Marcella Althaus-Reid

BIOGRAPHY

Few theologians have brought such a new angle to theology in recent decades as Marcella Althaus-Reid, the late Professor of Contextual Theology at New College, University of Edinburgh. Born in Rosario, in Argentinean province of Santa Fe in 1952, Althaus grew up in Buenos Aires where she studied at the Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos (ISEDET) alongside the liberation theologian José Míguez Bonino and liberationist Old Testament scholar Severino Croatto. In her work with the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina she applied the insights of Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy and conscientization to social projects in the poorer areas of the city.

Althaus was invited to Scotland to work in the poor neighbourhoods of Dundee and Perth while she completed her doctorate at St. Andrews. In 1994 she completed her study on the influence of Paul Ricouer on liberation theology, and was subsequently appointed to professorship. She began to elaborate her major themes based in liberation and feminist theology, her contribution being to queer theology (of which she is considered a pioneer).

She would become associate editor of Studies in World Christianity journal and joined the editorial board of Concilium. She was also Director of the Queer Theology Project at the University of Edinburgh and the Director of the International Association for Queer Theology. Marcella Althaus-Reid died in 2009 (February 20) and was missed by her church, a Metropolitan Community Church (the denomination is LGBTQ oriented).

It would be in the field of queer theology that Marcella Althaus made her greatest achievement, with the books Indecent Theology (2000) and The Queer God (2003).

PUBLICATIONS (authored/edited)

  • Indecent Theology – 2000
  • The Queer God – 2003
  • From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology – 2004
  • The Sexual Theologian: Essays On Sex, God And Politics: A Primer in Radical Sex and Queer Theology (Queering Theology series) – 2005
  • The Power of Erotic Celibacy: Queering Heterosexuality (Queering Theology series) – with Lisa Isherwood (author): Althaus-Reid (ed.) –  2006
  • Another Possible World (Reclaiming Liberation Theology) – 2007
  • Controversies in Body Theology (Controversies in Contextual Theology series) – with Lisa Isherwood (eds.) – 2007
  • Controversies in Feminist Theologies (Controversies in Contextual Theology series) – with Lisa Isherwood – 2007
  • Controversies in Political Theology (Controversies in Contextual Theology series) – with Thia Cooper (eds.) – 2007
  • Desire, Market, Religion (Reclaiming Liberation Theology series) – with Jung Mo Sung (author): Althaus-Reid (ed.) – 2007)
  • Trans/formations (Controversies in Contextual Theology series) – 2009
  • Liberation Theology and Sexuality – 2009
  • From Feminist Theology to Queer Theology – 2011
  • Beyond Liberation Theology: A Polemic (Reclaiming Liberation Theology series) – with Ivan Petrella (author): Althaus-Reid (ed.) – 2013

 

1970s, Black Theology and Classism — Burrow on Cone and the Latin Americans

“[James H.] Cone was aware of the class question at the beginning of his writing career, but he felt that this issue was secondary to that of white racism. Contrary to his claim that there was no awareness of Marxism in his early theological-political consciousness, there was some awareness, as I showed in Chapter 4. Therefore, his claim in 1982 that his “introduction to Marx came with my encounter with Third World theologians, especially Latin American liberation theologians” is misleading. However, it may be that his dialogue with Latin American liberation theologians (which he says began in an informal way at a symposium sponsored by the World Council of Churches in Geneva in 1973), served to accentuate the significance of class analysis for him. As noted in Chapter 4, Cone’s first awareness of Marx and the class question appeared in embryonic form in his early writings. However, in the beginning his tendency was to ignore the class question in favor of racial analysis. In addition, he was highly suspicious of white socialists in both North and Latin America. As for the Latin Americans, Cone simply had not travelled in Latin American countries, and therefore did not have sufficient contact with them. In addition, he was aware that some Latin Americans claimed that there was no race problem on their continent, and therefore they perceived the fundamental issue to be classism. Cone knew, however, that there were more blacks in South America than in North America, and he wondered how it could be claimed that racism was not a problem when there were no blacks among the circle of Latin American liberation theologians. In addition, he was suspicious of white North American theologians and socialists because they welcomed Latin American liberation theologians but refused to recognize African American liberation theologians. They seemed to be able to conjure up a sense of radicalism about everything except the elimination of white racism, an issue they tried to ignore.

Though the initial meeting between African American liberation theologians and Latin American liberation theologians at the World Council of Churches symposium in Geneva in 1973 was not intended as a forum for these two groups per se, what was shared between them left a deep impression on both sides. Cone did not soon forget Paulo Freire’s comment that he (Cone) “is a Third World man because he was born in the world of dependence–of exploitation–within the First World.” In addition he had spoken of Cone as his friend. The comments by Hugo Assmann went even further (thought they were prevented from continuing the dialogue to determine similarities and dissimilarities in their respective experiences of oppression). In addition to picking up the theme of Third World people in the United States, i.e., poor and oppressed people, Assmann pointed out that it was more important for Latin Americans to dialogue with African American theologians than with white theologians from Europe and North America. In this regard he commented:

My biggest mistake in the first days of the symposium was that I was speaking to the participants and not to my friends who represent Black Theology. . . . I would like to say to my friends in Black Theology: I don’t know how this dialogue with you can be improved, but it is more important than European theology for us Latin Americans. I don’t want to destroy the connection with you [emphasis added].

Assmann made a minor capitulation from his earlier stance. According to Cone their initial attempts at dialogue were strained because Assmann felt so strongly about class analysis and was so critical of its absence in Cone’s theological project. Cone, on the other hand, was emotionally charged and highly critical of Assmann because of the absence of racial analysis in his project. Yet Cone was still able to make the explicit reference to Assmann as “a good friend” at the Theology in the Americas Conference in Detroit in 1975. At any rate, Cone said that Freire’s and Assmann’s referral to African Americans as Third World people indicated that “an openness was created from the Latin American side.” This was reciprocated by black theologians.

What is most interesting is that in his remarks at the Geneva symposium, Cone was talking the language of a sociologist of knowledge, which indicates that he was in the process of researching and thinking through his fourth book, God of the Oppressed. It is in this book that the idea of an on-going interplay between ideas and social context was systematically developed. In the context of his brief remarks in Geneva, Cone indicated that as long as we live in a world of oppressors and oppressed, it will be impossible to communicate on a level that really matters in terms of liberation and creating a social order where no group will dominate over any other merely because “they have different realities to which the symbols and the language refer.” All language, theological and otherwise, has a social context. The social context and location of the oppressed and the oppressor make communication difficult, if not impossible. The oppressed generally do not see either the problem or its solution(s) in quite the same way as the oppressor. Robert McAfee Brown reminds us that where one stands in society has much to do with what he or she sees or does not see!

Two years passed before the Latin Americans and blacks had another dialogue. The occasion was the Theology in the Americas (T.I.A.) Conference in 1975. To the dismay of black theologians the Conference was planned by whites as primarily an occasion for Latin American and white North American theologians to get together. This angered black theologians, and by conference time tensions were high. The Latin Americans and blacks insisted on the primacy of class and race analysis, respectively. It was reported that the Latin Americans “were too antagonistic toward any other contradiction (i.e., race and sex).”

There was much anger exhibited on both sides at the Detroit conference. However, Cone believes they left with a much better understanding of each other and a promise to conduct a continuing dialogue. Looking back on that meeting nearly ten years later Cone wrote:

It was at that time it became clear to me that either black theology would incorporate class analysis into its perspectives or it would become a justification of middle-class interests at the expense of the black poor. Although claiming to speak for the poor, we actually speak for ourselves.”

Jamesconeand
From Left to Right: Alem Habdu, James Cone, Abdul Alkalimet, Bill Sales and Mark Brown, 1987

— from Rufus Burrow Jr., James Cone and Black Liberation Theology, 1994, pp. 128-130.

 

Theologies (Plural): Local, Global, Comparative… Located (Process): Oceanic

As you can see, the site has set up three categories of theology: Global Theologies, Local Theologies and this section, Comparative Theologies. These names are problematic, chosen for their contradictory meanings.

Local: I have put “Liberation Theologies” and “Postcolonial Theologies” next to “North-Atlantic [meaning dominant Western] Theologies” under the heading of Local, thus to create a conceptual parity against the European propensity for universalising their claims. The former are in contest with the claims of the latter, dealing largely with the imposition of Western values, language and force on their own localities.

Global: Under Global we have the social realities present in every local society on some level, the near “universal” problems of Race, Gender and Class hierarchies, along with which we must, I now realise, put Environment. These are the sins (in theological language) that have marked the human condition since the beginning, often backed discursively by religious thought. This too is a complex, multilayered and diverse set of phenomena and social relations, yet the results are especially globalised through

Comparative: All theology is Comparative, I claim. Certainly theology is only interesting because it is a sort of conversation or argument, valuable for its dialogic contribution to the society we are forming together. In this light I want to look at “Exegesis”, “Dogmatics” and the “Public Square”. The latter is obviously associated with debate, while Exegesis and Dogmatics are often conceived, despite their obvious context, as static and universally relevant. If exegesis is delving into Bible and doctrine about narrating the insights one finds in Scripture, both are zones of contest.

Oceanic: This is my own immediate interlocutor, my Location, Oceania; where I am, who is around me, the history I am involved in. My horizons are largely shaped from experience here. In this section I have the subcategories of “Australia” (where I current live), “Pasifika” (the island countries we neighbour) and “Migrant”, the last one being something of a leitmotif for the human stories born here and arriving via the Ocean. Aboriginal, Settle-Colonial, Multicultural: this uneasy mix of variously occupied space is a parable for global themes, the work of Comparison that sharpens. “Locating”, or “situating” is a theological imperative in order to listen and speak honestly.

Round two – Postcolonial Histories

QUOTE:

. . . subaltern is not just a classy word for “oppressed”, for The Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie. . . . In postcolonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern—a space of difference. Now, who would say that’s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It’s not subaltern. . . . Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus; they don’t need the word ‘subaltern’ . . . They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They’re within the hegemonic discourse, wanting a piece of the pie, and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.

Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in South Africa (1992) [21]

Timeline.

  • 1830 – G.F.W. Hegel, “The African Character”
  • 1871 – Joseph-Ernest Renan, La Réforme intellectuel et morale, justifying European control over the world based on European superiority.
  • 1885 – Anténor Firmin, De l’Égalité des Races Humaines, an anthropologist’s rebuttal of Gonibeau
  • 1916 – Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism.
  • 1931 – Harlem’s Paulette Nardal (proprietor of the Clamart Salon) and Haiti’s Leo Sejou published the French/English journal La revue du Monde Noir
  • 1935 – L’Étudiant noir, Journal Mensuel de l’Association des Étudiants Martiniquais en France first published by Césaire with Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas in Paris. The journal only published two issues — March 1935 and May–June 1935 — including poems of Damas and articles from Senghor, but in the second issue Césaire’s essay Conscience raciale et révolution sociale first implemented his term négritude.
  • 1937 – Antonio Gramsci dies.
  • 1939 – Césaire returns to Martinique to teach at the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France, becoming the teacher of Frantz Fanon and an indirect influence on Édouard Glissant. In this year the French periodical Volontés will publish Césaire’s poem-book Cahier d’un retour au pays natal after its publication is rejected. Later published, 1947.
  • 1945 – Frantz Fanon returns to Martinique from time in the Free French Army active in Madagascar and Algeria. He had fled Martinique when Vichy collaborators took control. Now back he helps former teacher Césaire electoral run with the island’s French Communist Party. After receiving his degree he went to Lyon France, because a psychiatrist in ’51.
  • 1947 – Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, a book-length poem is published after initial rejection in 1939. This time Césaire’s friend, Surrealist André Breton writes an introduction.
  • 1948 – Jean-Paul Sartre, Orphée Noir (Black Orpheus), an essay on négritude philosophy, later becomes intro for Senghor’s compilation of Francophone poetry, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache
  • 1950 – Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialism, published by small press Réclame, associated with French Communist Party.
  • 1952 – Fanon writes his first book, Black Skin White Masks, but as a rejected doctoral dissertation at Lyon entitled “Essay on the Disalienation of the Black”, later published by pro-Algerian philosopher Francis Jeanson’s press Éditions du Seuil, Paris. The title, Peau noire, masques blancs, was the suggestion of Jeanson. Apparently the meeting did not go well between Fanon and Jeanson, with Fanon’s defensive “Not bad for a nigger, is it?” getting him kicked out of Jeanson’s office but binding them finally in a mutual respect. In the fifth chapter, “L’expérience vécue du Noir”, heavily anthologised, Césaire’s influence is explored.
  • 1953 – Fanon arrives in Algeria, this time as a psychiatric (and also medical) doctor in the BlidaJoinville Psychiatric Hospital, where he remains practicing until he is deported in Jan, ’57. He develops radical socio-therapy but is radicalised even more politically following the Algerian Revolution and his contact with Dr. Pierre Chaulet at Blida.
  • 1954 – Algerian Revolution breaks out.
  • 1955 – Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialism, republished ’55 by the anticolonial quarterly Présence Africaine, trans. 1957
  • 1956 – 1st International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris, organised by publisher Présence Africaine:
    Speakers include: “Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Jacques Rabemananjara, Cheikh Anta Diop, Richard Wright, Franz Fanon, and Jean Price-Mars” (Wikipedia).
  • 1957 – Albert Memmi, Portrait du colonisé, précédé par Portrait du colonisateur, trans ’65, preface by Sartre
    Jan – Fanon expelled from Algeria and travels to Tunisia. During this time he serves as a pan-African revolutionary and travels the continent. His short writings from this part of his life were collected posthumously in Toward the African Revolution.
  • 1958 – Césaire founds the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais after growing disillusioned with communism. The Soviets had put down the Hungarian revolution of ’56. He had previously been politically engaged as Mayor of Fort-de-France through the French Communist Party, and was criticised for “departmentalising” the former French colonies as drafter of 1946 laws for the French National Assembly for Martinique. He wrote Lettre à Maurice Thorez in denouncing the PCF and Soviet communism.
  • 1958 – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, a novel on native Algerian life under colonialism.
  • 1959 – Frantz Fanon, L’An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne, later titled “Sociology of a Revolution” by Maspero, and later “A Dying Colonialism”.
  • 1960 – Aimé Césaire, Toussaint Louverture, on the Haitian revolutionary.
  • 1961 – Frantz Fanon, Les Damnés de la Terre, preface by Sartre, published by Éditions Maspero; trans ’63. It is censored by the French government.
    Dec – Fanon dies in Bethesda, Maryland where he’d flown (via the CIA) for leukemia treatment. He had progressively gotten sicker after his exile and a good deal of travel: travel that involved, for example, the opening of a third military front for the Algerian revolution from the Saharan and Tuniso-Algerian borders. The writing of “Wretched” happened around this time, as well as a trip to Rome to visit Sartre, after his extensive African engagements brought him back to Tunis.
  • 1962 – Algerian Civil Wars ends.
  • 1964 – Jean-Paul Sartre, Colonialism and Neocolonialism, contains preface from Wretched of the Earth.
  • 1964 – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’oWeep Not Child, novel of colonial experience in East Africa
  • 1965 – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (James Ngugi),  The River Between, novel on Mau-Mau Kenyan experience.
  • 1969 – Aimé Césaire, Une Tempête, a decolonial response to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
  • 1969 – Fausto Reinaga, La Revolución India, in which he breaks from Marxism and his previous goals:
    “In my works from 1940 to 1960 I sought the assimilation of the Indian through White-Mestizo cholaje. And in those that I published from 1964 to 1970 I sought the liberation of the Indian, prior destruction of White-Mestizo cholaje… and I propose the Indian revolution.” (Wikipedia). He was a founder of Bolivian indigenism, founding PIAK in 1962: the Party of Aymara and Keswa Indians. He published many books on Indigenous philosophy, saying: “Christ and Marx must be removed from the Indian’s head.”
  • 1970 – Kwame NkrumahConsciencism,
  • 1975 – Chinua Achebe – “An Image of Africa: Racism in Joseph Condrad’s Heart of Darkness“, a lecture given at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, turned essay, published in the ’88 collection Hopes and Impediments.
  • 1978 – Edward Said, Orientalism, on the literary creation of the East by the West, and the West by the West’s creation of the East. Looked at classic European conceptions of the Oriental.
  • 1986 – Gyatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak? and “Selected Subaltern Studies”
  • 1986 – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (James Ngugi), Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, essay.
  • 1988 – Samir Amin, L’eurocentrisme.
  • 1990 – Gyatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Postcolonial Critic
  • 1991 – Aníbal Quijano, “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality”
  • 1993 – Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism.
  • 1994 – Homi K. Bhabha, Location of Culture, critiques the imaginary division of the world into essentialist parts, such as Christendom and the Islamic World, First, Second and Third World, etc., providing “hybridity” to counter this reduction and deal with the ambiguities.
  • 1997 – R. Siva Kumar, curated exhibition Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism, the manual introducing the concept of contextual, local modernisms, located outside/apart from European modernism, a phrase that will be applied to the likes of Rabindranath Tagore Nandanal Bose, etc.
  • 1999 – Walter Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs, developing “border-thinking”.
  • 1999 – Aníbal Quijano, Globalizations and Modernities
  • 2000 – Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, which made Europe one region among many.
  • 2004 – In this year’s edition of The Wretched of the Earth, Homi K. Bhabha criticised Sartre’s original introduction for limiting the scope of Fanon’s vision to promotion of violent resistance to colonial oppression (according to Wikipedia).

From a series about The History of Racism exploring how concepts of race came about in life of Europe’s slave economies and colonial control of the world.

At the beginning of the documentary they talk about race and capital, race and representation, race and modernism, etc.—(you can find parts one, two, four, five and six on YouTube)—but here they explore race and religion.

Trigger warning: discusses traumatic instances of genocide, torture, slavery. 

raison d’être

My friend Jin asked me to write up something on “politics and faith” for a Christian Ministry Forum. That meant, time to make a site where the interface of the two things can come together. The internet, with the ease of hyperlinks and a whole encyclopaedia of information to link to, is easier for exploring a multidisciplinary topic than an essay is. Essays are too linear and my mind works in zig-zags. So that’s the reason.

I don’t really like to talk about my own particularities, agendas and opinions… at least not on paper. It’s safer to stick to a disinterested approach. But political theologies and the work of liberation don’t allow for a disinterested approach, don’t even believe that such a stance is possible. So I’ll start with a little bit about why politics and faith come together for me.

My own formation:

My name is Alex Holme-Brown. I’m a youth worker involved in political action here in Perth, mostly to do refugee rights, and, as a Christian I bring my faith to the table where it interacts with the needs I see.

I studied theology in this city — where I was introduced to the work of theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann, Gerhard von Rad and Walter Brueggemann, who in their own ways explore the politics in theology — and I feel grateful for my time in seminary but also lament that there is not more focus on how faith and politics interact for those seeking Bible training, particularly in the thinking of Aboriginal and Pacific Islander theologians and ministers who are dealing with the most urgent dilemmas of our region (and/which is) the destruction of their communities, lands and waters. Those voices are almost entirely unheard in the churches where I grew up, leaving us unable to comprehend the experiences and perspectives of the land’s most vulnerable people, among whom Jesus would walk, and does walk, as well as the colonial situation which permits and produces the silencing/unhearing.

My own understanding of Australia is informed by a matrix of personal and historical intersections. I’m white, which means a great deal in a white settler colony built on black land. In understood what this meant for the first time when I saw images at the historic site of the Old York Goal, where Aboriginal men were shackled with heavy irons from neck-to-neck. I was 10 and I cried and I hated my self for any participation I had, somehow. Later I would understand it more, but I still am not able to really understand what it means, except that the white warder’s face looked like mine and the captured men were marked by difference.

I know that the ongoing situation for Aboriginal Australia calls me to responsibility which begins with listening. I can understand if I can learn to listen.

I’m also First Gen Aussie, from migrant stock: English (like most people here) and Italian (like many) and Argentine (like not so many). I always identified more with these places and the stories they hold than with the culture around me. Behind a face that looks like the faces around me are memories and narratives from other places, associated with faces that don’t actually look like mine but are my blood and my ancestors. My family is multiracial, also because of adoption (India), so we don’t really fit the mould, but still receive privilege because we are close enough. We have prospered in this land of opportunity, a reality that is unrealised for Indigenous Australians. For many migrants, the original Australians are invisible because life is directed toward achieving the migrant dreams which are achieved within white Australia.

So are we colonisers, we who have come from other colonial situations? This ambiguity is unsettling for us who have settled here, but can help us understand the complexity of our national life.

These features and others have brought me to an understanding that is evolving. You will have your own … features and stories and ancestors that shape you. A lot of what we’ll be doing on this site is contextual work. Political and liberation theologies are always contextual, always seek to understand and intervene in a particular context, and are inevitably coloured by the situation and the people within it. Contextual bias is admitted and explored. That helps us see that we do theology from a certain standpoint which is relative, because there are other experiences for other people that may challenge the totalising of our own views, and yet real, because our lived experiences have really been lived and are filled with valuable insights and potential for further journeying. To be contextual is to avoid universalising, making ideas from one culture apply to all people in a monolithic way. Yet we will try also to be global, that is, look at ideas from across the globe, particularly from the majority world outside of North Atlantic (European and United States, or “Western”) paradigms. Australians need to understand their role in Australia, but also in the wider neighbourhood in which me make policies and form trade deals and go to war and build orphanages. We cannot understand this world unless we listen to its many voices.

My own privilege:

I want to admit my own bias and I need to confess my privilege. I benefit and can function in a society which favours people like me; I’m male, and white, a wealthy, and cisgender.

The ways that I do not fit into the mould, however, make me uncomfortable, and give me a small glimpse of life for people who are completely locked out and cut off from participating. As a theologian and as a Christian I am indebted to theories from the most marginalised people reflecting on their praxis, theories which have made sense of my own small sufferings and opened my eyes to the world of the poor. I do not wish, by speaking about them, to appropriate their experience and wisdom for myself and other privileged consumers, or to imagine I speak on their behalf. Hopefully I can navigate between these two risks and do something which lets the voices speak for themselves, just making them accessible to people who, otherwise, might not encounter anything similar.

Not my own land:

I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land and waters, especially the Noongar people of Australia’s South-West, their customs and their ancestors.

I am writing, sitting on land that has sustained and been sustained by Noongar people for generations before and after the establishment of the Swan River Colony, called Perth City, built on sacred and stolen land.

I invite any collaboration and correction from Aboriginal sisters and brothers. I acknowledge the Creator has always walked with you. I can learn about the Creator through the traditions you make available to me, and through your hospitality that I have often taken for granted.

Themes:

  • Contextual Theologies
  • Liberation Theologies
  • Indigenous Theologies
  • Feminist/Womanist Theologies
  • Peacemaking & Interfaith Dialogue
  • LGBT Equality and Queer Theories
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Postcolonial Theory
  • Socialism and anti-Capitalism