Decoloniality, Theory and Methodology
Conference: (From) Coloniality and Religious Practices: Liberating Hope 04-08 April, 2019 – São Leopoldo, RS, Brazil – International Association of Practical Theology
A band begins playing the music of Gilberto Gil: Um Sonho
Throughout the lecture this video is on screen:
you can see the performance below, the lecture starts at 0:32 minutes.
I want to express my gratitude to those of you who are here. I would like to thank all of the people of the International Association of Practical Theology, especially to Prof. Dr. Júlio Cézar Adam and Prof. Dr. Valburga Schmiedt Streck and to the local groups that are welcoming us with so much care and affection. Thank you very, very much.
Since we are going to talk about decoloniality, I wanted to start with a criticism of the IAPT. I tried to invite two Masters students to come and 6 other people asked me whether they could participate in the IAPT. Pastors and students. But, to my surprise, they were unable to participate because of the rigid academic rules and rigor of this institution, which does not allow anyone without a PhD or non-members to attend. Is it a certain academic qualification that makes IAPT a proper academic gathering? If the IAPT is not in the middle of the people, I believe there is no reason for its existence. We need street PhDs, the connoisseurs of various forms of magical realism, the wisdom of unauthorized, forgotten and abandoned places and neglected thoughts. Only then will we be an academy of practical theology. In the very structure of the admission of the IAPT lies the force of coloniality. Having said that, I’m ready to start.
Welcome to Brazil-il-il-il, a country that lives between the first and fourth worlds: the first world of those who control the power, the agro-business, the bankers and land owners of the country. Then we have the second world for the voracious upper class, the corrupted politicians, social media, and religious leaders. Then we have the third world of a miserable and prejudiced middle class that hates poor people and dreams of being rich. And the fourth world of the vast majority of its inhabitants, all poor, all black, all almost black, all almost poor, all very poor.
Welcome to Brazil: the country of high coloniality where the “cordial racism” we export is a silenced racism that has been repressed for years and now is on public display.
Welcome to a Christian imperialist religious Brazil that lives from the union between the Catholic church and the Pentecostal churches around their agenda for “family, tradition, and property” while they remain in dispute for power and number of members. The historic Protestants stand outside of the game because they are a very small presence, without much in the way of strength. Brazilian Christianity is historically a specialist in destroying Afro-religions and rejecting other forms of religiosity as much as possible.
The current president of Brazil-il-il was elected based on the apology for torture and promises to arm the population, exterminate the indigenous people, slaughter the black population, shut down the women and children, leave homosexuals vulnerable to the violence of the patriarchal structure of the country, and the delivery of the Brazilian economy to the Chicago neoliberal school of Milton Friedman. There are more cattle than people in Brazil’s agro-business today. And if you want to know our president, take a look at his twitter account, just a few weeks ago he was searching for the meaning of the term “golden shower.” Embarrassing. Brazil’s president is a worsened version of Trump and a closer version to Duterte from the Philippines.
But in spite of all that, we still have enchanting attributes. We are still a land of wonderful amalgams and uniqueness! Tropicalist Jorge Mautner reminded us that Brazil is the antidote to fascism in the world because of its natural resources, miscegenation, religious mixtures, social complexities, and fusions of all forms. We carry the vastness of the intricacies of the worldviews of the Natives; we are the expanded systems of the African Orixas, the Africanization of the Tai Chi, the wild and outrageous malemolence (fluidity, improperness) that makes peoples of the North anxious, the fullness of guiltless sensual bodies. We live from reversed anthropologies, people’s counter-theologies, liberation theologies and practices done for the sake of the people, not the church, anti-church ministries, unhinged pastoral ministry and creativity beyond the pale.
So even before welcoming you to the colonial Brazil, we should welcome you from Abya Ayala, name given to the Americas by the Kuna-Tule people. From São Leopoldo, and all the regions here, we must honor the life of the Arachás, Carijós, Caigangues, and other first nations.
When we speak of decoloniality, we speak of ways to detach and unlearn from the imperialist-colonizing movement that is still alive today, the civilizing and conquering forms of European renaissance and modernity. And this happens because we are all the result and the embodiment of European thought gone universal. We are black, white, brown, yellow and red, but almost all black because of the “denigrating” processes created by Europe: to de-nigrate, that is, to make all non-Europeans, niggers, Blacks. In meeting the barbarous Muslims and Jews of Europe and then the almost-human Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and the almost-black humans of Africa, European thought developed its entire framework of mirror images and created an imperialist civilization process of exclusion that fashioned ways of assigning differences and offering identities and similarities from unique ways of thinking, acting, perceiving, believing, feeling and even defining what human being was supposed to be. When Europeans told us what was right, they also told us what was wrong.
The construction of Western Europe occurs from the extensive control of the global slave trade market by the trans-Atlantic voyages, used to plunder the non-European world with its religious reasons, civilizatory mission, and distribution of diseases. Colonialism, a consequence of imperialism, is being formed from various arms of civilizing domination: economic, political, extractive, slavery, law, health, and religion.
The force of this new dominant condition of geo-political imposition makes European thought (organized from abstract fictions) become a universal theory and practice. From their villages, European thinkers have become universal necessities. For example:
Kant’s reason and categorical imperatives would also become reason and categorical imperatives in the New World;
The theological-Christian perspective of Hegel’s history, clearly a European history, now becomes universal, and the (Christian European) Spirit of history is the absolute spirit that becomes an overpowering force over any other spirit;
The structuring of Western thought as presented by Heidegeer, who fundamentally divided humanity and animals and plants because only “man” has language, placing animals in lower hierarchical categories;
Descartes’s thinking as a condition of being, fundamentally individualized, crashes any other way of thinking about being and even thinking about thinking itself;
The onto-theological thinking of Marx that defined the Indigenous people as the past of history, and the whites, from capitalism, the future of history;
So there is no humanity except in the ways of thinking through European epistemologies. There is no nature but organized in the hierarchical binary man-nature, established by modernity. There is no politics except in the expressions of politics of emancipation of modernity. There is no God but the God of European Christianity. There is no Jesus but the Jesus re-read by the Greeks and by the European theologians or from the Europeans. There is no other knowledge but modern epistemology. There is no body but the body erected in modern functions and definitions. There is no pleasure, or joy, except those ordained and not ordained by Freud, Lacan, or Reisch. There are no rights but modern human rights. There is no understanding of religion other than the European. There is no economy except in the forms erected by the social clashes of Greek-Christian-European democracy. There is no beauty but the fine arts of the European aesthetics of museums. There are no ontologies other than Modern Ontology, as defined by racionalism.
We have all turned into a great epistemological backyard of Zoo-Europe.
We must therefore make an epistemological decolonization, which Anibal Quijano called epistemological reconstitution, and offer other interpretations beyond modernity to regain other forms of thinking and creating knowledge from other places of the world. Philosophy, anthropology, history, and fundamentally theology are places drenched with modernity, where space for other interlocutors serves only as illustrations that further intensifies the endless light of modernity. From this groundless ground, Christianity speaks from a set of ideas and by being ideas, takes concrete forms of exploration that are always above history and space.
In this epistemological reconstitution we seek for what Walter Mignolo calls the “colonial difference” that hides in the coloniality of the processes of destitution and shows itself clearly but also opaquely in all modern denotative thinking. This is what Mignolo calls the matrix of colonial power.
This notion of matrix of colonial power was already at the center of the word colonialism, formed by colon, cultus and culture. Alfredo Bosi in his book “The Dialectics of Colonization” says that colonization is the taking of land, culture and “religion” as an ancestral memory, “a totalizing project whose driving forces can always be sought at the level of the colon: occupy a new ground, exploit their possessions, submit their natives.”
With colonization, we lose our vincularidad, our attachment with the land! “Colo” is the cultivation of the earth as well as the cultivation of the self. Hence, with the loss of this connection, this fundamental link, we create a way of cultivating ourselves that will always be suspended from the earth. Accordingly disconnected, we live a spirituality desperately lacking a grounding place, lack that gives itself to endless promises of affection or imaginary beliefs. With our de-linked life and uprooted bodies from the earth, our desires also become uprooted and turns into that which that can fulfill this link. In regards to the religious aspect of this de-attachment, colonialism cuts off the re-actualization of the origins done by the re-memorialization of the ancestors of the earth. With this colonial cut-off, people who use to draw their greater connection from ancestors attached to the land, are now lost in their connections. As lodgers and paying occupants of the land, land which is seen by the Zooropa as Terra Nulis, we search for heaven without understanding the earth. We are eschatological masters of time and ontological renters of space.
Against this colonial overpower and attachment elsewhere, decoloniality wants to seek old forms of vincularidad, other knowledges and other tastes, other looks, other ways of thinking, feeling, acting, living and bonding with the earth. Other forms of life, other forms of love. Catherine Welsh helps us to de-colonize modern European thoughts to re-link us to peripheral thoughts, finding other ways to re-exist, resurface, and re-emerge.
For Martinique thinker, Franz Fanon, “Decolonization, which proposes to change the order of the world, it is seen as a program of absolute disorder …” But it is precisely this absolute disorder that decoloniality asks for. Because it is in this dis-order that we can find freedom and liberation. Walter Mignolo speaks of the necessary disintegration of the Western power matrix, of the de-annexation of the forms of structures of modern coloniality, especially of the forms of understanding, and also of their political structures as nation-states.
Thus, all decolonial ways of thinking are forms of de-linking, de-europeanizing, and promoting the de-annexation of Renaissance and modernity, which are totalitarian and totalizing forms of knowledge and forms of life. However, along with this decoupling and detachment, decoloniality is a simultaneous process of re-linking and relationality with other marginal, alternative, land-related knowledges within a decolonial pluriversity.
Decoloniality wants to be transversal, border crossing, with thoughts that live from the co-influence of other people who are not only European, and get entangled in the complication and co-implication of various thoughts from below that flee from the totalitarian univocal epistemic thinking of Europe. As decolonialists, even as Christians, perhaps, we speak no more of an eternal universal essence that has always existed to which we must represent somehow throughout the world. We will not buy into denotative epistemes, which always speak concretely from abstract ideas. On the contrary, we speak from the materiality we live in, the touch, the smell, the pain, the oppression, the feeling, the wind that blows where we are, the human beings who join the also humanity of fishes, the feelings of the mountains and the human presence of the jaguar. Then we will imagine what and who we are.
Let us now think of some decolonial methodological forms that work in what Enrique Dussel calls trans-modernity or the fifth age of the world, or Eduardo Viveiros de Castro calls high-modernity.
In terms of methodology, I wanted to speak in detail about anthropophagism, perspectivism and carnaval. But since I do not have time, I am going to make an amalgam of everything.
Tupi, or not tupi that is the question.:
Anthropophagism is a gift of the Indigenous peoples from Brazil to the world. Anthropophagism or cannibalism was the ritual of eating enemies. When Europeans arrived in Brazil and came into contact with Tamoios and Tupi-Guaranis, several of the European were eaten by these Indigenous peoples. The ritual of cannibalism was a conjunction of factors, but fundamentally, as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro puts it, “what was intended was this alterity as a point of view about the Self … a paradoxical movement of reciprocal self-determination from the point of view of the enemy.”
The anthropophagy of Oswald de Andrade, “intuited on the Brazilian vocation to incorporate the other, to add and multiply and to transform the languages using all the logics, one kind of turns to the other, for a Brazil that was not them.” Anthropophagy will read everything, adapting everything, creating and re-creating amalgam of new thinking, new lives for their communities. In this way, modernity is not forbidden, but redone, reread, abandoned, eaten and shitted, reinvented in whatever means necessary. In this way, Oswald de Andrade anthropophagy is not about the devouring of the other in order to triumph mercilessly but rather, the addition of the perspective of the other as one’s perspective.
Anthropophagy will open the space for the coming of perspectivism.
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, perhaps one of the most important voices of our time, elaborated a deep and visceral analysis of Amazonic indigenous ontologies and made connections with modernity thinkers to take away their unique speech aura. Castro does with anthropology what we need to do with practical theology. He entered the indigenous world and from there rephrased the forms of anthropology and put in check its own scientific status. As an inhabitant of high-modernity, he created a “counter-anthropology – a certain idea of anthropology modified and subverted by indigenous anthropologies presenting an “Amerindian thought” debugged, generalized, and simplified so that it could be confronted polemically with ours.”
To seek the indigenous perspectivism was to put Eurocentrism itself in perspective as well, as two egalitarian views of life and relations. Just as Castro understood Indian mythology, he also understood philosophy. As a mythology. By this, he wanted to implode the binaries between savages and moderns and thus made us all see savagery as the work of the moderns. He says: “I wanted to call attention to the strict dependence of philosophy with its ‘pre-philosophical’ moment, that is, the non-philosophical, which is its mythical soil, from which all the themes and concepts of Western philosophy and metaphysics are born and thus organize its geographical orientation, its locality, undoing the universality of local myths.” Castro affirms his radical ontological anarchism as a methodological position of principle and practice of anthropology as an exercise in the permanent decolonization of thought as the self-determination of Amerindian peoples.
Continuing, he wants to “throw philosophy in a neutral and homogeneous field populated by other discourses and knowledge and practices that are outside philosophy but are structured in themselves and inhabit the same field of immanence.”
For Castro, it took a “deforming projection of our dominant intellectual tradition based on the indigenous world,” in order to elevate the conditions of our gross and convenient modern irrationality to its processes of production of knowledge and exploitation. So doing decoloniality without getting involved in decolonial theory in itself, practicing bricolage, stealing things from Europe as a “poacher, one who goes in and steals things hidden in the land of others.” Put another way, “I’m only interested in what is not mine” as Andrade says or to “understand the ideas of others to radicalize it even more,” as Castro elucidates.
If atropofagismo and perspectivismo work both with indigenous thinking, carnival will be the hybrid movement of this Brazilian amalgam along with the Black people, as a way of criticizing the European coloniality.
Carnival is the theory of decoloniality in practice. Beyond the “golden showers,” carnival is the knowledge and practice of a people who creates phenomenally big festivals and re-size, re-read, and re-create the country’s life as it presents to us. For Orlando Calheiros, “samba does not create a political conscience, samba is the political consciousness already awakened from these ‘poor and peripheral’ people… a criticism made through poetry, through music, through an aesthetic. (The singer) Bezerra da Silva spoke of this aspect explicitly when he affirmed that ‘the favelas get beaten up always and samba is its defense’ ”
This year the samba school winner in Rio de Janeiro was the famous “First Station of Mangueira.” From his samba-enredo, “Lullabies to Put Adults to Bed,” part of the history of Brazil was recounted by 3,500 samba school components. The carnival artist Leandro Vieira explains the plot of the school: “is a look at the history of Brazil more interested in the missing pages. The story of Indigenous, Blacks and poor, popular heroes who never found space in the official books and we never learned about in schools. So we are giving prominence to those who never had prominence in the history of Brazil. “The opening float said: I want a Brazil that it’s not in the official picture.”
Inside of that float, the official portraits displayed are central figures in Brazilian history. Outside the official car, the Indigenous and the Blacks. Nonetheless, the dancers in front of the car re-presented the history in another way. At one point the central figures leave the place the car, which is the place of prominence in history, and when they are out of the car, the audience realize that their bodies are tiny, showing how infinitely smaller they are when compared to the historical presence of Blacks and Indigenous importance to this country.
At the end of the show, the yellow-green flag of Brazil that reads “Order and Progress” becomes the pink and green flag of Mangueira School, which reads: “Indigenous, Blacks and Poor!” At the last car, Mangueira also remembered Marielle Franco: a black woman born in the Maré favela, a lesbian, a council woman in Rio de Janeiro, who was murdered last year and whose case has not yet been resolved. As Eliane Brum states, Marielle “was the embodiment of a movement that came as much from the interiors of the deep forgotten strength of Brazil. Marielle embodied an uprising that did not die with her but has been massacred in recent years. Marielle represents a creative uprising that dreams of another Brazil, who wanted to cross the oligarchies cheerfully with their bare feet as they did during this Carnival – towards another way of being Brazilians, in the plural.”
Decoloniality in its deepest expression!
As Orlando Calheiros said: “The drumming of the samba schools derives directly from the touches of the worship spaces of candomblé and umbanda … the simple act of executing them before a society that not only condemns them, but also mobilizes itself to destroy them, shows the courage that this act demands, and cannot be diminished.” Resistance in all pores of our souls and bodies.
The Theory of Decoloniality Extended
We could talk about decoloniality from existing practices in Latin America. But we are running out of time. As we look at Latin America we see immense movements that create new worlds. Like the indigenous Zapatista National Armored Movement in Mexico, the MST – Movement of the Landless People, the Peripheral Collectives of Brazil, the Cocaleros of Bolivia, the Afro-Andean and Afropacíficas resistances of Colombia, La via campesina, all the washerwomen, seed planters, urban workers, the National Indigenous Conference in Ecuador and the entire indigenous struggle spread throughout Latin America where its leaders are being devoured by the system. However, where there is coloniality there is decoloniality. And resistance forms the backbone of our people. Indigenous resistance and the black Quilombos have always fought against colonization and still pulsing with life and alternative knowledges. Resistance and resilience are the ways of being of our Amerindian people.
These groups challenge us theologically to do the following:
To consider the earth as the central grounding place of all living and thinking and the whole ecological biome as a correlated living being without hierarchies;
To consider resistance as the only way of living in the world;
To consider women as the preferable target of violence from global-white-military-hetero-patriarchal-fascist state;
To consider women as fundamental in the organization of life and leadership of movements;
To consider the possibility of organizing life without any European presuppositions, be it religious, political or economic;
To consider the ways in which the “religions” of the Indigenous and African traditions can become a great resource to re-link us to the earth, and from a vast range of spiritualities to create fruitful and extensive connections with other forms of -life.
How do these questions challenge and alter the forms of Christian thought and practice?
Theological decoloniality option
Against the annihilation of blacks, Indigenous and queer people and all “minorities,” against the destruction of the planet, the neo-Pentecostal challenge, the lumen threat of agribusiness and fascism, the war against women, there is an immense necessity to offer pastoral alternatives and theological practices that can carry new forms of life and survival. Ways to disconnect thinking from that which doesn’t offer result in the everyday life, in the re-existence of peoples, in the resurgence of other forms of experience and in the re-emergence of other connections and loyalties.
Fundamentally, Christianity must have a commitment to decolonization and decoloniality, which is a way of saying that we all need to be decolonized. Walter Mignolo is correct in stating that Christianity in its original forms was a non-Western religion but it became a Western and imperial religion.
It would be necessary to make a transubstantiation of Christianity, that is, to eliminate the European substance of our faith and transubstantiate it in other ontologies and practices. For if we eat God at the Eucharist, in an anthropophagic way, the whole process of digestion is a sacred process. It happens in our body, making the way of from our mouth through the digestive tract and throughout our intestines. Thus the end of the Eucharist is the defecation of God. Holy shit! Being taken by God, we decolonize the presence of God through the process of anthropophagy. Our religious methodology is given in the body and not in the spirit. The itinerary? From mouth to ass. We eat, we are eaten, we de-link, dis-connect, re-exist, re-emerge, re-emerge, always in new amalgams and potentialities.
Enrique Dussel also says that Christianity must return to its messianic origins before Constantine.
This way we need those who show us this form of messianic Christianity. Like the work of Oscar Romero, Pedro Casaldáliga, Cardinal Arns, Ernesto Cardenal. Notwithstanding, our story always leads us to speak about the Christian men who fought and we speak very little of other religions and of women. In this way, I would say that the new forms of epistemological decolonization of theology has to come from other religions, from other ontologies, from other mythologies, from other worldviews. And fundamentally from other women.
“Brazil, time has come to listen to Marias, Mahins, Marielles, Malês.” Says Mangueira samba.
A feminist Christianity made with the crossing of non-Christian women like Mother Menininha do Gantois, Luiza Mahin, Tuira Kayapo.
A feminist Christianity crossed by the presence of theologians who recreate the Christian world from the poorest women. Like Ivone Gebara and Nancy Cardoso, two of the most important Brazilian theologians who have never been able to teach in Brazilian patriarchal universities because they are very radical, living on the shores and peripheries of Amerindia. Without the theological and biblical teachings of Gebara and Cardoso, and many others, there will be no decolonial theology in Latin America.
A feminist Christianity needs to be traversed by the pastoral presence of Dorothy Stang, a Queer Christianity, crossed by the various human sexualities, whose deviant presence of André S. Musskopf nourishes us with a theological queerness. A Christianity with the presence of communities where full people live with physical weaknesses and are expurgated from public spaces.
We need a Christianity shaped by the ancestry and black religions connected by the earth. We need a black theology that does not serve to save Christianity; instead, that problematizes the most basic elements of the Christian faith.
And, fundamentally, we need a return to the Indigenous world. For without the Indian gaze, we will be white, almost all white.
We are in desperate need of a Christianity whose Jesus Christ will not be a representation of God transformed into an idea, but rather, an epistemology crossed by other ontologies. In this confluence, in this Christianity of many detours, of unexpected associations, contrary to itself, it will give space to life movements anew and help strengthen it. For our commitment is not with the historical Christian tradition, but with the tradition of Christ who lived amidst and for the poor.
The Decolonial Wound – The World From Losers
Does the decolonial wound unite us toward decoloniality?
Through decoloniality we gather from the decolonial wound. If in the first liberation theology we begin with the option for the poor in more generalized ways, based on engenderings with European thought, the new forms of liberation theology try to seek new forms of choice for the poor from the wounded, oppressed, and forgotten bodies . Thus decoloniality broadens and even challenges the option for the poor from the decolonial wound. As Mignolo explains:
Decoloniality becomes a process of recognizing the colonial wounds that are historically true and still open in the everyday experience of most people on the planet… It is a heterogeneous historico-embodied move, it perceives the wound of coloniality hidden under the rhetoric of modernity, the rhetoric of salvation. Decoloniality is at once the unveiling of the wound and the possibility of healing.
The decolonial wound is our poison-remedy!
A New Pastoral
Juan Luis Segundo in his book Acción Pastoral Latinoamericana, Sus Motivos Occultos warned us about the lack of mobility of the church to make changes to that present, to move into the demands and challenges made urgent and necessary throughout the whole continent. The church was in need not only to understand but to change. Already in 1972, he pointed out our fears as the impeding block to the necessary changes and actions needed. He told us that we were afraid of ourselves, of the salvation of the masses and of the gospel. All because we would not know what to do with ourselves, with the masses or with the gospel had those changes occurred.
Fearful of change due to the markers of the Empire in the bones of Christianity, the Catholic and Protestant churches saw their faith weakened and give space today to the Pentecostal church. The new Pentecostal church is growing by leaps and bounds in Brazil with a new-colonialist gospel that has been remodeled according to the the contours and meanings of neoliberalism, filled with prejudices, highly militarized, following the irrationality of extractivism and the forms of state of exception.
On the other side of this gradient are the Catholic Pastoral Commission of the Earth, working within the most needed areas of the country, and the protestant work of Júlio Cézar Adam and Valburga Schmiedt Streck, doing a decolonial work of practical theology without fear. With them and their people, a new decolonial and liberating practical theology proclaims itself.
In this way, we need pastoral work with those who are in the most dangerous conditions and situations. There are other suggestions but we will make it another time.
Conclusion – The Ability to Dream
I end up this talk filled with contradictions and complexities that I cannot solve. I must confess that all I have been able to hear these days are the indigenous shamans telling us that very soon the sky will be falling on our heads. That is the end of the world. They tell us that we need to learn to dream in other ways. To dream the dreams of forests, rivers and animals.
The Xama Yanomami Davi Kopenawa in his book The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, which should be a must-read for all of us, he says:
Whites only treat us as ignorant because we are different from them. But their thought is short and obscure; it cannot go far and elevate itself, because they want to ignore death. (…) Whites do not dream far like we do. They sleep a lot, but they only dream about themselves.
So fundamentally, decoloniality would be the art of no longer dreaming about ourselves. That’s why I end up with Gilberto Gil’s Indio do Xingu.