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Ramachandra: theological resources for postcolonial conversations

Last Friday we looked at some of Vinoth Ramachandra’s theological reflections in Subverting Global Myths — reflections for Christians to take on board.

He also has some considerations of what Christians might have to offer in postcolonial conversations.

In part these flow out of Ramachandra’s concern for context. He suggests that unless we safeguard the multiplicity and particularity of local narratives, it’s a short step from ‘appearing to critique the universal pretensions of Western knowledge systems’ to creating yet another universalising knowledge system (loc 4414). We must be careful not to privilege individual experience over against its social location. A related question is the extent to which postcolonialism is truly for/with the marginalised, or is merely about them.

Here are some of the theological resources Ramachandra looks to.

ONE. We must continue to stress the Christian commitment to equality of human beings and peoples — and the extension of this to all cultures and languages. Of course, sadly, this hasn’t always been practiced by Christians — although historians of Christian mission are often the first to point to the checkered reality.

TWO. Another relevant theological resource is the universality of sin/evil, which we understand as both structural and personal. This nuances our understanding of the politics of domination and exploitation, calling us to do more than just demonise elites and sanctify the subaltern (loc 4552).

THREE. Christian theology has the potential to transcend the divide between local and universal because of its trinitarian conception that the personal is relational. A person is not an autonomous sovereign; a person is a mutual participant with and in others and God. Solidarity and community for the marginalised comes not from celebrating fragmentation but from a transcendent narrative. That sort of narrative must fundamentally and substantively be about humanness and human dignity. Such a narrative, says Ramachandra, is provided by Christian theology, embracing and mediating both ‘identity and difference, rationality and spontaneity, freedom and belonging’ (loc 4635).

FOUR. Who are the voiceless? And who speaks for them? Liberation theology predates postcolonialism and has potentially pushed further with these questions by emphasising solidarity, ‘concrete friendship with the poor’. ‘The subaltern is not simply a represented victim of history,’ writes Ramachandra, ‘but one who is dignified and empowered by the incarnation to become an agent of a transformative historical project known as the kingdom of God’ (loc 4670). (An evangelical parallel to liberation theology could be seen in mission as transformation.)

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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