we had a morning this week exploring what it might mean to decolonise the curriculum in the pioneer training we do at cms. anthony reddie led the conversation and was so helpful both through what he said but also by suggesting we were all in this together (though the reality of course is that he has processed this a lot more than the rest of us). i think it’s going to percolate and will take a while for us to work out what we do as a result.
decolonising is about deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of western thought and approaches. for some this might seem a strange idea to apply to theology but it doesn’t take long to realise that along with the expansion of empire the west exported western theology as though it was universal. this has had to be unpicked all round the world and it is still an ongoing process. i was recently reminded of it through kimson nguyen’s fantastic book on contextual theology in vietnam where he is seeking to develop a contextual theology that the vietnamese connect with but without wanting to betray the theology of the vietnamese evangelical church whose theology is from a particular american evangelical mission organisation. i was also really provoked to think about this in my visit to new zealand earlier this year. of course there is nothing wrong with the west having theology or theologies. but the point is they are simply local or contextual theology. the challenge is when that way of theologising is imposed on others. it would be interesting if a doctrine class was labelled as modern european theology for example, or a class was taught labelled white theology. but it’s never labelled that way. this is to do with many things but the process of deconstruction is important because when you are in a position of power, dominance or simply privilege you tend not to see there is an issue - you just assume it’s just the way things are.
maybe an example will help. anthony reminded us of an article in the book voices from the margins called a native american perspective: canaanites, cowboys, and indians. in it by robert allen warrior writes from the perspective of indigenous first nation people in north america. he points out the story of exodus which is used as the story of liberation for many is a story of oppression if you are the ones who are being driven out of the land! i found the same to be true when i visited a centre for palestinian theology many years ago - they too identified with the canaanites in the story and turn to other narratives to find hope for freedom from oppression.
it’s the encounter with someone else and their take that enriches your perspective and helps you hold a bit more lightly to your own ways of seeing things. this is why multiplicity of views is so helpful - we learn from others and it reminds us that we see in part rather than have the right way of knowing or seeing or acting. that process can be painful when for example we get confronted with the realisation that our ways of knowing or acting have colluded with powers that oppress others and we have been blind to it. read any feminist, womanist, black, liberation, queer, disabled or whatever theology from the margins and that is bound to be challenging but it is also a wonderful gift.
we looked at modules we teach and i do think at cms we are exposed to multiple cultures so are very aware of contextual theology and being part of a global conversation but it is good to be pressed on how we construct learning spaces and curriculum for students and what voices we elevate in our recommendations for reading without realising it. it’s helpful to realise that it is important to expose them to multiple stories and takes and to show that theology is contested rather than just learning the right doctrine or whatever. i do think this is still a problem in the church in different streams whether the church culture and identity is constructed around believing particular truths which can easily mean a particular narrow take that is being universalised, or whether it is convinced that its way of doing church and liturgy and so on is the right way. as i said on a previous post this is a particular church of england problem which is easily on its high horse in this area. the superiority that is at the heart of a colonial mindset has shaped our imagination more than we like too admit i think. so anthony was helpfully suggesting that all of us need openness to be deconstructed ourselves and it is essential to hear from others.
cathy posted this week’s john taylor quote and image on her facebook page about academic ostriches which seems very apt - i think john taylor was thinking theology can have its head in the sand because it’s not engaged with practice on the ground. but it’s equally the case we can have our head in the sand because we are simply not looking around at other voices, stories and narratives. this is actually why at cms we try to frame our teaching of theology and mission through contextual and global theology rather than by teaching systematic theology or doctrine as the frame - our sense is it is more helpful that that gets located or framed as a local theology in a global conversation (and one that came from quite a different era).
anyway lots to ponder. i now have a load more books to read to help me think about it but it’s also about action
#ImaginingMission - still available here