Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reclaiming the poeticality of theology                                                                                    Denying the idolatry of methodology[1]

The language of theology cannot be, and should not attempt to be,                                                  clear and precise, since such technical language                                                                             always misses a part of that which it attempts to disclose.                                                            Raimon Panikkar
Raimon Panikkar alludes to a poetic language of theology. For Panikkar, theology is not a systematic, scientific, methodological treatise; rather it is aesthetical, liturgical and imaginative.[2] However, the theologians like Karl Barth who define theology as dogmatics and a ‘guild discipline’ provide theology a systematic methodological framework. As Panikkar denotes, theology as a scientific, methodological and technical language loses its spontaneity and poeticality. The over emphasize on methodology in recent times, delimits theological engagement to a scientific program and thereby theology becomes a ‘closed discipline’ of the ‘ghettoized communities’—the seminaries and divinity schools.  Theology has to be liberated from the idolatry of methodology and the fixity of its dogmatics. Its esthetical, liturgical and imaginative style of language is to be retained and reclaimed in order to make it more public and social. This essay offers a discussion on the poetic language of theology as it tries to re-locate itself in the post-foundational epistemological context.

It was the Enlightenment epistemology in the modern period that demanded Christian theology to have a systematic foundation of knowledge and methodology of articulation. The problem with this methodological sensitivity is that theology becomes yet another scientific discipline and thereby it loses its creative and imaginative content. Another important criticism aroused against the methodological ‘disciplinization’ of theology was that the modern Christian theology had never been the language of the non-European life-worlds. Thus, Christian theology or theologies in the post-Enlightenment / post-Western context has to be post-foundationalist and post-colonial in content. It needs to de-dogmatize itself and re-place itself with the aesthetical articulations of the suffering people in the postcolonial world. In order to re-define theology as a creative, critical and imaginative poetical engagement in the post-foundationalist/ postcolonial context, this essay initiates some discussions on the contemporary methodological contentions and theological significations.

1.  Theology as Theopoiesis
To locate theology in a post-foundational epistemological context, the antidogmatic contemporary theologians who follow the panentheistic tradition such as Roland Faber, Catherine Keller, Luke B. Higgins, Sharon D. Welch and so on define theology as theopoiesis. The Greek word poiesis which originally means ‘to create’ or ‘to make’ signifies ‘an action that transforms and continues the world’. The theologians who follow the theopoetic tradition locate theology in two foci: poetry and multiplicity. Here, theology becomes independent and polyphonic. It is well explained in the following sentence:
The rediscovery of Continental roots of the philosophical criticism of theological language and its new embrace, respectively became another source of the claim of theology to be essentially not a dogmatic system of certain knowledge of God or ultimate reality and the human response to it, but either a response of infinite variability in face of the divine mystery or, in a different adaptation of postmodern stances, a bulwark against a nihilism with the rediscovery of old knowledges of the divine enshrined in the divers traditions of religious communities and their written witnesses.[3]
Theology in this theopoetic sense becomes more creative (spontaneous, organic and aesthetical), critical (encounter, interrogation and prophetic), and imaginative (alluric, enigmatic and apocalyptic). Theopoiesis is a process of being and becoming to be a part of the social ontology of salvation. Thus doing theology in this theopoetic tradition is ontological in content as it invokes us to be part of the common ontology of redemption which is inherent within. The salvific experience is defined here as common, multiple and potential within.   

In theopoiesis, God is named as poet by which it is refrained from defining God as a person, a force, a substance, a cosmic law or not even as a fixed concept. On the other hand, God is considered as a creative process of becoming of the creation from within. God is understood here as the ultimate novelty of creation or as the organic potentiality of creativity.  According to this tradition, theologians are participants of the creative process of becoming and belonging. For them, theological is always epistemological and ontological. Thus, Sharon D. Welch exhorts theologians: “Let us be artisans, artisans of hope, artisans of wonder, working with human longing for generosity, courage, forgiveness, and resilience. As artisans, let us craft together flourishing communities of honesty, inclusion, justice, self-critique and hope.” 

2. Theology as Theopolitic
     Mark Lewis Taylor, in his well-read book The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World’ distinguishes between ‘Theology’ and ‘theological.’  For Taylor, ‘Theology’ is a ‘guild discipline,’ ‘a credentialed profession in the ‘Christian West’ that typically reflects on doctrines of a religious tradition and fosters an ethos of transcendence.’[4]   Taylor defines ‘Theology’ as a strict discipline in terms of its dogmatic rigidity and doctrinal fixity.   The ‘theological,’ on the other hand, is a “spectral haunting Theology, which is already unsettling it, perhaps dissolving it, disseminating it anew among other languages and other disciplinary discourses—on the way to revealing something much more significant than Theology’s doctrinally structured ethos of transcendence.”[5]

    Taylor proposes ‘theological,’ in contrast to ‘Theology,’ as a dimension of agonistic political thought and practice.    Unlike the dominant ethos of Theology, which is transcendental and dogmatic, Taylor’s theological finds its fullest expression in the ‘prodigious force of artful signs deployed in spectral practice, and it is born of the struggle of those bearing, resisting, and finding life under “the weight of the world,” particularly that weight as shifted, or concentrated, in structures of imposed social suffering.’[6]   Taylor argues that the projection of a transcendent outside as a sustaining precondition, ‘Theology’ always shows its “imperio-colonial sense.”[7]  He locates his political theorization of the theological in the political philosophies of immanent transcendence such as that of Spivak, Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere and Nancy. 

    Catherine Keller, the prominent postcolonial theologian, in a similar way of thought, defines contemporary theological engagement as theopolic since it is aesthetical and eschatological rather than doctrinal and dogmatic. According to Keller, theology in the contemporary context would uphold a “rhizomatic radicality” which is founded on a “polydoxic” philosophical/ theoretical inheritance. Keller contends that “such rhizomatic radicality is not about uprooting our traditions but about exposing them to our confounding togetherness—as species, peoples, genders, sexualities, races, religions, even—Lord help us—our Christianities.”[8]   The Christianity, not only theology, is invited here to validate the multiplicity of its being, becoming, and belonging in this planet earth.   For John D. Caputo, theological is an act of theopolitic as it re-examines our theological presuppositions.[9]   For Caputo, theopolitic is nothing but thinking theology differently, which means to think about God otherwise, to reimagine God as a de-ontological de-Other.   In short, the theopolitical tradition de-dogmatize and de-doctrinize theology and evokes us to look at the artistic imaginations of the tortured people as they envision theology on the weight of the world.

3. Contemporary Methodological Significations 
   The contemporary epistemological context demands certain methodological focuses that are so significant not only for theological researches but also for all the social researches.                              
3.1 Postcoloniality

Testimony 1
The African human expereince constantly appears in the discourse of our times as an experience that can only be understood through a ‘negative interpretation.’  Africa is never seen as possesing things and attributes properly part of “human nature.” Or, when it is, its things and attributes are generally of lesser value, little importance, and poor qulity. It is this elementariness and primitiveness that makes Africa the world par excellence of all that is incomplete, mutilated, and unfinished, its history reduced to a series of setbacks of nature in its quest for humankind.[10]                           

In his ground breaking work On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe, the African theoretician, problematizes the power involved in the construction of the African subjectivity. He argues that the colonial interpretation of Africa has always been negative. He writes: “Africa is never seen as possessing things and attributes properly part of human nature.”[11] Mbembe brings out the crucial inadequacy of the Western methodological imaginary to accept the idea of a common human nature, a humanity shared with others. In this crucial epistemological juncture, Mbembe demands a methodological shift in social researches—the postcolonial turn—in order to de-other the other and to de-self the self.  Mbembe contends that the flesh and blood of the ‘African other’ is not just a ‘thing’ as it was conceived by the Western colonial thinking; rather it is ‘something’ that interrogates both the Western colonial imagination and its politics of death (necropolitics).  Here, Mbembe interrogates the settled conviction about the epistemological normativity of the researcher. Researcher has to de-self him/her self and de-other the other. This process of ‘de-essentialization’ (Roland Faber) is termed by Mbembe as postcoloniality. Postcoloniality, for Mbembe, is not just a counter space of cultural re-imagination of de-othering of the colonized other; rather it is something political on the flesh and blood of the tortured other that envision a common human ontology. Here, the research methodology meets epistemology and ontology and research becomes a process of becoming and belonging in the planet earth.   

3.2 Planetarity

Testimony 2
Kallel Pokudan, a dalit activist, explains how he has become an eco-political activist. Kallel Pokkudan says it was his search for a de-casteist identity that led to him to a planetary agency. He had three specific options before him to reject his caste identity: one is to embrace communism and to become a Pulaya-communist. Later he came to the understanding that communist party can never understand the life of a dalit.  Second option was to embrace Christianity and to become a Pulaya-Christian. Accepting the fact that a Pulayan can never be an integral part of the church in Kerala, he rejected that possibility. The third option was to become an activist for his Pulaya-community. But he realized that at that time Pulaya community was not capable enough to accommodate a self reflexive-communist activist. He writes: “For a long time I didn’t do anything. Then I slowly started to preserve the kandal [mangrove plants] nearby my house. It is how I become kandal Pokkudan.”[12]
(Kandal pokkudan is not just a name; rather it is his life, politics, and becoming/ belonging himself—of course a political ontology of planetarity).

Planetarity is a methodological contention offered by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. With planetarity, Spivak envisions a de-othered space that invokes us to see ourselves through the eyes of the others. It is an invitation to live in an enigmatic relationship with the other, God and the earth.   It is not one of romantic imagination but one that reflects the ethical practice of human beings as planetary subjects.   Planetarity informs us about the interconnectivity between humanity and non-humanity. It is to re-imagine our identity and agency as a multiple site of the process of our becoming and belonging. While constructing a materialist political ontology, Jane Bennett contends that “human agency is always an assemblage of microbes, animals, plants, metals, chemicals, word-sounds, and the like—indeed, that is an agentic assemblage.” Planetary reminds us our intersubjectivity, biohistorical agency, and political ontology of becoming. Planetarity takes us beyond the binary thinking and the idolatry of identity.  Theological research is not just a scientific program to prove something for the academia; rather to become something. It is to affirm our common belonging in this planet earth and to reassure our biohistorical agency.   Becoming planetary agents is to deny the binary thinking and fixity of identity. Here, identity becomes fluid, relational and eschatological which can never be the same—the original.

3.3 Polydoxy

Testimony 3
Christian tradition does not refer to a singular lineage, nor do Christians speak with one voice even when they attend to the same line of scripture. In this sense, the Christian tradition is always polydox; it is irreducible to any one voice or lineage that may claim exhaustively to represent Christian faith, thought, and practice. This characteristic complexity is wrought of interweaving cultures and stories, of shifting agonisms and political pressures, of myriad communal practices, artistic media, and philosophical schools. Thus multiplicity becomes a source of richness and revelatory possibility for supple theologies that remain open to the ongoing participation of divinity in the world.[13]                                                                                                                            
Polydoxy is a methodological position offered by Catherine Keller and Laurel C. Schneider to address the reductive or overarching tendencies of Christian Theology and to suggest the multiple forms of right belief (orthodoxy) in the contemporary multi-religious context. It is intended to locate Christian Theology in the post-Christendom era in its inherent multiplicity and relationality over against its epistemological enclosure.  According to Keller and Schneider, Christian theology has to retain its polydoxical inheritances in order to re-imagine it in the post-Western era. Methodologically speaking, polydoxy offers a radical methodology of doing theology of religion in the contemporary post-religion/ post-secular context. It helps Christian Theology to go beyond the imagined dichotomies of theism and atheism; monotheism and polytheism; sacred and secular; spirituality and materiality, and religion and politics. Polydoxy demands Christian Theology to nullify its ‘transcendental ethos’—the legitimizing point outside that renders Christianity as the epitome of religion and to re-locate itself in a theological framework of the crucified God/ religiosity.   

Christian Theology has to be liberated from the idolatry of methodology. Doing theology is to participate in the process of transforming the world. It is to participate in the act of theopoiesis which is organic, spontaneous and creative within. Methodology of theology, thus, is epistemological and ontological in the process of becoming an act of love and life in this planet earth. Here, the act of doing theology becomes embodied, enmattered and immanent.  The contemporary theological methodology envisages a polydoxical ground through which it overcomes the binaries of secular/ sacred, religion/ politics, theism/ atheism, spirit and matter, God and the world. The methodological contentions offered by the postcolonial life-worlds invoke Christian Theology to be a planetary theology as it overcomes the binary thinking and the idolatry of identity. Planetarity helps Christian theology to de-other the other and to deconstruct the textuality of the con-text. The contemporary methodological contentions demand Indian Christian Theology to take a new turn, a radical turn, of course, a postcolonial turn where nothing is absolute, fixed, and the original; but everything is fluid, relational, polydoxical and eschatological.

Article published in SATHRI JOURNAL Vol.XI No.1 April 2017

[1] Lecture given at the methodological seminar organized by South Asia Theological Research Institute (SATHRI) at United Theological College, Bangalore on 3rd June 2016.
[2] Raimon Panikkar, The Rhythm of Being: The Gifford Lectures (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbs Books, 2009), 200.
[3] Roland Faber and Jeremy Fackenthal, “The Manifold of Theopoetics” Introduction, Theopoetic Folds: Philosophizing Multifariousness (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 3.
[4] Mark Lewis Taylor, The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), xi.
[5] Ibid.
[6]Ibid., xii.
[7]Ibid., 49.
[8] John D. Caputo and Catherine Keller, Crosscurrents, Winter 2007, 105-11 at 108.
[9]Ibid., 106.
[10] Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2001), 1.
[11] Ibid, 2.
[12] Pokkudan, Kandalkadukalkidayil Ente Jeevitham (My Life among Kandal plants)(Kottayam: DC Books, 2002),65.
[13] Catherine Keller and Laurel C. Schneider, Introduction in Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation, Catherine Keller and Laurel C. Schneider, eds. (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), 2.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Making the Multitude for Binding the Empire                                                          Mark: 3: 27
(Sermon preached at the Dharma Jyoti Chapel on 24th January, 2017)

When democracy becomes aristocracy and the trumpet for the reign of the Empire, what do the common people sing? When the judiciary and the legislature become the proponents of the Imperial nationalism that distinguishes patriots and terrorists, where do the citizens go for their rights and self-respect? When the media sings the music of neo-capitalism and its liturgy of market, whom do the Aam Admi trust to safe guard their commonwealth like natural resources, art, sport, and culture? According to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, in the emerging situation of the global Empire, the common man has only one way out, that is, to make themselves multitude.

Multitude is a not just a crowd. It is the political subject with radical social consciousness that has the power to shape its destiny and change the world. Multitude is not a cadre political organization. It is not based on a specific political ideology. Multitude is a multiplicity which happens spontaneously in the fields, streets, campuses, and sea shores. It appears and disappears. It is a process of resistance and celebration. It dismantles the distinction between public and private; ideology and art; politics and aesthetics. The postcolonial theologians like Jeorg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan affirm that “the multitude in many parts of the world has risen up again and again to call attention to exploitation by transnational corporations, unequal trade agreements, unfair labor conditions, destruction of the livelihood of small farmers and poor people, governments that work for the highest bidder, a lack of democratic decision-making, and suppression of political dissent.”[i] Multitude appeared as the Muthanga Land struggle of Adivasis and Dalits in Kerala few years before, the Wall-Street Occupy movement in US, Pembila Orumai (unity of women) women struggle in the Munnar tea plantations in Kerala, Una struggle of Dalits and subalterns in Gujarat last year, University students’ protests in various university campuses against the state sponsored terrorism in India and at last in the form of the Jelikattu stir in Tamil Nadu. The people’s organization against the ban on Jelikattu became the common platform for the students, women, farmers, the fisher people and the others who raise various concerns of economy, culture, and politics; but the rallying point is the demand to respect the Tamil sub-nationality which has denied in the emerging context of uniform civil code and cultural code by Sangha Parivar forces. Multitude as we see in the Marina Jelikattu stir is a radical political resistance of the ‘governed’—the citizens of this country as it encounters the Empire in all its walks of life.

Biblically speaking, the multitude is the movement from demos to laos or ochlos. Demos refers the assembly of the privileged citizens in Greco-Roman world, out of which the word democracy comes. In the imperial period, democracy was aristocracy—the assembly of the privileged. The laos or ochlos means the common people, the scattered, the under privileged within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Becoming multitude is to become a radical political subject that denies the biopolitics of the logic of Roman imperialism. The gospel according to Mark particularly shows a rhetorical solidarity to the multitude who try to redefine themselves in the Roman imperial context. Markan Jesus is an ardent ideologue of the multitude. In Mk 6: 34 we read: And Jesus came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and began to teach them many things.     Jesus sat with the multitude, for the most part outside the established institutions, in fields, on mountains and by the sea shores. Multitude is not just a crowd; rather a political process of resistances. As the Wall Street protesters said: “it is not a protest. This is a process.” Multitude is the process of exorcising the Empire from human bodies, political bodies and social imaginations and envisages a new democratic habitation—the messianic kingdom.

1.  Discipleship as Making the Multitude
In Mark 3:1-35, Jesus is portrayed as the messiah of the multitude. The messianic consciousness of Jesus is emerged in the collective imagination of the multitude. It is expressed as the healing of the diseased, the exorcism of the affected and resurrection of the dead. It is re-imagined as the coming of the kingdom over against the imperial establishment of death. The appointment of the disciples legitimizes Jesus’ goal of being with him in the process of exorcising the Empire from the all the fields of human life. The success of the Empire is set in the process of enslaving human bodies and social imaginations. In the contemporary context, this is done by the judiciary, legislature, the executive and the media—the four pillars of our democracy and the global market—the fifth pillar in the present neo-liberal context. The social life of the common man becomes abandoned and rejected and their anxieties are rallying against the Empire in various layers of civil life.

For Jesus, invitation to discipleship is nothing but the invitation to enter into the process of resisting the Empire and celebrating life of freedom and justice. It is to live in a counter imagination of civility. Discipleship is a process of becoming multitude by fostering the anti-imperialist imaginations in minds and bodies. Discipleship, for Jesus, is to become a wider political subjectivity. This has been clearly explained by Jesus when he responded to the question ‘who is my mother and brothers.’ For Jesus, it is those who ‘do the will of God’ will be called his mother and brothers (31-35). Church as the crucified body of Jesus Christ who in-operated the biopolitics of the Roman imperialism on the cross and thereby envisaged a ‘radical assembly of multitude to come’—the coming community demands an introspection from the part of the church today to be/become an anti-imperial community of the messiah.

2.  Discipleship as Binding the Empire
In Vs 22-35, Jesus is alleged by the High priests and Pharisees that he is possessed with Beelzebub—the ruler of the demons. Jesus told them that an Empire cannot be destabilized by another Empire. Because, Empire itself is a de-stabilized system. It is a system of lawlessness within. It is a violent system of torture and torment. It is an unethical system that violates the rights of the weak. When democracy becomes the liturgy of the Empire, how can it be an establishment of hope. Here Jesus tells us that we need to bind the strongman. Only through binding the Empire, there will be new ways of reformulating the polity (Oikos-God’s house). De-imperializing social body is the task of the multitude that envisages a radical democracy of multiplicity and alterity. The discipleship that makes itself multitude envisages a paradigm shift from democracy to multitude which cannot be enslaved by the biopolitics of the Empire. Discipleship is envisaged here as the process of binding the strong man—the Empire.   

The allegiance to the neo-capitalist economy, the war mongering military agendas, the anti-Dalit/ women/minority/student fascist propaganda and the Hindu-colonial reiteration of nationalist sentiments over against the people of this country adorn Narendra Damodar Dass Modi as the contemporary face of Empire in India today. The common people, the multitude are forced to rush to the streets to safe guard their rights and civil liberties. Universities, streets, the sea shores, and the temples become the platforms of blossoming multitude. Jelikattu, as a festival of farmers reverberates an agrarian social imagination (which of course need to be modified and re-constituted as a participatory cultural act in the contemporary context) where people find their meaning in social existence. For Modi and his Sangha Parvars, all cultures are to be unified and nationalized which excludes all the diversified sub-nationalities like Tamil-Dravida nationality—a revolutionary nationality in the history of the Indian subcontinent.   

In the era of Modi, the ministry of the Christian communities is to invite people to make themselves multitude to de-imperialize themselves and their life-worlds. As Arundhati Roy tells us “our strategy should be not only to confront empire but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness—and our ability to tell our own stories.” [ii] As Eduardo Galeano once said;”the Empire cannot take away my music.”   Let us enter into the process of discipleship the poiesis of making ourselves multitude in our local living spaces whether it is class rooms or sea shores; public spaces or private spaces; temples or factories and thereby become true disciples of our messiah—the crucified Christ.  

Y.T. Vinayaraj                                 

[i] Joerg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan, Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude (New York and UK: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2012), 32.
[ii] Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s guide to empire (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2006), 86.