This was a very difficult class to attend. Because it was based on many of the ideas that I was fundamentally opposed to. I have been doing reading and writing my tentative proposal, which is why I haven’t been able to update today’s lesson (or complete adequately yesterdays).

In a jist, today’s class, led by the Bishop of Madras diocese Rt. Rev. Dr. V. Devasahayam, was simply on the nature of contextual theology as a discipline as different/counter to the traditional/classical theologies. Hence, the assertion on the need for contextual theologies. And why Dalit theology in particular? Because, the lecturer said, that caste identity is a unique and central identity in India that is all-pervasive. Hence, any contextual theology, to be relevant, must address (and oppose) caste based identity and oppression.

*

Now, the general trend in Serampore Theology, it is evident, it is dichotomise between “traditional/classical/dogmatic theology” and “contextual theology”. This is a historical divide that occured sometime in the mid-20th century. A good book that surveys this division is Bruce C.E. Fleming, Contextualisation of Theology: An Evangelical Assessment (Pasadena, California: William Carrey Library, 1980). Once ‘contextual theologians’ accept that dichotonomy, they show ‘contextual theology’ as the essential opposite of ‘dogmatic theology’, in terms of seeing a relevant theology, down up approach… seeing a God for humanity (rather than to see humans for God). It must be said that contextual theology does offer an important correct to many aspects to rationalist/dogmatic theological attempts, but by painting the picture in such binaries, Serampore/UTC theologians are then able to associate Evangelicalism as dogmatic and irrelevant.

So, Dr. Devasahayam’s lecture drew from this dichotomy and for about 1.5 hours expressed the need, importance and the imperative of contextual theology as opposed to dogmatic theology. After this extended prolegomenon, he went on to express Dalit Theology, but ran out of time.

As mentioned earlier, the importance of caste-based theology for Devasahayam is based on the contextual reality of India that caste exists, and only Dalit theology is genuinely addresseing and opposing caste. To not address caste, is simply ignoring the contextual reality of caste in India and hence falling into the trap of dogmatic/irrelevant theology. So, Devasayaham’s proposal is that all theology in India must deal with the problem of caste.

With the above said, I feel that there is a huge problem in this line of argument, simply because it could be easily argued that gender is a more pervasive category in India than caste. And thus, his push for caste based theology pushes gender identity/along with other social categories to a periphary.

But one of the reasons why this class was so difficult to attend because there was a clear unawareness of the ‘power’/’oppression’ the bishop, by the way he managed the class, listened to questions etc, was exerting. While he may be a Dalit, he failed to address the possiblity of his own covert ‘misuse’ of ‘power’ by accepting hierarchical models for his own status. This unchallenged acceptance of hierarchy, and then talking about the destruction of hierarchy, was too much to take, and seemed inconsistent.

But let us leave it at that. Dalit issues need to be addressed, and once again, the central problem of oppression in the world and in the Chruch was misrepresented (by powers) and misheard (by me). And people continue to suffer…

Advertisements