Concilium 2018-1. Asian Christianities
Edited by: Daniel Franklin Pilario, Felix Wilfred and Po-Ho Huang
Editorial: Asian Christianities, postcolonial encounters
Historians of Christianity agree that before the end of the first century, Christianity has spread to as far as India and China. Historical records show that a certain Theophilus was sent by Emperor Constantius to “other parts of India” in 354 and found a Christian group listening “to the reading of the Gospel in a sitting posture” which he found repugnant to his Arian taste. Or, in 635, Alopen arrived in the Kingdom of Ta-ch’in and was warmly welcomed by the T’ang Emperor whose tolerant government accepted Christianity. Alopen was not the first Christian to step on Chinese soil since many of them were already doing business along the Silk Road long time earlier.
However, this Asian historical trajectory is less known because the dominant story of Christianity has always been Eurocentric. Most church history books used in seminary classrooms tell us of a tripartite division – ancient (Jewish-Greek), medieval (European) and modern (colonial expansion) – the last of which correspond to the “new age of world mission” when Latin America, Africa and Asia join Christianity’s narrative. What was deleted in this narrative was the fact that “during the first millennium, there already existed diverse yet mature and vibrant expressions of the same Christianity in all the central cultures of the ancient world – Roman but also Mediterranean, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Armenian, Arabian, African, and so on.” The Christian East, for instance, has been obliterated from dominant historiography since they we all labeled as heretics or schismatics, Arians, Nestorians or Monophysites and – in our century – nobodies, as they were violently annihilated from existence. Asian Christianity thus became a “lost Christianity”. But it could not be denied that during the earlier periods, Christianity was stronger in Asia and North African than in Europe; and “only after about 1400 did Europe (and Europeanized North America) decisively become a Christian heartland.” Through different external political, military and religio-cultural forces, Christianity was almost totally annihilated in the Asian continent from 14th century onwards. Thus, Christianity only came to be considered ‘European’ by default: “Europe was the continent where it was not destroyed. Matters could easily have developed differently.”
It is in the spirit of recovering the lost voices of Asian Christianities that Concilium engages in conversation with Asian theologians. These conversations are aware that all throughout history, Christianity in Asia as everywhere else has encountered different voices, faiths, economies, political societies and cultures. These encounters were not neutral exchanges, enmeshed as they were in relations of colonial powers. To reflect on how power was and is continually exercised in these cultural and religious interactions is a necessary dimension in the theological understanding of Asian Christianities in our times. As the postcolonial critic Edward Said writes: “there is no way in which the past can be quarantined from the present. Past and present inform each other, each implies the other and… each co-exists with the other.” There have been debates in postcolonial theory whether to write it with a hyphen or not. “The unhyphenated version (postcolonial) refers to the ‘always present underside’ of colonization itself. In other words, the discursive struggle in the ‘postcolonial’ can already be located within the colonial itself.” Thus, postcolonial theory is not a mere analysis of discursive practices in the aftermath of the colonial enterprise; it centers on hegemonic discourses both within the colonial enterprise and in the “continued messy and complicated history colonialism leaves in its wake”.
Part of the postcolonial reflections on Asian Christianities during the Concilium Conference held in Manila, the articles in this volume are grouped into three main themes: post-colonial readings of Asian Christianities, liberation and feminist theologies’ encounter with Asian cultures and religions, and reflections on interfaith dialogues in Asia.
Felix Wilfred and Jose Mario Francisco argue for the use of postcolonial theory both to decolonize theology from its Western moorings and to unleash its creative energies reclaiming itself as Christian. To argue that Vatican II was a landmark event that made the Church truly catholic and universal, as Rahner did, is for Wilfred a problematic direction. A rereading of the Christian historiography as we hinted above bears the Eurocentric direction of this claim. Likewise, Ratzinger’s theological assertion that the Universal Church has “ontological and chronological priority” over particular churches runs in the same Eurocentric ecclesiological direction as Rahner. What Felix advances is the postcolonial concept of singularity adopted from Spivak to assert the singularity of Asian Churches which are not an application of the universal but something “repeatable and each one of the repetition has a difference and profile of its own.” A cursory reading of history as Wilfred does reveals these different profiles, epistemes, and contributions to the Christian story. Through the same postcolonial reading, Francisco deconstructs the common misconception of Asian Christianities as a “minority, colonial and foreign religion”. These preconceived notions are often products of Western histories and frames, e.g., rigid and clear boundaries of denominational membership emerging from the religious wars of modern Europe. Asian Christianities, Francisco argues, admit of multiple belonging, checkered histories and subversive appropriations of colonial practices as it reclaims its “authentic identity, not in a unified, fixed, essentialized space but in a space of multiple, contradictory, paradoxical, hybrid positions, possibilities, and potentialities.”
The concepts of ‘hybrid’ and ‘third space’ are crucial postcolonial categories theorized by Homi Bhabba. He argues that individual agents and socio-historical events lend themselves to liminal “in between” spaces, ambivalent but also fertile grounds of new meanings.
It is in this spirit that two biblical scholars, Marie-Theres Wacker and Pablo David, agree to reflect on a common text (Gal. 3: 28) in order to search for alternative significations that may challenge dominant and hegemonic interpretations. Pablo David problematizes the “unity in Christ” discourse in the Pauline text which sometimes lend itself to the imperial and colonial program to subjugate the different others. For him, “for all are one in Christ Jesus” does not mean annihilation of these ethnic-cultural differences but a genuine appreciation of differention as a precondition for unity in Christ’s body. The hypenated Christian thus is what Paul had in mind: “Judaeo-Christian” and “Hellenistic-Christian” and, by extension, “African Christian”, “Asian-Christian”, and others. Beyond the binary concepts of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, Marie-Theres Wacker also sees in the porosity of the Pauline text an opening toward the presence of “in between genders” in the New Testament exemplified, for instance, in the person of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8: 26-40). As a ‘God-fearer’, he is neither Jewish or Greek religiously; as an official, he is not just a freeborn, but also no ordinary slave. As a human whose sexual organs were probably mutilated, he was located in a liminal space. Paul asserts that with his baptism, he belongs to those who are now ‘one in Christ’.
Liberation theology has been recognized as a fertile field of dialogue between continents. The Latin American liberation theologian, Diego Irarrazaval reflects on the areas of cross-fertilization and exchanges between Asian and Latin American liberation theologies. Theologians of both continents value the peoples’ wisdom born out of their struggle with poverty and oppression. They also employ theological mediations in tune with the journey of the people. Being in multi-religious contexts, they exhibit a humble posture in front of other faiths. These interchanges though are not without paradoxes. For instance, the author observes a sense of transactional spirituality, that is, devotion characterized not so much by a real relationship with God but by asking for divine favors; or contemporary spiritual movements are also coopted by global market forces. This dialogue between liberation theologies of the two continents, Irarrazaval argues, needs to be founded on a “renewed understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean and Semitic-Asian prophet who is light for the world.” Jose de Mesa’s article argues for the centrality of language in the recovery of cultures and theologies of a people. Based on his personal experience as a Western-trained Filipino theologian who uses English, he unmasks the effects of the English language as perpetration of the colonial enterprise that will “remain one major obstacle to the discovery of a truly Asian theology.” With an example, he illustrates how the Filipino language can truly re-appropriate theological categories in specific contexts.
Feminist intercultural ethics opens itself to dialogue with Asian liberationist issues and concerns. Linda Hogan argues that cultural – also read as colonial – assumptions of the northern hemisphere, complicit with the dominant colonial model, still predominate the feminist theological agenda. In a reflexive mode, she acknowledges the contributions of present Asian theologians and, taking her cue from Spivak, argues for an inclusive, pluralistic and intercultural discourse among disciplinary specializations, theological institutes, journals and professional associations. Agnes Brazal’s article gives an example of how theology in general and feminist ethics in particular can learn from the theology and ecclesial practices of local indigenous faiths. A hybrid indigenous faith – Ciudad Mistica de Dios – believes in God as Mother and consequently practices an all-women priesthood and inclusive leadership in its government. In the spirit of dialogical reflexivity, Brazal hopes that “both the Catholic Church and Ciudad Mistica will become more reflexive and that a ‘space’ to reinterpret their traditions towards a liberating and inclusive society. Stefanie Knauss dialogues with Asian liberation theologies from the perspective of aesthetics. Arguing for the need of sensory experience in theological meaning-making and ethical practice, Knauss thinks that much of Asian reflections are already forms of aesthetic theologies in the form of songs, poems, stories and art. These more synthetic approaches to reality – unity of feeling and reason, knowing and doing, reason and emotions – characteristic to Asian way of life “offer a rich foundation for a theology of the encounter with the divine in the scents or tastes of daily life.”
For Christianity to survive in Asia where complex religious systems already thrive for several centuries before its arrival before its arrival, it can only exist in the form of dialogue. Po Ho Huang thinks that religious plurality is a unique God-given reality and it is Christianity’s God-given mission “to make this pluralistic reality a blessing instead of a source of conflict or division.” However, he also enumerates some difficulties why it is not automatic for Christians to do so: its colonial aggressive tendencies, its proselytizing program, the refusal to deeper dialogue among new converts, and its “minority complex” and the ambivalent tendencies that go with it. Beyond dialogue as strategy, however, Thierry-Marie Courau thinks that salvation in fact comes in the form of dialogue of traditions, of peoples and of communities. Christians need to realize that salvation happens fully “when the other traditions are received as they are, and that each with its own rationality, sets out with others to listen to the truth that seeks them.” Jojo Fung reflects on the dialogue between Christianity and indigenous religions whose belief in “many spirits” are manifestations themselves of the one divine Ruach. This alliance between Asian Christianities and indigenous religions aims to counter the inroads of colonial and postcolonial capital to our ecological resources.
The Theological Forum centers on proposed perspectives of interreligious dialogue discourse and a theological analysis of the now controversial Philippine political situation.
 Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia. Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1500 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008). 267
 Ibid. 291-293.
 Daniel Franklin Pilario, “Revisiting Historiographies: New Trajectories for Asian Christianity,” in The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 452.
 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
 Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2008), 3.
 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994), 4.
 Daniel Franklin Pilario, “Mapping Postcolonial Theory: Appropriations in Contemporary Theology,” Hapad 3, No. 1-2 (2006): 14.
 Cf. Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge, “What is Post(-) colonialism,” Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (London: Routledge, 2015), 276-290.
 Namsoon Kang, “Theology from a Space where Postcolonialism and Theology Intersect,” Concilium 2013/2 (London: SCM Press, 2013), 66.
 Homi Bhabba, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).
 Ciudad Mistica de Dios is an indigenous faith group in the Philippines born as reaction to Spanish colonial rule in the early part of the 20th century. When the Spanish colonial government introduced Catholicism with its all-male clergy, this group resisted by separating itself from the colonial religion and keeping its priestesses and women leaders which was already an indigenous practice before the coming of the colonizers.
Table of contents
Editorial: Asian Christianities, postcolonial encounters
1. Asian Christianities: postcolonial readings
2. Liberation and Feminist Theologies: Asian encounters
3. Interfaith dialogues in Asia
4. Theological forum
Felix Wilfred – « Asian Christianities and Theologies through Lens of Postcolonialism » : The present contribution is an initiation into a critical analysis and deconstructive reflection on Asian Christianities and theologies by deploying some of the basic concepts and epistemological tools of postcolonialism. As such it follows a different trajectory than the conventional one, which, it is hoped will be a force of renewal for the Churches in a more radical manner. The contribution Asia could make to global Christianity is exemplified by the unique post-denominational route it has followed by navigating into the waters of “wider ecumenism”.
Jose Mario C. Francisco – « Reclaiming Christianity as Asian » : The study of Christianity in Asia must be liberated from common but distorting perspectives that define it as minority, colonial and foreign. It calls for nothing less than reclaiming Christianity as Asian. This constitutes a fundamental epistemic shift that recognizes Asian Christians as subject, valorizes their faith expressions and theological articulations, and empowers them to contribute to Christianity’s global catholicity through mediating translation and faithful exchange with Christians beyond Asia.
Pablo Virgilio S. David – « A Postcolonial Reading of Galatians 3:28 » : Paul makes a plea for “unity in Christ”, over and above the factors of ethnicity, social status and gender that tended to divide the Galatians. Did he understand this “unity” to mean the abolition of all ethnic, cultural, religious and other forms of differentiation? Is not Christianity rather founded on a genuine appreciation of differentiation, before it can serve a factor for unity at all? The differentiation of Jesus as male, a Jew, a Galilean, a carpenter, etc. is part of the very mystery itself of the incarnation. It is a mystery that the Church itself has to learn to embrace at each time the faith is appropriated by peoples of new religious, cultural, economic and political worldviews. A colonial reading of Gal. 3:2 can conveniently serve to justify the religious, cultural, political and economic hegemony of Western Christianity into non-Christian civilizations as a “manifest destiny”. This sort of triumphalism, of thinking one’s own worldview as superior, of patronizing those who are deemed culturally inferior, of forcing one’s civilization on the rest of the world, as pedagogy for unity, is neither in keeping with, nor a sound exegesis of Gal. 3:2.
Marie-Theres Wacker – « Postkoloniale Annäherungen an Gal 3,27-28 für eine Vielfalt des Christentums in Asien » : Der Beitrag exploriert Gal 3,27-28 mit postkolonialen Sonden im Blick auf Sprache (griechische Abfassungssprache des Briefes selbst, aber auch Sprache der Übersetzungen), Judentum (Beschneidungsthematik auf dem Hintergrund der „new quest“), Sklaverei (eine Gemeinschaft, in der Sklaven nicht ausgebeutet werden, als „third space“) und Gender (Gal 3,27-28 wird intertextuell bezogen auf Apg 8,26-40, die Erzählung über den äthiopischen Eunuchen).
Diego Irrarázaval – « South-America’s Liberation Nourished by Asian Christianity » : Thinking from the margins implies interaction with non-Christian wisdom and with social-cosmic spirituality. This essay deals with Latin-American concerns, and what Asia teaches us. Liberation theology is grounded in Jesus, a Semitic-Asian healer and prophet. Leaving aside neocolonial patterns, there is dialogue with syncretic and plural journeys towards the truth.
José M. de Mesa – « Linguistic Domination in Theology » : The Filipino language is the voice of the culture speaking in its own terms. Linguistic domination, by Spanish first, then English, in addition to cultural debasement, is still felt in the residual power that English has in matters theological. English is still the Philippines’ theological lingua franca. The advantages of utilizing the Filipino language in theology have been kept at bay by the “prestige” and overall dominance of English.If language enables people to think, then it is experientially very difficult to do so in the language that has been treated as inferior and marginalized during the colonial regime. The article focuses on a theologian’s struggle to regain cultural pride by showing the value of the Filipino language (and culture), demonstrating its cultural potential, and making it possible to experience God through her/his own culture.
Linda Hogan – « Feminist Intercultural Ethics: Conversing with Asia » : Feminist theological ethics has had multiple phases of development, and is now highly attentive to the diversity of women’s experience and to the important ways in which race, class and ethnicity intersect with gender to create and perpetuate social exclusion and economic marginalisation. Yet notwithstanding the vibrancy of feminist theological discourse, it is arguable that the field continues to be dominated by the concerns, norms and methods of theologians from the northern hemisphere. This paper asks how feminist theologians from the northern hemisphere can think through our own complicity in the dominant model to find ethical forms of engagement in feminist intercultural ethics.
Agnes M. Brazal – « Female Image of God and Women’s Leadership in Ciudad Mistica de Dios » : Ciudad Mistica is an autochthonous nationalist religious group in Mount Banahaw, Philippines. A hybrid religion that has blended Christian symbols and beliefs with its deeply held belief in the Motherhood of God and women’s spiritual leadership, it has both accommodated to and resisted colonial domination. This essay explores the question: What would a contrapuntal reading of the beliefs and praxis of the Catholic Church and Ciudad Mistica yield for a conversation on the issue of female God image and leadership of women in the church? Feminist Christians can learn from Mistica that God can be seen as Mother, without necessarily linking this to physical motherhood and traditional feminine qualities. Mistica likewise demonstrates how a female imaging of God translates to and/or is supported by women’s religious leadership, and that a woman-led church need not be a mirror image of a patriarchal church. Mistica is also a reminder to postgender feminists that in particular cultural contexts, gender continues to be regarded as a significant category but such do not always lead to the subordination of women. Mistic,a on the other hand, in its encounter with Christian feminists, seems to have moved from a theological belief in women’s spiritual pre-eminence to a focus instead on the equal creation of woman and man in God’s image.
Stefanie Knauss – « Sensing the Other and the Divine in Embodied Experiences » : In this contribution, I argue for a return to the original meaning of ‘aisthetic’ as sensory perception for the further development of aesthetic theology as a way of making sense through the senses. This turn helps to avoid some of the universalistic tendencies of traditional theological aesthetics and emphasizes the importance of context and subjectivity in our doing of theology, especially in the Asian context marked by cultural and religious diversity. Drawing on liberation and feminist theological aesthetics and reflections on the empowering potential of the imagination and beauty, I develop an argument for how this form of theology that draws on sensory experiences can be a space of encounter that opens up alternative ways of knowing, being in the world, and in community.
Po-Ho Huang – « Interfaith Dialogue in Asian Religious Contexts » : Asia is the birthplace of many world religions. Its history and culture have been profoundly influenced by these religions. These religious traditions offer spiritual guidance and also set moral and ethical standards for the daily life of peoples in the region. However, they were also challenged by the colonialism and imperialism in the modern era. This modernized civilization welcomed, compelled or swayed local societies; and made indigenous moralities either weak, irrelevant, or were forced to transform in order to survive. Religious plurality in Asia is a unique God-given reality; it is a God-given mission to make this pluralistic reality a blessing instead of a source of conflict or division.
Thierry-Marie Courau – « La main qui écoute. Être en dialogue avec les traditions asiatiques » : Comment se comprend aujourd’hui la mission de l’Église en Asie quand elle fait face à l’originelle, complexe et définitive pluralité religieuse qui a formé la matrice dans laquelle elle est arrivée ? L’Église étant sacrement de salut, sa responsabilité est grande de correspondre à ce qu’elle doit manifester et permettre : la réconciliation universelle en Jésus-Christ. Le « dialogue du salut » (Paul VI) désigne l’histoire du salut comme réalisation effective de la vocation au dialogue des personnes et des communautés. Celui-ci se traduit avant tout par la disposition à l’écoute où se découvrent les beautés de celui que l’on rencontre. La tradition bouddhique tibétaine recèle ainsi des trésors qui ne se laissent pas saisir. Le salut advient au sein même du dia-logue des traditions où chacun s’y révèle toujours plus singulier.
Jojo M. Fung – « Postcolonial Encounters with Indigenous Religions for Peace and Ecological Harmony » : The postcolonial encounters of Asian Christianities with Indigenous Religions need to attain an inter-religiocultural peace with the spirit world as an “arena of Ruach Elohim.” This divine Ruach indwells in all created life-forms (Theo-en-passim) and creation subsists in Ruach Elohim (pan-en-theism). The “many spirits” are the plural, incarnated and creaturely manifestations of the omnipresence of the one divine Ruach in all created life-forms. Furthermore postcolonial encounters with Indigenous Religions need to portray Asian Christianities as standing in solidarity with the traditional believers in their struggle for geo-ecological peace in the ancestral homeland. Indigenous Religions need to find in Asian Christianities an ally in their strategic negotiation with the many hegemonic policies of the nation-states, ranging from de-territorialization and de-religionization to capitalization of their forestland and resources.