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De/colonizing Theologies: Glocal Histories, Contemporary Challenges

INSeCT Twin Conference

KU Leuven / Ateneo de Manila University

27 – 30 March 2023

Jonas Roosens/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Colonial Empires are power/knowledge/being regimes: as the theorists of postcolonial studies have forcefully shown, colonial power is established and sustained through an intricate network of political and cultural, social and economic, intellectual and linguistic discourses, and resistance to colonial power unfolds in practices that take place within these regimes of hegemonic power. And by no means are these regimes a thing of the past – even after former colonies gained political independence, colonial structures continue to persist globally in economic systems, in social discourses and political relations, and in the epistemic practices through which we make sense of the world: the triple violence of colonialism (political violence through oppression; economic violence through exploitation; and cultural violence through negation) reverberates in multiple forms in the overlapping crises we face today: racial oppression, gender injustice, environmental degradation and damaged health. Decolonization is an unfinished project. ​ Christianity (in its many institutional forms, practices and imaginaries that perform the tradition) has been an inextricable part of these colonial regimes and it continues to participate in the structures and discourses of our postcolonial world. A host of historical and sociological research has demonstrated how Christian institutions and theological practices have shaped, and have been shaped by, the struggle for colonial power – in irreducibly ambivalent ways: a careful analysis of local histories of colonialism and its aftermath shows how the Christian narrative has served both to buttress colonial oppression and to oppose it. How do we theologically account for these complex and inextricable entanglements between Christianity and empire? Simple narratives that either subscribe to a wholesale condemnation of Christianity as hegemonic or seek to recover and redeem an authentic liberative message at the core of the Christian tradition do not suffice to reckon with this intricate colonial heritage. Instead, we need more nuanced accounts of how theology is practiced in irreducibly ambivalent ways within the chassis of colonialism. ​ To find such nuanced accounts of the de/colonizing force of theology, the contributions to this conference will turn to particular instances of the glocal histories of colonialism in Belgium and the Philippines, and its reverberations in some of the intersecting crises of today, in gender injustice and the ecological crisis. We will investigate what kind of theologies emerge from these sites, and interrogate them as to their political effects. Ultimately, what we hope to discern from this interrogation of the entanglements between Christianity and empire, are pathways for decolonial practices of theology that are able to account for the ways in which theology has been shaped by colonialism – together, we seek to understand theology as a way of un/doing colonial power.

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