Thursday, March 27, 2014

Liturgy, Politics and Theology

Liturgy, Politics, and Theology

Liturgy is considered to be foundational for Christian theology. As James K. A. Smith contends in his new book Imagining the Kingdom (2013), liturgies transform us through counter practices in contradiction with the current individualistic, consumeristic, and materialistic discourses and practices that de-form us. However, the contemporary political thinkers are very much skeptic about the treatment of bodies in this Christian liturgical anthropology that render bodies as either inherently sinful or mute which can be ‘trans’-formed from outside.  Political thinkers like Achille Mbembe argue for the transcendentability within the materiality of human bodies.  Do we need a new Christian liturgical anthropology that attends the politicality and the poeticality of human bodies and social bodies and re-invents a postcolonial theology of de-transcendentalized God?  At the same time we have to answer the question, what does political theory have to do with liturgy and theology?

It was Giorgio Agamben the well-known Italian political thinker who exposed the ‘mysterious’ (in Latin sacramentum) relationship between liturgy, politics, and theology through his well-read books The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (2007) and Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty (2013) and argues that Christian theology legitimizes the notion of sovereign power and its governmentality through its liturgical practices and ceremonialities.  According to Agamben, in liturgy, the ontology and the praxis of God, the mysterious relationship between God and the world, Christ the high priest and priest the (ad)minister, and the celebrant and the recipient are endlessly distinguished and superimposed.

This paper intends to offer a critical engagement with the Agamben’s liturgical/ (post-biopolitical) political thought in order to construct a radical political theology which affirms the political becoming of human bodies and the theological destabilization of a 'transcendent Other' God.   
Y. T. Vinayaraj

Currents in Theology and Mission, forthcoming issue

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why not Arundhati Roy?

Why not Arundhati Roy?

Life is always hermeneutical. Reading and re-reading make our life-world more relevant and meaningful. The complexity and the density of the issues of life make our reading or re-reading critical and crucial.  Hermeneutics becomes political when it purposefully tries to dismantle the hegemonic power structure that is embodied in it. Texts are not just words re-produced; rather they are engaged with, contradicted with and re-constituted with the questions that are addressed to the politicality and the poeticality of life. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste is a product of such critical engagement. Ambedkar knew that every act of annihilation of caste is a critical engagement with the casteist notions, knowledges, and practices. Ambedkar was not hesitant even to engage with the proponents of caste in order to deconstruct caste epistemologically, theologically, and politically. Annihilation of Caste bears such desires for critical dialogical engagement. For Ambedkar, writing this book was nothing but an act of political hermeneutics.  

However, I don’t understand when Arundhati Roy tires to initiate a similar act of political hermeneutics with the Ambedkar’s text in the contemporary political context, why it becomes so “dangerous” and “nasty”.  As a reader and as a well-acclaimed writer, it is her right to read and to write about a book which has had a significant role in constituting or reconstituting the Indian polity. What is problematic when she writes a note on it?  Arundhati is not just a writer; rather she is the one who actively participates in many of the contemporary human right political engagements and social justice movements.  She has already demonstrated her ideological commitment to the cause of justice and equality. She does not claim that she tries to introduce or patronize Ambedkar. She admires Ambedkar and acknowledges his efforts to the process of de-casteizing Indian society. It is the commitment to the politics of justice that brings Ambedkar and Arundhati in a same stream of social democracy  which is not at all founded on any notion of hierarchy, patriarchy, and sovereignty.  

Ambedkar was very clear about the nuances of the epistemology of caste which legitimates the marginalization of certain sections of peoples rendering them as less-human. For him, it was a product of the Brahmanic-Hindu hegemonic ideology and theology and it is to be encountered by the modern secular ideals of social democracy and social morality. He proposed a political philosophy that is methodologically founded on the Deweyan pragmatism, Marxian analysis, and the Buddhist philosophy. Ambedkar critically engages with all these ideologies and envisages a novel political philosophy to annihilate (not just liberation) or to deconstruct the casteist human bodies and social bodies. Body whether it is human body or social body, is to be decastiezed by denying each and every discourses of caste which is biopolitical (Michel Foucault) and necropolitical (Achille Mbembe). Ambedkar was very convinced about the intricacy of the caste which necessitates a deconstructive engagement (Derrida) of all in order to annihilate it discursively. For him, it was a site of the political engagement in which all are welcomed to deconstruct their fixed notions of social locations-the notions of self and the other--victim and subject. It is an epistemological space to which all are invited to go beyond the fixities of identity and ethnicity and envisage social agency and space.  Whether it is caste or patriarchy, it is an epistemological space that necessitates critical political engagement of all in order to annihilate it permanently from our social knowledges and practices. It is in this rhetorical space in which we all are challenged to “quite” the notions of otherness and envisaged the political warmth of the “deconstructive embrace” (Spivak).    

As a Dalit theologian I would love to end this note by alluding to Sathianathan Clarke, the prominent Dalit theologian who defines the ‘plasticity’ of the term Subaltern (Clarke, 2008:277). Denying the essentialist and the identitarian social location of the subaltern in the struggle for social justice and equality, Clarke signifies the role of all who epistemologically and politically participate in God’s liberative act in this world. According to Clarke, the preferential option for the subaltern is not based on any identitarian advantage; rather it is because of their unrelenting critique towards all hegemonic power structures like caste, patriarchy, and hierarchy and the uncompromising commitment to the political process of democratizing the democracy. I think, it is in this participation of counter political practice and epistemology that bring the writing of Ambedkar on Annihilation of caste and the reading of Arundhati on Ambedkar’s text (the Doctor and the Saint) together without denying their ‘irreducible singularities’.    

Y. T. Vinayaraj 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ecumenism and Marginality

Ecumenism and Marginality:

Re-imagining Ecumenical Engagement with the Margins

Y. T. Vinayaraj

Ecumenism as it is defined by the Ecumenical Movement stands for the communion of churches and the integrity of whole creation.  Since its formation in Europe in the beginning of the twentieth century as a missionary conference (Edinburgh, 1910), the Ecumenical Movement has been relentlessly working for the accomplishment of the greater unity of the people of God. Whether it is in the account of the ‘costly obedience’ (Ronde, 1993) to envisage ‘a responsible society,’ (New Delhi, 1961) or the ‘costly commitment’ (Ronde, 1993) to the ‘covenanting communion’ (Tantur, 1996) the Ecumenical Movement has always been trying to be united in its mission despite the doctrinal disagreements. As the site of the missiological engagement, the marginalized has always been a focus of the “Life and Witness” of the Ecumenical Movement. In spite of the doctoral differences in the “Faith and Order,” the Ecumenical Movement has been able to find a converging point in its missiological responsibility to the marginalized. However, the complexity and the contingency of the term marginality today evoke new perceptions of social responsibility, ethics and theology. The new contestations on marginality throw new questions on the logic of ‘Oneness’ and thus the Ecumenical Movement has to encounter certain interrogations on its theological definition of ecumenism and the positioning of marginality at its ‘soteriological end.’ This article argues that marginality as the site of ‘irreducible singularity’ makes the logic of ‘Oneness’ impossible and thus the theology of ecumenism is on its way to end; unless its theology of God, mission and politics are re-conceived in terms of the logic of ‘manyness.’ This crisis cannot be addressed by cosmetic doctrinal revisions or administrative restructuring; rather it demands a radical deconstruction of the theology of ecumenism itself. The argument is placed here by treating the notions of ecumenism and marginality in their philosophical/ epistemological/ theological trajectories as it was historically appropriated and disseminated in the “Faith and Order” as well as in the “Life and Witness” of the Ecumenical Movement.

 -Recently published in PROPHETIC ECUMENISM: THE JOURNEY AHEAD, edited by Rev. Dr. Christopher Rajkumar (Thiruvalla: NCCI & CSS, 2014), p. 109-120.   

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ambedkar, Politics, and Theology
Yahu Vinayaraj

Political thought, whether it is of the ‘West’ or the ‘Rest’ bears the signature of a theology. It was Giorgio Agamben who exposed the Christian theological inheritance of the Western political thought. Agamben theorizes the social location of the bare lifepeople live outside of the territory of laws of immigration, nationality and citizenship which reconfigure the notions of state, law and justice.  Agamben’s political theory of ‘the state of exception’ signifies a radical turn in the Continental political thought as it is being appropriated or even critically engaged by the postcolonial political philosophers.  Taking the cue from those critical engagements with the Continental philosophical thought, this study tries to analyze B. R. Ambedkar’s political thought in the contemporary postmodern/ postcolonial context and explores its theological implications for envisaging a subaltern political theology in Indian context.
 As in the case of Agamben, the political thought of Ambedkar which is termed as the subaltern political thought exposes the hegemonic epistemological foundation of Indian socio-political order which excludes certain sections of people in the account of the social practice—caste that is legitimized by certain elitist epistemologies and theologies.  As an interlocutor of colonial modernity, Ambedkar’s political intention is to explore the possibility of democratizing of the democracy on the basis of a social ethics which is rooted in Indian materialist philosophical discourses.  Here Ambedkar’s political thought remains unique due to its non-Western philosophical foundation while exploring the multiplex habitations within the colonial modernity.  This study tries to re-read or re-locate Ambedkar in the philosophical discourses of the Indian political thought while allowing him to interact with the other post-Continental political thinkers as well. It is argued here that Ambedkar’s political thought signifies a radical turn not only in the Indian political thought but also in the Continental political philosophical tradition. Theological engagement with Ambedkar’s political thought doesn't mean just attaching certain Christian categories like God, Christ, kingdom of God or liberation to his political thought and argue that he is eligible to be called as a liberation theologian; rather it is to explore deep into his epistemological discontents with Christian theology and Christianity on his way to envisage radical social democracy in India.   

Forthcoming article in Theology for Today, March Issue, ECC, Bangalore, 2014.