Postmodernism is an epistemic shift. It fills the epistemological gaps created by the project of modernity. The project of modernity is a product of European Enlightenment that laid the theoretical foundation of European colonialism.
[6]Deconstruction is a form of hermeneutics, which brings out the politics behind the construction of meaning. It was Jacques Derrida, a French Poststructuralist, who developed the theory of deconstruction in 1960’s. see John D. Caputo, ed., Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997).
[7]Robert Young, op.cit.
[8]According to Michel Foucault, subjectivity is a discursive formation.
[9]Immanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity. Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1985),  52. 
[10] Ched Meyers, Binding the Strong Man (New York: Orbis Books, 1998) p.190
[11]Jacques Derrida, Hospitality, in Derrida- Habermas Reader, edited by Lasse Thomassen (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 208- 230.
[12]Ibid. p. 191
[13] Robert Young, Op.cit.
[14] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White-Masks (London: Pluto, 1986)
[15]Immanuel Levinas, Op.cit.
[16]Walter Bruggeman, Texts that Linger: Words that Explore (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 36 
[17]Y.T. Vinaya Raj, “Re-locating Local Congregations in a Globalized Context”, in ncc review, Vol. CXXVIII, March 2008. 


Article published in "Heritage and Development in the Mission of the Church" (Thiruvalla: The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, 2011)
Border Lives and Border God:
Diaspora Reconfigures Heritage, Mission and Theology
Rev. Y. T. Vinayaraj[1]
It is my privilege and honor to write an article in the festschrift volume that celebrates the life and vision of Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan. It is Metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma who encouraged me to pursue my theological studies.  It reveals his hospitality towards the unattended and his respect towards the voices of differences that he believed to be helpful for the enrichment of the mission and theology of the church. I always admire his love and care towards me as a son of an evangelist, a youth from the mission field, and a minister of the Mar Thoma Church. The title Tradition and Modernity is appropriate for this festschrift, as it encapsulates the Metropolitan’s perceptions and perspectives on heritage which is transcending, transgressing, and open-ended. This article comes out of my recent experience with the Mar Thoma diaspora communities in the United States of America.

Where do you come from?” I asked to one veteran gentleman, during my visit to one of the Mar Thoma congregations in the United States of America. Instead of replying to my question, he began to sing an old Malayalam song; “oridathu jananam, oridathu maranam, chumalil jeevitha bharam…” (Birth and death happen in different places; the only thing that is left in the shoulder is the burden of life). “Achen (pastor),” he continued, “it is not fare to ask such a question to people like me who have been living here for the last four decades as citizens of this country. Better you ask the question “where are you between?”  Of course, migrancy is a border life experience that finds its location ‘in-between’. Diaspora as it is called today, in fact signals a new mode of being in the contemporary world. It is a new location that defines life, ethics, aesthetics and politics in the postmodern/ postcolonial/ post-industrial context. As far as the migrant Christian communities are concerned, diaspora constitutes the theological location through which they try to reconfigure their heritage, mission and theology in a ‘foreign’ land. It is not intended here to discuss the issues and problems of migration; rather to attend the complexity and heterogeneity of the category- “diaspora” and to offer a theological appraisal for that living condition.
Diaspora as a mode of being in the world
Due to the impact of globalization the cultural formations are inherently glocalized[2] today.  ‘Crossing the border’ has become a common phrase that signals the new aesthetics of human life. The words such as hybridity, liminality, interdisciplinarity, de-territorialization, trans-national, trans-gender so on and so forth have become very common and familiar in this context. Social theories of ‘post-isms’ such as postcolonialism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, post feminism, post ethnicity…inform us further that the cultural or ethnic identity is no longer exists as fixed or essentialist or localized; rather it must always be mixed, relative and inventive.[3]  It marks the specificity of the contemporary cultural/ political life that attends or depends on the issues of migration, multi-culturalism, transnationalism. Hybridity-the diasporic condition reveals a new mode of our being in the ‘globalized’ world. Diaspora is not just yet another social location; rather it is a significant location through which we look at problems and possibilities of a particular mode of existence in the world.[4]
Diaspora is the word used by the people living outside their country of origin to describe themselves. In the Greek root as it is used in the Bible, it refers to the scattered Christian communities. Robin Cohen defines diaspora as the communities of people living together in one country who acknowledge that ‘the old country’ –a notion often buried deep in language, religion, custom or folklore-always has some claim on their loyalty, emotions, identity and subjectivity.[5]  In this sense each member of that diasporic community is shared a common story (memory) of their past migration history and a sense of co-ethnicity with others of a similar background.  Sometimes it is a political strategy to forging solidarities against the continuing racial oppression in the new country.
As the Bible testifies, migration is not a new problem. It has always been in the cultural history of human beings. The Bible talks about many stories of migration, exile, exodus, and mass displacement. But the issue of migration in this globalized era is totally different from the biblical context, and hence the old solutions are not tenable. The new communicative systems and other technological advancements have already transgressed the issues of space and time. The distance between the old and new territories is being lessened and thus memory has been tainted by new simulacra.[6] Many of the migrants have found ‘home’ in the new land and for them ‘home country’ is not at all nostalgic because of the new possibilities of the new spaces.  However, the diaspora identities are not homogenous but varied and contested in accordance with generational/ gender differences. The younger generation may not be sharing the same passion to the ‘story of the past migration’ and ‘old country.’ Thus diaspora identities are contested identities which must be attended differently. Another category which is more useful here is the condition of diaspora-hybridity.
Hybridity- living ‘in-between’
The experiences of living in diasporas have animated much recent postcolonial literature and theory. The post colonialists use the word hybridity to describe the “betwixt-and-between” culture of the diasporized communities.[7] According to postcolonial theories, hybridity does not mean any kind of miscegenation or mixed breeding; rather it is an intermediary location where the self and the other re-locate themselves in proximity, alterity and difference.[8]  It is to reject the single or unified identity and to give preference for multiple cultural locations and identities. Homi Bhabha, one of the prominent proponents of this concept, calls hybridity as ‘the third space’ or possibility ‘in-between’ that we find the words with which we can speak of ourselves and others.”[9] By the ‘third space’, Bhabha means to ‘living on both sides of the symbolic fault line without allegiance to any.’ For him it is a possibility of both reconciliation and resistance by which the interlocutors deconstruct their subjectivities and differences in a dialogical proximity and hospitality. It does not speak about the bleedings of ‘encounter’ but honors the wisdom in its ‘mutuality.’ Thus the category-hybridity is being used here as a location or passage of fraternity, proximity, and hospitality.
Here, I would like to discuss some of the special features of the Diaspora through which it explain its complexity and heterogeneity.
“Not-at-Home-ness”: Home is in the making
Home gives us a sense of our place in the world. To be in ‘home’ is to occupy a location where we are welcomed, where we can be with people very much like ourselves. But what does it mean to the immigrants who live far from their ‘own’ lands of birth or origin? Diaspora theorists such as Avtar Brah and Robin Cohen propose that the idea of ‘home’ is a mythic one. In their perception, “it is a place of desire and longing that sits oddly with the present, chosen location of the immigrant. In this sense it is a place of no-return, even if it is possible to visit the geographical territory that is seen as the place of “origin.”[10]
This “un-home-like” existence is well explained by Sebastian Chrest-Jones, one of the main characters in Julia Kristeva’s novel Murder In Byzantium: “I neither fled nor chose. And yet in my home I am not at home. And when I travel abroad I recognize on the faces of strangers the familiar look of being nowhere. Is it really how they are or only my momentary impression as an uprooted passerby? I am of no place, as for time; perhaps I am of a time that shrinks into something outside time.”[11] The potentiality of this notion “not-at-home-ness” is that it speaks of open spaces and burst limits in contrary to our traditional notion of fixed space-home. It reconfigures our borders and envisages new spaces, new relationships, and new homes on the roads. In the above mentioned novel, towards the end of the narrative, Sebastian re-visits or re-locates his initial concept of home and concludes: “My home is on the road (In via in patria) and with strangers, who like me, belonging nowhere.”[12] Home is in the making as we encounter the strangers in our journeys. According to Derrida, it is the coming of the Other, the stranger, the messiah, the impossibility that determines our homeness.[13]
What is our heritage? Derrida speaks on heritage: “heritage, in order to save its life, demands reinterpretation, critique, displacement, that is an active intervention, so that a transformation worthy of the name might take place: so that something might happen, an event, some history, an unforeseeable future-to-come.”[14] The enclosure of heritage rejects its possibility of blossoming. Thus, keep it open so that the impossible would come in to it and make it a fragrance for others. The discourse on heritage thus transcends our ‘memory of the past’ and locates itself in a new spectrality of time and space-a transition from roots to routes.[15]  Diasporic Identities: “To be in-beyond”
Stuart Hall in his studies on diasporized people, proposes a ‘real heterogeneity of interests and identities’ and argues for ‘new ethnicities’ that deny ideas of ‘essential’ cultural/ethnic identity.[16] Identity or heritage or inheritance is not given but a discursive formation. It is well explained by Kwame Appiah while he talks about the black identity in a postcolonial context: “we are all already contaminated by each other.”[17] It reminds us that there is no ‘pure’/ ‘uncontaminated’ identity or culture which survived the inevitable interaction or mediation especially in a globalized context.[18] Hybridity or non-essentialist diasporic identity, as seen in the postcolonial theory, is the answer to the dangers of cultural binarism (us/ them) and the fundamentalist urge to seek ‘pure’ cultural forms.
While Bhabha defining the notion of hybridity- “the third space” or “the space in-between,” he tries to articulate a new notion of identity-“to be in-beyond,” “not based on fundamentalist exotism or any kind of eclectic identity of the multi-culturalism.” This non-fixity/ fluidity of identity is well explained by Judith Butler, a postmodern feminist theoretician. For Butler, identity is performatively constructed by the very “expressions” that we said to be its results.[19] The potentiality of this notion of identity is that, as Foucault reiterates, the possibility of being other than this. The postmodern psychoanalysts design the postmodern self as “one self but many stories.” For Kristeva, identity is a “signifying practice” in which the subject makes it intelligible through its words and acts.[20] According to these perceptions of identity, diaspora identities are “to be in-beyond” and capable enough to re-draw itself through the “signifying practices” of counter ritualistic re-memories, creative hermeneutical engagements, and interactions of hospitality and fraternity.
Liminality: Life at the cutting edge
Liminality is another word which the postmodernists use to denote the diasporic life condition. Liminality means “a threshold’, the life at the cutting edge or ‘in-between.’ It signals the temporality of space, time and self. It is an experience of ‘in-between’ pain and hope, being nomad and belonging. It is a location in-between ‘native’ and ‘foreign.’ It is the space in between self and other, subject and object, spirituality and materiality, and in short life and death. Thus liminality is sacred, alluring, dynamic and at the same time dangerous.
The liminality of time is the eschatological time when the impossibility comes into our being.  It is an open-ended space. It is a location where one can have alternative ways of saying, doing, being, engendering and inspiring. That is why Catherine Keller re-imagines apocalypse as the kaleidoscope that reconfigures our time, space and self.[21] Each moment is an eschatological moment in which we see the infinity at the face of the other.[22] Liminality, according to postmodern theology is not a state of confusion and pain but it is the ‘dis/closure’ of new passage and hope.  As Lux Xun, a Chinese philosopher of the 20th century Said: “Hope can be neither affirmed nor denied. Hope is like a path in the country side. Originally there was no path – yet, as people are walking all the time in the same spot, a way appears.”[23]      
Towards a Diaspora theology: Border lives and border God
The task before the Diaspora Theology is to attend the hybridity, liminality and the creativity of the diasporized identity. The Bible refers to the varied experiences of diaspora such as Jewish experiences of nomadism, mass displacement of the slaves, and scattered experiences of early Christian communities.  The biblical understanding of the exilic people and their concept of the journeying God become pertinent in the Theology of Diaspora. By drawing the Jewish figure of Shekhinah who embodies precisely the notion of moving divine presence, the Bible alludes to the concept of ‘divine not-at-homeness.’ The Shekhinah God is the one who accompanies the exiled and dispossessed of the land. Becoming a ‘tent-like divine mobile dwelling,’ Shekhinah becomes a ‘home away from home’ or ‘home in the making’ or ‘home on the road’ for the displaced people. Shekhinah invites us to explore notions of exile and home through a concept of God who is outside God-self, and so a sense of identity and home found in the not-at-homeness.
Shekhinah is the divine sanctuary for the exiled Israelites, in which they continue their anti-imperialistic practices to keep transformation of their covenantal subjectivities. Through counter liturgical and social institutional practices, they were able to uphold the counter imagination of their social existence while keeping it open ended for being hospitable to the strangers. While discussing about his migrant Latino spirituality and theology, Elaine Padilla explains this more clearly: “The hope in relation to Shekhinah emerges as a nuanced understanding of the biblical promise for a home with a vision for a worldly hospitality of inclusion that is tightly knit to a nomadic sense of self.”[24]
The coming of Jesus is witnessed by the evangelist John translates that ‘he tabernacled with us’ (John 1: 14). The ‘tent-like dwelling’ signals a ‘liminal God’--a ‘border God’ who becomes a passage of hope to those who live in the margins or borders. Vitor Westhelle designs the cross of Jesus as the unveiling of a border God/ broken God who is in-between time and space, life and death, and pain and hope.[25] Vitor contents, “it is the moment of divine braking, the cross of Jesus stand at the hinge of transition.”[26] The book of Revelation is actually a perception of the displaced or the marginalized on the possibility of life at the cutting edge of imperialism, domination and death.  It informs us that eschaton is the liminal space in which it dis/closes an opening- a threshold to new self, new other, new earth and new heaven.
Diaspora theology no longer asks “where do you come from?” but asks “where you between?” It attends the diasporic ‘in-between’ life. It is a border life at the same time a bridge in-between. Diasporic identity is “to be in-beyond”; not left behind but in the midst of it. Diaspora Theology envisages a ‘border God’ who is present in the liminality/ marginality of human life. It is the place of eschaton in which we find the infinity at the face of the other. Thus, for diaspora theology, mission and being become inseparable. It is the threshold to which our theology, missiology, ecclesiology are being interrogated, reconfigured and transformed.  
Mar Thoma church that inherits a rich legacy of hybridity of East and West, Orthodox and Anglican, mission field and diaspora, Tradition and Modernity embodies a possibility of TRANS-localization and TRANS-formation. It is well evident in its recent routes to the rest of the world through its missiological engagements and the migration of its members. Diasporas, hence, signal new faces of the Mar Thoma Church through which it re-articulates and witnesses its heritage, mission, and theology to the world Christian community in the postmodern context. But the question still remains: “Diaspora where are you between?”

[1]Rev. Y. T. Vinayaraj is an ordained minister of the Mar Thoma Church, India. Currently he is a doctoral student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the field of Systematic Theology and Cultural Studies.
[2] Robertson suggests that the term ‘glocalization’ more adequately describes the relationship between the local and the global as one of interaction and interpenetration rather than of binary opposites. See Robertson, Roland (1995), ‘Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity’ in Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash and Roland Robertson (eds.), Global Modernities, London: Sage.
[3] Clifford(1988:10) cited by Marwan M. Kraidy, “The Global, the Local, and the Hybrid: A Native Ethnography of Glocalization” in Ethnographic Research, A Reader, ed., Stephanie Taylor (London: SAGE Publications, 2002), 182-209
[4]Russell King, John Connell and Paul white (eds.), Writing Across Worlds: Literature and Migration (Routledge: 1995), xv
[5]Robin Cohen, Global diasporas: An Introduction (UCL Press, 1997), ix
[6]Simulacra is the term coined by Jean Baudrillard, by which he explained that our contemporary world is constituted by the media with its ‘floating signifiers’. Thus the contemporary world that is presented to us is an unreally real world. See Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 170
[7]Hybridity gained its traction from Homi Bhabha, who used it to refer to the conflicted ways in which Indians under British colonial rule internalized British and Indian identities. For more details see, Homi. K. Bhabha, “The Third Space,” in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed., Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990). But this category is being used here just to draw out the cultural interaction between the guest and host communities rather than the power equations embedded in it.
[8]This word is misleading if it has racial or biological connotations, or if it suggests that, culturally speaking, a person is combining two pure traditions into one impure tradition. All cultural traditions are attempts to creatively syncratize diverse, pre-existing ideas and practices from within or beyond their geographical levels in to complex wholes. For an interesting experience sharing of this hybrid identity read, Jay McDaniel, “I Listen, Therefore I Am: An Asian American Approach to Post-Materialist Living”, Dialog, Vol. 49:9, Dec 2010, P.323-331.
[9] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994)
[10]Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (Routledge, 1997), 192
[11] Julia Kristeva, Murder In Byzantium (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 52
[12] Julia Kristeva, Murder In Byzantium, 217.
[13] Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000)
[14] Jacques Derrida., For What Tomorrow…Translated  by Jeff Fort (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2004), 4
[15] I borrowed this idea from Paul Gilroy. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic (Verso, 1993).    
[16] Stuart Hall., Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed., David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 441-9
[17] Cited by Marwan M. Kraidy, “The Global, The Local, and the Hybrid” Op.cit.
[18]While attending the issue of the non-fixity of subjectivity, Deleuze and Guattari talks about Nomads. For them, a nomad is someone who lives in an open space without restriction. Deleuze and Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine, 1986. Erni calls them as the impossible subjects (Erni, 19890. For Allor, nomads have no physical space, only discursive positions and hence they are cultural chameleons(Allor, 1988).Abu Lughod uses the word ‘halfies’ to refer to people whose national or cultural identity is mixed by virtue of migration, overseas education, or parentage(Abu Lughod, 1991: 137). See, John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2000)
[19] Cited from A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, eds., Raman Selden (London: Pearson,  2005), 211
[20] Cited from A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, eds., Raman Selden (London: Pearson,  2005), 211
[21] Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then, A Feminist Guide to the End of the World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996)
[22] This idea is well explained by Emmanuel Levinas. See Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. By Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesene University Press, 1969)
[23]Cited from Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then, A Feminist Guide to the End of the World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), xii
[24]Elaine Padilla, “Border-crossing and Exile, A Latina’s Theological Encounter with Shekhinah”, The Ecumenical Review of the World Council of Churches, (Geneva: Dec 2009), 381-386
[25]Vitor Westhelle, The Scandalous God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 157
[26] Vitor Westhelle, The Scandalous God, 157