Tag Archives: Beyond Liberated

Thesis: Now Available Online

There have been questions among a few bibliobloggers where they could find my thesis online. I decided to make it available on a separate blog as part of a larger project that I am doing on a conversation between African American Christianity and the Early Church: available here.

I would love to hear your feedback, via blog post, comments on the blog, or an e-mail.

Thesis: Successfully Defended

I know a number of cynics who told me that it could not be done. Postcolonial theory and Patristic theology just do not go hand and hand, that they were complete polar opposites. Well, I just do what I always do with naysayers, and I just ignore them.  Thanks to Brian LePort for giving everyone the heads up.

The official title of my ThM thesis was entitled “Beyond Liberated: divine transcendence and cultural hybridity in the theologies of Clement of Alexandria and James Hal Cone.” Basically, it is a discussion about how our views of God’s transcendence are historically determined by our contexts; that Clement uses his Middle Platonist views of divine otherness to criticize the his culture while Cone utilizes Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy to make a critique of his 1960s US context. I plan to launch a blog soon.  If you have access to the TCU library, it is available as an online resource: check here.

Here is the statement I made before my advisors in defense of my thesis:

Intro:

As someone who identified with Black Womanist and liberation theologies, I began to notice something in my readings of the theological texts from these schools of thought.   There seemed to be a few authors who had made a living out of making the philosopher Plato a strawperson, and in the process, advocate the idea that Christianity should split from its Christian Platonist heritage.  For myself, I had to question, what would this mean?  Who in the history of Christianities should be considered a Christian Platonist and what makes them that detrimental to the faith today?  To be honest, at first, I was more than willing to join in the anti-Platonist polemic, and even discussed it with my peers both within the walls of theological education institutions and outside of them.  At the same time, I became curious as to why Black and Womanist theologians rarely used the Patristic and Matristic theologians as a resource for theological reflection; it became obvious that the Greek Christian apologists were the targets of the anti-Platonist/anti-Greek philosophy rhetoric.  This study is a product of my theological journey as well as my rejection of doctrinal Orientalism in contemporary theological studies.

Doctrinal Orientalism is founded upon the notion that the field of Orientalism was shaped by “patriarchal authorities, canonical texts, doxological ideas, exemplary figures, its followers, elaborators, and new authorities” as well as “strong ideas, doctrines and trends ruling the culture.”[1] Orientalism, for Said, divides the world into a binary of East and West where there are two “entities that coexist in a state of tension produced by what is believed to be radical difference.”[2] Doctrinal Orientalism functions somewhat like this: [White people have been in charge of the world. In churches and political structures, Plato, ancient Greek, and Roman philosophies have been popular and put into practice.  It has lead to oppression.  Hebrew thinking/Eastern ways/African preferences of doing things are completely unlike the Western ways.  Hebrew/Eastern/African are unlike white.]

In my thesis, I attempted to debunk this binary way of thinking.  By necessity, liberation theology requires submitting oneself to dualist ways of thinking, if liberation is viewed in terms of being freed from something else that is other.  In order to accomplish this debunking, I decided to read Clement of Alexandria (who has been labeled as the Public Enemy #1 on the Christian Platonist Most Wanted list) in historical context, but understanding that history not as a rise or fall, but as a series of conflict between Clement of Alexandria, his Hellenistic Alexandrian audience, and the Roman imperial religion that was part of his environment.  I examined the way in which Clement saw God as Other as well as how Clement reconciled God’s Otherness (transcendence) with his view of the Incarnation. For the second half of my thesis, I examined the theology of Black Liberationist James Hal Cone and his view of divine and human otherness.

For me, religious doctrines are weapons that are best utilized in the “war of words” so to speak that imperialist and hegemonic structures have with their subordinants.  I am well aware of how religious dogma, particularly of the Christian variety, can serve as defenders of the status quo in the promotion of conformity.  Yet, this study was limited to how the doctrines of divine transcendence and human otherness functioned in relation to historical contexts.

On Clement of Alexandria:

When my peers heard of this project, there were a lot of questions.  How can you possibly do a postcolonial interpretation of Clement of Alexandria (my one-sentence summary of this work)?  Was not Platonism hopelessly imperialist? From the section on Clement of Alexandria, I stressed early on in my paragraph on Platonism that Clement took his cues from Jewish Middle Platonism; not all Platonism are essentially the same. There are real differences.  Part of the frustrating part about doing Clement of Alexandria studies is that Clement’s and Origen’s theologies and names usually come up together, although they did not live in the same time frame. Clement’s theology was founded upon Jewish Middle Platonism while Origen’s, upon secular Middle Platonism.  There is a difference, especially when it comes to prioritizing the First Testament in doctrines of God’s transcendence.  For Clement, God has to exist beyond the cultural and religious-political structure of his day in order to judge it.

On James Hal Cone:

James Cone faced a similar dilemma.  What was the appropriate way to speak of God when persons who were racist claimed to know God?  It is like Cone said, we cannot talk about God any kind of way that we want.  There has to be a revelation to help us since we are finite.  The Infinite, for God, identifies with those who are oppressed.  God is transcendent in that God is beyond the boundaries set forth by racist, hegemonic institutions because God’s presence is with those whom society declares outside of its markers.  God is beyond in that God is beyond the reach of the powerful.  While I commend Cone for being one of the first systematicians to make concerns of the oppressed the starting point for theology, his advocacy for the separation of cultures as implied in his recommendations for ethic responses as well as his view of what solidarity looks like suppresses individual differences and denies cultural hybridity, and therefore re-inscribing the cultural hegemony that he was protesting.

On Womanism:

Because this study was focused on two male thinkers, I felt it appropriate to include the voices and concerns of women, particularly Womanist theologians.  The hegemonic nature in both Cone’s and Clement’s views of assimilating to God/partaking in the life of Christ seems highly problematic from a Womanist standpoint. If suffering is the marker of conforming to Christ’s image (as it is according to Cone), what does that mean for women facing domestic abuse situations?  If assimilation to God means achieving personal mystical union with God without other persons (i.e. the church or community) or rituals, what is the point of religious communities then, Clement of Alexandria?

Conclusion:

In this thesis, I believe that I have problematized the current dichotomy in contemporary theology that has been constructed between Oriental thinking and Occident thought.  I find that this work is part of my on-going war against racism, whether it is interpersonal, institutional, or otherwise.  I can only hope that I can further develop my guidelines for a US Black postcolonial covenantal approach to divine and human transcendence.


[1] Edward W Said. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. Page 22-23.

[2] Ibid, 45.