Home » Western Alternatives » Avant-Garde

Category Archives: Avant-Garde

The History and Future of Womanist Theology (Video)

Union Theological Seminary recently hosted a documentary about the origin of Womanist Theology through the perspective of some of its early adherents. The 12-minute video below is a preview of the full documentary, Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology and Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, which will be shown at the American Academy of Religion meeting this fall in San Diego, California, USA.

A social and spiritual look at female theologians and ethicists of African descent…Union Theological Seminary will premier Journey to Liberation, a 50-minute documentary on the founding of Womanist theology, an African-American feminist liberation movement. Filmmaker Anika Gibbons takes a deeper look at the radical spirituality and scholarship within the lives of the founding mothers of Womanist theology and Womanist ethics. She focuses on their significance as figures in African-American theology and history, and on the role played by Union in that founding.

For a summary and commentary on the event, see Womanist Theology at Union: A Past, A Present– A Future? by Jamall Calloway (H/T to Jason Harris and Postcolonial Theology Network Facebook Group)

For more videos, including an introduction to the film and resulting panel discussion about the current state of African-American women in theology and Womanist perspectives, follow this link.

 If you are interested in sharing your perspective and becoming a writer with GlobalTheology.org, find more information on our Get Involved Page!

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University. He is the editor of GlobalTheology.org and lives in Fullerton, CA, USA with his wife and son.

Power of Symbols: Minimum Bible

minimumArtist Joey Novak has an installation of minimalist interpretations of books of the Bible (LINK). Out of respect for his work, I will not post the images here, but encourage you to follow the link to see for yourself.

Questions to consider:

What symbols carry the most power in his art?

How do we assign meaning to symbols (enough meaning that they can convey so much more than words)?

What other symbols exist that we can use to communicate the gospel and discipleship?

Imagining a Local Theology

How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?

In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed.  1991, 302).

Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.

Which of these is closest to the image of Christ?

Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance.  The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship.  For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.

What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these  be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?

This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.

A (Post)Modern Proposal

I once had a professor refer to modernity as a “300-year cul-de-sac”. He was speaking glibly about the ways in which post-modern theory in application resembles cultures that never experienced the contextual forces of the West, which produced modernity.

Modernity, at the risk of over-simplification, is the philosophical context produced and sustained by the European Enlightenment era. The prioritized assumptions of this era became normative for Europeans and North Americans. Within the last century, these assumptions have come under greater scrutiny and alternative realities have been posited. The collection of these perspectives fall under the nebulous category of “post-modernity”.

By consequence of the attention given to post-modernity, non-Western perspectives have also risen to examination. As one explores these views, there is a tentative label of “pre-modernity”. I believe this designation to be ineffective however, as it implies a linear, evolutionary path for cultures. From a primitive existence, through enlightenment (by which we mean the prioritization of Western methods and assumptions), to eventually settle where the post-modern’s have pioneered.

But this process is not necessarily the path all cultures must follow. Some will never experience modernity, others will experience their own unique changes through the influence of globalization and migration patterns.

I propose a different term, amodernity. Although still referencing its antithesis, there is no evolutionary bias (pre-/post-) or negation (non-). The neologism can serve as a more inclusive term when referring to perspectives or cultural contexts. The philosophies represented within amodernity are diverse and can represent a community of thought ranging from ancients to avant-garde and bring a source of commonality to a myriad of “post-philosophies”: post-colonial, post-structural, post-Christendom, post-foundational, post-empirical, etc.

Within this shared pool of philosophies, meaningful dialogue can take place to further develop the impact of these unique perspectives. By alignment, the currently disparate philosophies can borrow from one another’s strengths and benefit from communal critique. These values are familiar to the disparate contextual communities now falling under the categories of pre/post-modern.

This essay is still preliminary and welcome to critique.

If you identify with a particular philosophical context, how would definition under “amodernity” affect your current self-understanding?

How do you effectively balance an attention to the unique perspective of a group yet also bridge to commonality? (In theory? In practice?)

This site is primarily interested in the influence of culture upon theology and Biblical interpretation (as well as the reverse). The application of amodernity, however, would also have implication for other fields of study. I am especially intrigued at the potential of the worldwide church to be a laboratory of sorts for amodernal thinking and action, as it is a diverse organization (“body”, some might say) cutting across cultures, languages, contextual realities, social class, and time.

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies and Hope International University. His research into the cultural influences upon theological identity led him to create the collaborative blog GlobalTheology.org. He currently works for a local non-profit agency and serves as an adjunct professor.

Florence Li Tim Oi and the Asian American Struggle

“Then he (Jesus) appointed seventy others and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go… heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom has come near.” (Luke 10:1-9)
Throughout history, God has called certain individuals or groups to become trail blazers, pioneers, explorers, discoverers, entrepreneurs, the avant garde of the march towards the future. Today, January 24, we celebrate the feast of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman to be ordained in the worldwide Anglican Communion. (Click to Tweet) We also read about the calling of the seventy disciples to go ahead of Jesus to announce that the kingdom of God has come near.

Postmodern Theology: Immanence and Forgiveness

I have always liked this song for its simplicity. The band (mewithoutYou) is one whose use of imagery and lyricism  is pregnant with meaning and the connection toward the spiritual.

There is much hand wringing in the western church over the growing margins of people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious” or specifically “Christian”. This song speaks to this strata of people looking for spiritual significance in a world that is increasingly distant.

The song makes no explicit mention of Christ or salvation, yet a cursory glance at the lyrics makes several theological declarations. (more…)

Group Discussion: Church Without Walls

To help integrate global perspectives into the life of a local church, we have prepared some questions to begin a conversation of looking outside our immediate context. Feel free to use for your small groups or classes and email to let us know how the conversation went!

As a group, watch the following short video and discuss the following questions:

Where do you think “the wall” comes from?

Where do you see yourself in the cartoon?

Which side of the wall do you feel more comfortable on?

Why is that? (This is not a question of which you feel you SHOULD be more comfortable on)

Have there been people in your life who are similar to the one who “goes out…goes a long way out…stays out” as a way of sharing their faith? How have you seen this in their life?

What would it look like to live a faith without walls?

For yourself, your family, and friends?
For this group?
For your church?

Link to video only