As I indicated earlier, liberation theology provides a pre-existing parallel to postcolonial criticism, and this what Gilberto Lozano and Federico A Roth explore in ‘The problem and promise of praxis in postcolonial criticism’, one of the most critical and constructive chapters in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations.
Liberation theology originally took focus not in the academic world but in the experience of the poor. Lozano/Roth take up this mantle by using Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In particular, they connect Freire’s work with the whole arena of biblical studies — something of special interest to us evangelicals. Here’s my quick ‘n’ dirty take on this stimulating chapter. Because we centre-dwellers might not be good at recognising oppression, I’m going to refer to the others instead of ‘the oppressed’.
Firstly, the people of the centre need to get over any guilt they may harbour and take sides with the others. That means affirming the experience of the others. And for that we must accept that ‘the Bible can be seen in terms of their values, and not solely those of the elites’ (loc 3004).
These two, the centre and the others, then need to seek dialogue. The others need liberation, but this must be directed by them rather than imposed on them. So, instead of trying to continue to govern, the people of the centre need to become participants. The point is not for the others to begin copying the centre, but to discover and find dignity in their own model — in Freire’s words, they must ‘be their own example’ (loc 3019). When it comes to biblical studies, it is extraordinarily difficult for majority world scholars to participate in the knowledge creation governed by Westerners, and even then, the local fruit is questionable.
The problem is that even after siding with the others, we people of the centre still persist in our ‘lack of confidence in the people’s ability to think, to want, and to know’ (Freire). We still ‘insist on being the chief architects and managers of the process’ (loc 3026). To counteract this, we need to cultivate trust in the others.
Part of building this trust requires us centre-dwellers to recognise that the others have often internalised our stereotypes of them, which means they may struggle to trust themselves. We need to affirm that just like us, they are, in Freire’s words, ‘engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human.’ In service of this, we may need to change our understanding of education and knowledge: instead of being a fixed depository handled by experts, knowledge is a dynamic communal inquiry, collaboratively owned.
In short, this is about the others not only uncovering the difficulties they have faced, but discovering the beauty of their own identity. The others are not truly ‘marginal’, says Freire, because they have always been inside society — if only society would allow them to be themselves. On this front, one new initiative in the academic arena is Borderless Press, which doesn’t require written English and doesn’t depend on Western publishing and distribution avenues.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.