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100 Years of Political Theology: A Caribbean Perspective (by Ramon Luzarraga)

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From the editor: We continue our series of “Top 10 lists,” offering different perspectives on the field of political theology in response to Ted Smith’s “Political Theology Start-up Kit” posted last month at the Religion in American History blog. This week, Ramón Luzárraga offers a distinctive Caribbean perspective on the issues and texts most important to his work in the field.

Caribbean theology is a sui generis political theology. It first originated amongst Protestants in the Anglophone Caribbean as a response to the push for the social and economic enfranchisement of the entire people resident in each island, and the concomitant push for political autonomy and independence from Britain. Today, Caribbean theology is an ecumenical effort, generated by Protestants and Catholic theologians alike, most of whom balance academic work with their pastoral work leading parishes and even whole dioceses. Its primary task is to develop a uniquely Caribbean way to do theology, which means participation in the project being done by Caribbean intellectual and political leaders to develop a uniquely Caribbean self-identity. Caribbean theology seeks a uniquely Caribbean way to do theology, not by seeking a schismatic break from the universal Church nor the wholesale tossing aside of the missionary Christianity it inherited in a quest to become a Caribbean-centric sect. The European influences that inform Caribbean theology and identity would continue to be an influence, but it would no longer be the only influence and it would be subject to the same critical appraisal as any other theological source. Nor would it have an automatic veto over other cultural influences which shape the region, including the indigenous roots of the Caribbean, and especially the critical retrieval of the African roots of that region.

 Because most Caribbean theologians juggle academic work with pastoral work, the article is the preferred means of articulating this theology. Consequently, many of the most influential works of Caribbean theology are drawn from collections of essays which are the fruit of collaborative efforts by these theologians. However, individual Caribbean theologians do produce monographs and collections of previously presented or published essays. Bracketed between the theological giants of their fellow North Americans and the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking parts of Latin America (Guyana and Suriname, though geographically South American, culturally and religiously have more in common with the Caribbean), this body of theological work deserves a far greater recognition and broader audience than it receives. Caribbean theologians wrestle with social issues similar to what Latin American theologians have dealt with, and which are growing problems in the developed world. They wrestle with issues similar to what theologians in Western parliamentary democracies deal with too: how to make our civil society and political institutions work better and for the common good of all.

 What follows is a non-exhaustive list, alphabetical by author, of important Caribbean theological works chosen by a Catholic theologian who lives and works in the United States, but maintains an active dialogue and involvement with Caribbean theologians and their work. I am a sympathetic outsider, a fellow traveler, who has both family and professional ties to the region. A theologian who lives and works within the Caribbean may likely compose a different list, though I trust there would be some overlap.

 Patrick A.B. Anthony, editor, Theology in the Caribbean Today 1: Perspectives. Msgr. Patrick A.B. Anthony of the Archdiocese of Castries, with Joseph Harris, C.S.Sp. (now the Archbishop of Port of Spain), with his brother Spiritan, Michel de Verteuil, C.S.Sp, are considered among the “founding fathers” of Caribbean theology from the Catholic side. This volume was the product of the first ever meeting of the Catholic Conference on Caribbean Theology Today, led by the aforementioned clerics and other leading Catholic theologians from the Caribbean like Gerald Boodoo, Gabriel Malzaire, Lambert Saint Rose, and Martin Sirju, It surveyed the history of the Church and theology in the Caribbean, the region’s current situation and concerns, and explored fruitful theological and pastoral responses to the needs of the region, all from a Catholic perspective.

 Patrick A.B. Anthony, editor, Theology in the Caribbean Today 2: The Spirit World. The Caribbean believes in a spirit-filled world where the presence of the divine and the demonic is all-pervasive. This is because the Indigenous, African, and (with regard to Trinidad and Guyana) the Indian Sub-continental roots brought that religious view to the region. Only Europe introduced the idea of agnosticism and atheism into the Caribbean, which was a distinctly minority view compared to the overwhelming Christian views brought from that region. This book is a theological and ethical assessment done by the second meeting of the Catholic Conference on Caribbean Theology Today on the charismatic presence of the Spirit and the perceived presence of the demonic among Christians in that region.

 Antilles Episcopal Conference, Justice and Peace in a New Caribbean and True Freedom and Development in the Caribbean. These two pastoral letters by the bishops of the Caribbean representing the English, Dutch, and French-speaking islands of the Caribbean (except for Haiti), articulated a vision of cultural liberation and the integral development of the people of the region.

 Donald Chambers, The Faces of Jesus Christ in the Literary Works of Caribbean Preachers and Theologians Towards A Constructive Christology For The Caribbean. This dissertation articulates how Caribbean clergy and theologians respond in faith to Jesus Christ by taking the eternal message of the Gospel and using that to address the situation and concerns of the people of the Caribbean.

 Kortright Davis, Emancipation Still Comin’: Explorations in Caribbean Emancipatory Theology. Caribbean society and theology, because of its colonial past, must make an intellectual and spiritual emancipation. The goal, according to Davis, is to achieve a theological self-reliance, and understand God and the human relationship to God on the Caribbean’s own terms.

 Noel Erskine, Decolonizing Theology: A Caribbean Perspective. Afro-Christian worship and thought in its variety, drawn from the American South and Caribbean (with each influencing the development of the other as far back as the 19th century), is decisively important for understanding Caribbean theology. This book is a superb survey of this (many would say the) central feature of Caribbean Christian life and thought.

 Jason Gordon, Theology, Hermeneutics and Liberation: Grounding Theology in A Caribbean Context. This dissertation articulates theological method in Caribbean theology, asking the question whether the word “Caribbean” is merely a geographical location within which people do theology, or is it representative of a social and cultural reality that should shape how theology is done.

 Idris Hamid, In Search of New Perspectives, is widely credited for being the article that inaugurated Caribbean theology. He critiqued the theology received in the Caribbean as being abstract, otherworldly, and indifferent to the suffering and needs of the people of the region. He was among the first to call for the decolonization of theology and, by extension, Caribbean religious practice. This project would liberate the people of the Caribbean from a mentality of inferiority in relation to their former European masters and the integral development of that people to realize a unique Caribbean identity in the face of God. His edited volumes Troubling the Waters and Out of the Depths contain some of the earliest collections of Caribbean theology by himself and others in the region.

 Anna Kasafi Perkins, Justice as Equality: Michael Manley’s Caribbean Vision of Justice. Michael Manley, three-time prime minister of Jamaica and scion of one of that nation’s leading families, at first blush appears an unlikely subject for a Roman Catholic, Jamaican theologian to devote a monograph to. Manley, though influenced by his Methodist background, was a religious agnostic. However, Manley’s administration was an attempt to implement many principles that resonate with Roman Catholic social teaching. Perkins’ work is a superb critical assessment of Manley, which has universal import with her tackling square-on the question of the nature and implementation of the controversial idea of equality.

 William Watty, From Shore to Shore: Soundings in Caribbean Theology. This collection of essays by the Methodist pastor and theologian is another early example of Caribbean theology. Watty surveys the major theological currents and themes of theology in his day, all from a Caribbean theological perspective.

Ramón Luzárraga is Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine University – Mesa in Mesa, Arizona, where he is also Chair of the Department of Theology. His interests include political theology, and Hispanic and Caribbean theology.

One Comment

  1. Thank You for this list. As part of my thesis I am trying to put together an idea of what “Caribbean Theology” is.
    It’s not very easy. I do agree that decolonization is one key element. Equality, I think ought to feature more highly. Thanks.

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