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Parallel 2

The Impossibility of Doing Theology from the Margins



Assistant Professor

Hong Kong Baptist University

As theology has developed its own Asian tradition, the perspectives of different cultural mores and ideas have emerged as challenges to the legacy of Euro-centrism. Korean theology, to take one example, has had marked impacts, both introducing the notion of minjung, the people, and the sense of han, “suffering,” as major elements of theological discourse even among western theologians.

As Kwok Pui Lan warns, however, Asian theology must itself remain open to non-dominant perspectives. Just as minjung theology often ignored the voices of Korean women, Korean feminist theology must also ask where its own blind spots are. We must continue to ask what it means to attend to the voices of the worst off. Gayatri Spivak’s provocative question, “Can the subaltern speak?” remains poignant for contextual liberation theologies. Much recent Asian theological scholarship is promising in this vein: Mary Yuen Mee-Yin’s study of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, Nancy Tan Nam Hoon’s study of Hong Kong sex workers, and Sharon Bong’s study of same-sex couples in Malaysia and Singapore offer important voices from the margins which challenge readers to engage theology from the margins.

These are highly promising avenues, but they reveal a further complication: to what extent do such studies articulate the perspective of the persons studied? Each articulation of the voices of the marginalized is carried out by advocates, theologians who must interpret and present the voices they are trying to lift up. But the process of “translation,” as Jacques Derrida points out, is inherently violent, claiming one reading as authentic against others. Such violence is well-known in Asian theology—Korean feminist theology (to return to the example) appears because male theologians spoke too strongly of the Korean perspective, which they articulated as corrective to the universalisms of European theology.

My conclusion is that while the violence of interpretation is necessary, the praxis entailed in liberation theology requires us to continually reassess our perspectives, to be unsatisfied with our conclusions and to seek out the voices of the margins. As Nancy Tan asks Hong Kong sex workers to offer their own understandings of Biblical texts, we should continually ask those on the margins to provide their own readings which challenge our views. But as praxis, this must be repeated, knowing we never fully achieve the conversion we seek, but hoping that we get closer to understanding.



Levi Checketts is an Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University and Associate Director of the Centre for Applied Ethics. He works on the intersection of economics and new technologies from a critical theoretical perspective. He recently republished Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote’s 1984 Theology and Technology and is finishing a book on Artificial Intelligence and the Option for the Poor.

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