I am currently attending a national seminar “Methodological Shifts in Indian Christian Theology: A Re-Search,” at the ECC, Whitefield, Bangalore. It is going on from 7-9 June, 2010. Organised by the Ecumenical Christian Centre, the attempt (ideally) has been to bring people from various denominations and regions to discuss issues related to Indian Christianity, in this case, methodology.

According to the goal of the conference, the document reads:

Human experience and life related issues of the whole creation of God should be the locus of theology. So there is an urge to re-read Indian Christian theology and its different methods to formulate relevant theologies and methodologies.

The seminar is purported to re-look into methodological shifts in Indian Christian theologies and to enhance relevant theologies by critically approaching epistemological shifts in Indian Christian theology. The seminar will try to evolve pluralism of theologies which will bring meaning and relevance to indigenous people’s life-world and traditions in the new epistemic context. Through all its deliberations it is hoped that appropriate methodologies to critically and creatively view the earth-home of ours with its rich resources and fascinating beauty and also with its wounds, ugliness and imbalances, inflicted on it by human greed and ignorance will be developed and thereby a vision will emerge urging us to action to repair our home and restore it to its original integrity.

If you feel the last part of this quote suggests the conference would be about eco-theological, you would be wrong because the focus of the conference was different.

Primarily the conference could be summarised as follows:

Earlier (traditionally) theology as done in a static/modernist/western manner. Sadly, our Indian Christian theological history followed the western methodologies while attempting Indian theology. However now trends changed with the emergence of Dalit, Feminist and Tribal theologies. However these theologies need to be strengthened with contemporary methodologies to further improve theological thinking and praxis in India. So what are these contemporary methodologies? Postmodernism and Post-Colonialism.

If this sounds simplistic, I can’t help it, because that’s what the conference was about, and spent most time developing. I have a feeling that the conference speakers were given a topic such as “Indian Christian theology in the context of postmodernism and postcolonialism.” Because most of the speakers offered a similar topic, albeit from different perspectives.

Unlike the previous ECC conference I attended, or even other Ecumenical conferences I have seen/heard, there was a generally positive view of postmodernism, especially in that it focussed on micro-culture, relative thinking and relationality.

Not all the participants understood the complexity of the issues, a fact exposed through the question answer sessions. For instance, one participant challenged the need of postcolonialism since one cannot escape the colonial legacy. Of course the participant did not seem to know that the difficulty of escaping the colonial mindset is exactly something that postcolonialism tries to counter.

In sum, the signs were encouraging that ecumenical thinking was attempting to move beyond the identity politics so characteristic of “oppressed” theological positions. So it was common to hear the presenters urge to move beyond fixed meanings and challenge preconceived notions about words like Dalit, women etc. Also there was a regular emphasis on the need for relationality, beyond simple assertion of one position over against another.

Yet what was disappointing was the generalised, unclear and sometimes even false understanding of especially postmodernism. There was generally a positive view of postmodernism, but it was dealt in a superficial derivative way (using scholar’s quotes) rather than a display of actual thinking. One presenter even used “Postmodernism for Beginners” as his initial source!

Another disappointing aspect of the seminar was its lack of “national” character; almost all participants were South Indians and mostly ecumenical disposition (no catholic or Syrian perspectives).

In addition, and especially in comparison with the last ECC conference I attended, there was no discussion time (small group meetings) to further engage with these ideas. Of course the similarity of theological positions would have made discussion unnecessary. Yet, doing away with the small group discussion was certainly a loss. So much more could have been possible, instead, we were left as largely mute spectators mainly confirming preconceived notions.