Space for all voices

[Editors’ note: this is part 1 of 3 on a recent conference on postcolonial theology held in Kenya. Canon to the Ordinary Stefani Schatz attended with her husband the Rev. Dr. Joe Duggan.]

“It was my first experience with postcolonial theology, I have learned there is possibility to speak out, [I have learned] there are other people in the world speaking. I will now speak with confidence.” 

“[I was] so glad to be part of a group from different linguistic, backgrounds, disciplines.” 

“Together, struggling, we will make a contribution, rather than reacting or responding.” 

These were just a few post-meeting comments that offer a glimpse of the impact of the Postcolonial Church: Theology, Identity and Mission conference that took place May 28-30 at St. Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya. Dr. Esther Mombo, a world-renowned Anglican leader led The Postcolonial Church conference that was initiated by Postcolonial Networks whose founder is the Rev. Dr. Joseph Duggan. 

The purpose of The Postcolonial Church conference was to explore how Kenyans and Africans conceptualize and practice church and society in these contexts. How do Kenyans read the Bible in postcolonial contexts? What should be the Kenyan and African practice of mission in present day contexts? How should Kenyans face issues of ethnicity and conflict in postcolonial contexts? 

Over thirty scholars, pastors and activists gathered from across the continent of Africa as well as from Germany, Japan, India, New Zealand and USA. Papers were accepted based on the author’s engagement with African colonial histories and postcolonial visions. St. Paul’s University alumni and faculty presented more than half of the meeting papers! 

The St. Paul’s meeting was the fourth meeting in the “Divinity After Empire” series. The Divinity After Empire series began with a pre-Lambeth 2008 meeting at the Lincoln Theological Institute (LTI) at the University of Manchester, England.  At the end of the Manchester meeting, Rev. Dr. David Joy, Professor of New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore and a priest in the Church of South India stated, “I have found space for my voice! We must bring this meeting experience around the world.” Abundant space for a multiplicity of voices and memories became the Divinity After Empire signature, as was echoed in the opening sentence of this piece. 

Meetings have since been held in former colonial contexts including United Theological College in Bangalore, India (2010), the University of Melbourne (2012) and two weeks ago in Limuru, Kenya. The result of these meetings held in context has been a greater proximity to the contextual legacy stories of colonialism and the contemporary remnants of colonialism in post-independence struggles. 

African faculty and alumni spoke passionately about the postcolonial church in Kenya and the challenges faced on questions of divinity and state including polygamy and homosexuality. Among my most significant takeaway from the meeting was the balance between tribal and Christian ethics as major contemporary questions are asked in some postcolonial African contexts. The St. Paul’s meeting, like the ones that came before it, represents a paradigmatic shift about who has the right to tell their story in uncensored terms.  

The next Divinity After Empire meeting will take place back in Manchester in May 2016 where the theme will be “Multiple Faiths in Postcolonial Cities: Living Together After Empire”. Following each meeting, presented papers have been published and can be found in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Anglican Studies, in Palgrave Macmillian Postcolonialism and Religions series, Decolonizing the Body of Christ: theology and theory after empire? published in 2012. The Australian meeting papers will be published by Palgrave in fall 2014 and Kenyan papers in time for the Manchester 2016 meeting.  

You can keep up on all of these meeting developments and other postcolonial news at postcolonialnetworks.com.