Asian Christianities(2018/1) Editor(s): Daniel Franklin Pilario(c), Huang, Po-Ho, Felix Wilfred
Articles of the issue
Table of Contents
Editors: Daniel Franklin Pilario, Felix Wilfred and Po Ho Huang
A. Asian Christianities: Postcolonial Readings
- Asian Christianities and theologies Through the Lens of Postcolonialism - Felix Wilfred
- Reclaiming Christianity as Asian - Jose Mario Francisco
- A Postcolonial Reading of Galatians 3:28 - Pablo David
- Post-Colonial Approaches to Gal 3. 2-28 to Achieve Diversity in Asian Christianity - Marie-Theres Wacker
B. Liberation and Feminist Theologies: Asian Encounters
- South-America’s Liberation Nourished by Asian Christianity - Diego Irarrazaval
- Linguistic Domination in Theology - José de Mesa
- Feminist Intercultural Ethics: Conversing with Asia - Linda Hogan
- Female Image of God and Women’s Leadership in Ciudad Mistica de Dios - Agnes Brazal
- Sensing the Other and the Divine in Embodied Experiences - Stefanie Knauss
C. Interfaith Dialogues in Asia
- Interfaith Dialogue in Asian Religious Contexts - Po Ho Huang
- The Listening Hand: In Dialogue with Asian Traditions - Thierry-Marie Courau
- Postcolonial Encounters with Indigenous Religions for Peace and Ecological Harmony - Jojo M. Fung
D. Theological Forum
- To Prophesy or Not to Prophesy – Is it the Question? - Ramon Echica
- A New Wind Blowing Shaping New Platforms for Interreligious Dialogue - Eliseo Mercado
Historians of Christianity agree that before the end of the first century, Christianity has spread to as far as India and China. Historical records show that a certain Theophilus was sent by Emperor Constantius to “other parts of India” in 354 and found a Christian group listening “to the reading of the Gospel in a sitting posture” which he found repugnant to his Arian taste. Or, in 635, Alopen arrived in the Kingdom of Ta-ch’in and was warmly welcomed by the T’ang Emperor whose tolerant government accepted Christianity. Alopen was not the first Christian to step on Chinese soil since many of them were already doing business along the Silk Road long time earlier.
However, this Asian historical trajectory is less known because the dominant story of Christianity has always been Eurocentric. Most church history books used in seminary classrooms tell us of a tripartite division – ancient (Jewish-Greek), medieval (European) and modern (colonial expansion) – the last of which correspond to the “new age of world mission” when Latin America, Africa and Asia join Christianity’s narrative. What was deleted in this narrative was the fact that “during the first millennium, there already existed diverse yet mature and vibrant expressions of the same Christianity in all the central cultures of the ancient world – Roman but also Mediterranean, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Armenian, Arabian, African, and so on.” The Christian East, for instance, has been obliterated from dominant historiography since they we all labeled as heretics or schismatics, Arians, Nestorians or Monophysites and – in our century – nobodies, as they were violently annihilated from existence. Asian Christianity thus became a “lost Christianity”. But it could not be denied that during the earlier periods, Christianity was stronger in Asia and North African than in Europe; and “only after about 1400 did Europe (and Europeanized North America) decisively become a Christian heartland.” Through different external political, military and religio-cultural forces, Christianity was almost totally annihilated in the Asian continent from 14th century onwards. Thus, Christianity only came to be considered ‘European’ by default: “Europe was the continent where it was not destroyed. Matters could easily have developed differently.”
It is in the spirit of recovering the lost voices of Asian Christianities that Concilium engages in conversation with Asian theologians. These conversations are aware that all throughout history, Christianity in Asia as everywhere else has encountered different voices, faiths, economies, political societies and cultures. These encounters were not neutral exchanges, enmeshed as they were in relations of colonial powers. To reflect on how power was and is continually exercised in these cultural and religious interactions is a necessary dimension in the theological understanding of Asian Christianities in our times. As the postcolonial critic Edward Said writes: “there is no way in which the past can be quarantined from the present. Past and present inform each other, each implies the other and… each co-exists with the other.” There have been debates in postcolonial theory whether to write it with a hyphen or not. “The unhyphenated version (postcolonial) refers to the ‘always present underside’ of colonization itself. In other words, the discursive struggle in the ‘postcolonial’ can already be located within the colonial itself.” Thus, postcolonial theory is not a mere analysis of discursive practices in the aftermath of the colonial enterprise; it centers on hegemonic discourses both within the colonial enterprise and in the “continued messy and complicated history colonialism leaves in its wake”.
Part of the postcolonial reflections on Asian Christianities during the Concilium Conference held in Manila, the articles in this volume are grouped into three main themes: post-colonial readings of Asian Christianities, liberation and feminist theologies’ encounter with Asian cultures and religions, and reflections on interfaith dialogues in Asia.
The present contribution is an initiation into a critical analysis and deconstructive reflection on Asian Christianities and theologies by deploying some of the basic concepts and epistemological tools of postcolonialism. As such it follows a different trajectory than the conventional one, which, it is hoped will be a force of renewal for the Churches in a more radical manner. The contribution Asia could make to global Christianity is exemplified by the unique post-denominational route it has followed by navigating into the waters of “wider ecumenism”.
Jose Mario C. Francisco
The study of Christianity in Asia must be liberated from common but distorting perspectives that define it as minority, colonial and foreign. It calls for nothing less than reclaiming Christianity as Asian. This constitutes a fundamental epistemic shift that recognizes Asian Christians as subject, valorizes their faith expressions and theological articulations, and empowers them to contribute to Christianity’s global catholicity through mediating translation and faithful exchange with Christians beyond Asia.
Pablo Virgilio S. David
Paul makes a plea for “unity in Christ”, over and above the factors of ethnicity, social status and gender that tended to divide the Galatians. Did he understand this “unity” to mean the abolition of all ethnic, cultural, religious and other forms of differentiation? Is not Christianity rather founded on a genuine appreciation of differentiation, before it can serve a factor for unity at all? The differentiation of Jesus as male, a Jew, a Galilean, a carpenter, etc. is part of the very mystery itself of the incarnation. It is a mystery that the Church itself has to learn to embrace at each time the faith is appropriated by peoples of new religious, cultural, economic and political worldviews. A colonial reading of Gal. 3:2 can conveniently serve to justify the religious, cultural, political and economic hegemony of Western Christianity into non-Christian civilizations as a “manifest destiny”. This sort of triumphalism, of thinking one’s own worldview as superior, of patronizing those who are deemed culturally inferior, of forcing one’s civilization on the rest of the world, as pedagogy for unity, is neither in keeping with, nor a sound exegesis of Gal. 3:2.
Pablo Virgilio S. David
Paul makes a plea for ‘unity in Christ’, over and above the factors of ethnicity, social status and gender that tended to divide the Galatians. Did he understand this ‘unity’ to mean the abolition of all ethnic, cultural, religious and other forms of differentiation? Is not Christianity rather founded on a genuine appreciation of differentiation, before it can serve a factor for unity at all? The differentiation of Jesus as male, a Jew, a Galilean, a Carpenter, etc., is part of the very mystery itself of the incarnation. It is a mystery that the Church itself has to learn to embrace at each time the faith is appropriated by peoples of new religious, cultural, economic and political world views. A colonial reading of Gal. 3:2 can conveniently serve to justify the religious, cultural, political and economic hegemony of Western Christianity into non-Christian civilizations as a ‘manifest destiny’. This sort of triumphalism, of thinking one’s own worldview as superior, of patronizing those who are deemed culturally inferior, of forcing one’s civilization on the rest of the world, as pedagogy for unity, is neither in keeping with, nor a sound exegesis of Gal. 3:2.
This article explores Gal. 3: 27-28 with postcolonial probes in terms of language (the Greek languages of the letter itself, but also languages of translation), Judaism (circumcision as subject on the background of the ‘new perspective’), slavery (a community in which slaves are not exploited, as a ‘third space’) and gender (Gal 3: 27-28) is intertextually related to Acts 8: 26-40, the table of the Ethiopian eunuch).
Thinking from the margins implies interaction with non-Christian wisdom and with social-cosmic spirituality. This essay deals with Latin-American concerns, and what Asia teaches us. Liberation theology is grounded in Jesus, a Semitic-Asian healer and prophet. Leaving aside neocolonial patterns, there is dialogue with syncretic and plural journeys towards the truth.
José M. de Mesa
The Filipino language is the voice of the culture speaking in its own terms. Linguistic domination, by Spanish first, then English, in addition to cultural debasement, is still felt in the residual power that English has in matters theological. English is still the Philippines' theological lingua franca. The advantages of utilizing the Filipino language in theology have been kept at bay by the “prestige” and overall dominance of English. If language enables people to think, then it is experientially very difficult to do so in the language that has been treated as inferior and marginalized during the colonial regime. The article focuses on a theologian's struggle to regain cultural pride by showing the value of the Filipino language (and culture), demonstrating its cultural potential, and making it possible to experience God through her/his own culture.
Feminist theological ethics has had multiple phases of development, and is now highly attentive to the diversity of women’s experience and to the important ways in which race, class and ethnicity intersect with gender to create and perpetuate social exclusion and economic marginalisation. Yet notwithstanding the vibrancy of feminist theological discourse, it is arguable that the field continues to be dominated by the concerns, norms and methods of theologians from the northern hemisphere. This paper asks how feminist theologians from the northern hemisphere can think through our own complicity in the dominant model to find ethical forms of engagement in feminist intercultural ethics.
Agnes M. Brazal
Ciudad Mistica is an autochthonous nationalist religious group in Mount Banahaw, Philippines. A hybrid religion that has blended Christian symbols and beliefs with its deeply held belief in the Motherhood of God and women’s spiritual leadership, it has both accommodated to and resisted colonial domination. This essay explores the question: What would a contrapuntal reading of the beliefs and praxis of the Catholic Church and Ciudad Mistica yield for a conversation on the issue of female God image and leadership of women in the church? Feminist Christians can learn from Mistica that God can be seen as Mother, without necessarily linking this to physical motherhood and traditional feminine qualities. Mistica likewise demonstrates how a female imaging of God translates to and/or is supported by women’s religious leadership, and that a woman-led church need not be a mirror image of a patriarchal church. Mistica is also a reminder to postgender feminists that in particular cultural contexts, gender continues to be regarded as a significant category but such do not always lead to the subordination of women. Mistic,a on the other hand, in its encounter with Christian feminists, seems to have moved from a theological belief in women’s spiritual pre-eminence to a focus instead on the equal creation of woman and man in God’s image.
In this contribution, I argue for a return to the original meaning of ‘aisthetic’ as sensory perception for the further development of aesthetic theology as a way of making sense through the senses. This turn helps to avoid some of the universalistic tendencies of traditional theological aesthetics and emphasizes the importance of context and subjectivity in our doing of theology, especially in the Asian context marked by cultural and religious diversity. Drawing on liberation and feminist theological aesthetics and reflections on the empowering potential of the imagination and beauty, I develop an argument for how this form of theology that draws on sensory experiences can be a space of encounter that opens up alternative ways of knowing, being in the world, and in community.
Huang Po Ho
Asia is the birthplace of many world religions. Its history and culture have been profoundly influenced by these religions. These religious traditions offer spiritual guidance and also set moral and ethical standards for the daily life of peoples in the region. However, they were also challenged by the colonialism and imperialism in the modern era. This modernized civilization welcomed, compelled or swayed local societies; and made indigenous moralities either weak, irrelevant, or were forced to transform in order to survive. Religious plurality in Asia is a unique God-given reality; it is a God-given mission to make this pluralistic reality a blessing instead of a source of conflict or division.
How are we to make sense today of the Church’s mission in Asia as it faces the original, complex and definitive religious plurality that shaped the context into which it has come? If the Church is the sacrament of salvation, it has the great responsibility of living up to what it has to display and allow: universal reconciliation in Jesus Christ. What Paul VI called the ‘dialogue of salvation’ defines salvation history as the effort to make real the vocation to dialogue given to individuals and communities. This means first and foremost a willingness to listen in a way that reveals the beauties of the person we meet. Viewed in this way, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition contains treasures that we fail to grasp. Salvation comes in the very process of dia-logue between traditions in which each side increasingly shows its uniqueness.
Jojo M. Fung, SJ
The postcolonial encounters of Asian Christianities with Indigenous Religions need to attain an inter-religiocultural peace with the spirit world as an “arena of Ruach Elohim.” This divine Ruach indwells in all created life-forms (Theo-en-passim) and creation subsists in Ruach Elohim (pan-en-theism). The “many spirits” are the plural, incarnated and creaturely manifestations of the omnipresence of the one divine Ruach in all created life-forms. Furthermore, postcolonial encounters with Indigenous Religions need to portray Asian Christianities as standing in solidarity with the traditional believers in their struggle for geo-ecological peace in the ancestral homeland. Indigenous Religions need to find in Asian Christianities an ally in their strategic negotiation with the many hegemonic policies of the nation-states, ranging from de-territorialization and de-religionization to capitalization of their forestland and resources.