GENERAL INTRODUCTION. BLACK RELIGIONS IN BRAZIL.
The fact that Brazil has never had a civil war/civil rights movement to wrestle with its racist history, as if there was never a kind of "in your face" ongoing historical violence to be grappled with, made people "feel" that Brazil was not/is not racist. The white washing ideology of a cordial country allowed Brazilians to ignore its deep-seated forms of racism, but the colonial history of Brazil can be told under one single word: racism. Brazil was the last country to sign the law against slavery. The white elite that came to Brazil, and who continue to control the country, is the same elite that rules the economic financial market, the creation of the laws, and the political power. In the deep veins of Brazil's colonial history runs the thick blood of indigenous and black people.
I believe that the discovery of how I was individually formed and shaped by blackness mirrors in some ways what happens in Brazil as a whole. Through the denial of blackness, emotional, physical, and intellectual erasure of black roots, fear of anything black, demonizing of black religions, and the self-denial of my own racism, I never had to engage my own blackness and could hide under my accepted whiteness. I could easily pass as simply white. In the same way, liberation theologies still owe a debt to black people. Liberation theologies could easily pass (and often do) as a white male heterosexual theology under the tropics.
In the same way, liberation theologians failed to grasp the depth of the racist oppression in Brazil. While liberation theology appeared in Latin American in late 60s, the work of black theologians did not start to appear until the 80s as Latin American theologians did not fully engage with racism as a fundamental form of oppression in the continent. The U.S. theologian James Cone spoke often at EATWOT, and repeatedly criticized Latin American theologians for their racist blind spots, but even now theological and religious departments in Brazil are filled mostly with white males. The work of Black Liberation Theology happened through small movements in different places around Brazil but without any institutional support for male and female black scholars. The result is that the theological production of a Black Theology has been small, sparse, and yet to be developed.
Despite the slow and stubborn start, recognition of Black Liberation Theology in Brazil is growing. The religious, cultural, political, and economic scenario is now very different. A new social order, with new challenges, religions and religious formations, social religious actors, feelings, forms of socialization, technologies, communication formats, economic neoliberal formations, transnational partnerships, sexualities, desires, and material needs, has created new demands, new forms of oppression, new challenges, and new forms of violence. These are hard times, demanding new forms of black thinking that are yet to be imagined.
Surely, the scope of this journal is much smaller than the challenges of our time. What this journal offers is a short historical account of liberation theology in Brazil and the (small) place in which Black Theology has been historically developed. This journal suggests potential: a sense of what has been done, what is possible and yet unimagined, and the complex intersectionalities of interreligious black thinking in Brazil. This journal brings together the work of several black thinkers who are developing black forms of thinking within a very hostile, anti-black environment. That hostility extends especially to black women, who are some of the most marginalized groups in Brazil. Even in this collection, we have only three women. This I believe is the biggest weakness of this journal, and we pledge as theologians to leverage more space for women as the conversation continues. We invite the critique, knowing that we have so far failed to fully examine our own racism and sexism and that we too perpetuate oppression. The patriarchal weight on the formation and development of liberation theologies in Latin America has made invisible the voices of black women in particular! Feminist voices, movements, and spaces have been suppressed and invisibilized. I invite those with strong critique to enter into dialogue with the texts and/or to submit their own essays for further work. We need more people publicly engaging this work, especially women, queer, and indigenous people, to begin as soon as possible another further volume.
There is much work to do! This project is a beginning, a conduit for a few voices, a reaching out to companions in this work, and a sharing of the public platform we collectively have established. This journal offers itself as a small volume of essays as a starting point for conversation, an invitation to deeper study and further reflection. We expect this is just the beginning and that more voices will pick up and continue the work that needs to be done. The future is pregnant with a new mo(ve)ment that examines what has been done, expands, breaks, and takes it to other communities, other social needs, with other forms of praxis and theories, and surely new forms of liberation! We must continue to blacken our theologies so that our black theologies will also blacken the class struggles. Our work cannot continue without extensive consideration of the intersection of race, class, gender, indigeneity, ableism, sexualities, and ecology.
The challenges of translation were huge, and it was nearly impossible to fully convey culture and context in a language that is not of the people. My gratitude to Tiago Chiavegatti, Alice da Cunha, and Josefina Terrena for translating these texts into English, to Katie Mulligan who edited as much as possible, these articles in English, and to Mercia Carvalhaes for editing the texts in Portuguese. We were all limited by the difficulties of translation, and not every word is explained or nuanced in a way that the English readers might need or want. Retaining the nuanced voices of the authors across translation requires some additional effort on the part of you, the reader, to grasp what is meant. We thank you, as well. I am also very grateful for the many ways we received support from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Without Union, this project would have not come to fruition.
Finally, I am very grateful to the capable and brilliant writers who participated in this journal. I am delighted to edit this volume with Dr. Marcos Silva, who is part of one of the most critical groups of black thinkers in Brazil called Atabaque. He initiated this project and I have been honored to help put it together. To him my deepest gratitude for this gift!
Gayraud S. Wilmore defines the history of the African American people in United States this way: "Three dominant themes or motifs stand out as foundational from August 1619 Jamestown, Virginia, landing of the first forced arrival of Africans to the present. They are: survival, elevation and liberation." (2) I believe we could recount the history of all African people in the Americas in this way. Engaging in this project for me has drawn me deeper into this same history, into the same forms of survival, elevation, and liberation. Surely, this project has provided a way of learning to love more and better a people I call my own!
The cultural diversity and the elaboration of an Afro epistemology from Brazil constitute fields of studies where theological and philosophical thinking can hardly be delimited due to the innumerable and tenuous and tense borders within many fields of knowledge. However, this is our intent for this journal as we begin a reflection based on the historical Afro movements of struggles and the social and ecclesial commitments from various traditions of faith and knowledges. It is not our aim here to work from or defend a hypothesis that is clearly delimited by one form of knowledge or thinking.
We start in the second half of the 20th century, when the theological movement to emphasize the realities of the poor in Latin America emerged, and when the method of analysis and thinking had an Eurocentric foundation. (3) This Eurocentric form of thinking offered narrow and specific markers for the interpretation of acts and behaviors of the poor. In this journal, we focus on contributions from beliefs and knowledges made by black peoples of the Afro-American diaspora, as well as from universal knowledges, scientific and technological reflections. All of these knowledges can offer, in their own way, references for the survival of the planet and new possibilities for the relations between individuals, groups, and societies.
We take the notion of diversity as our first premise. We are diverse. This fundamental truth is always endangered by individual and collective actions of intolerance. We are historically, ethnically, and linguistically diverse, as well as religiously diverse.
Our religious diversity is profound. Our diversity is everywhere: It exists among atheists and religious people, among distinctive religious traditions such as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, followers of African religions, and so on. It also exists within religious branches that share a common bud, such as Judaism and Islam, and Christianity, or even culturally different as expressions of the same faith in different places and periods, like Spanish and North-American Catholics. Our diversity is also present within traditions and religions built upon orality, such as Native Americans and Afro-Americans.
As Albert Memmi says, "While every colonial person finds itself in the condition of a colonizer, not every colonizer is irrevocably destined to become a colonialist. And the best ones refuse to do so." (4) Memmi's distinction between being a colonizer and asserting oneself as a colonialist is a dialectic relation that involves the being and living together of oppressed and oppressor. In this sense, Memmi finds a connection between a notion of a hierarchy based on race and the control of the many forms of material and symbolic production in the colonized regions.
At the same time, Memmi makes warns of the consequences of being black colonized and enslaved: "This excitement towards colonizer values would not be so suspicious, however, if it did not carried in itself its very opposite. The colonized does not merely seek to enrich himself with the colonizer virtues." (5)
And Memmi stresses that repression is one of the catalysts for producing knowledge of the colonized people, with their symbolic universes and their referentials of sense. The author also points to a struggle for self-affirmation during the process of destruction of a people, identities, and histories: "The colonized accepts and affirms himself, claim himself with passion." But who is this colonized? It is certainly not the regular man, holder of universal values that are common to every man. (6)
Finally, we can see in our liberation theologies the partial imposition of the culture of the dominators, since it was necessary to the control and instrumentalization of local cultures according to the logic of the new standard of power.
Contextualization of the subject
Our aim is to look at the study and reflections of Afro-Brazilian researchers and analyze the journey travelled in their practices and studies. We intend, with these articles, to bring forward and systematize what this exercise of elaboration means in the context of the Latin American theology. Everything takes place from a communal practice, modeled from family communities, terreiros, sanctuaries, supplemented by other practices that come from academic studies. Several factors were brought together for that, including many elements of an Afro epistemology in the second half of the last century to our current moment.
We do not take this starting point as a limit, but we focus on a large territory that allows movements of encountering the significant theoretical productions that arise from there. This territory comprises the environment that acknowledges the traditional African religions, the various religious practices of the Western Christian tradition that are, first and foremost, marked by their cultural diversities. The approximation of this study means to understand the place (or places) in the Afro religious landscape, recognizing the "others" not as competitors but as true partners in an existential adventure of faith/religion.
Among the universe of productions and systems we focus on here, we would like to develop the investigation on how discourses express themselves and manifest symbolic and/or disguised forms. We verify the identity character of Knowledge, what has been experienced and lived, and how it can be grasped. In order to do that, it is necessary to be able to identify things, people, events through naming, describing, and interpreting, using appropriated concepts and language.
Currently, the studies on religion and Afro religion value religious phenomena in various ways. There is a recognition of religious issues that permeate daily life like folk religion, under the many forms of spirituality, that provide elements to build identities. They are the building material of collective memories, mystical experiences, and cultural and intellectual trends that are not limited to the realm of organized and institutional churches.
Using this recognition as a landmark, the central objects are the epistemological elements for an Afro-American Theology and a dialogue with the theological discussions to affirm an Afro-American Theology.
There is a construction of a new set of interpretation tools based on the experiences of the Afro people of the African diaspora in Brazil and on their particular way of living, knowing, and being amidst secular adversities. It is critical to remember respect for diversity as one of the most important values to fully exercise one's citizenship. Only with absolute respect for diversity is it possible to understand and overcome assertions that sects do not exist (since there are large and small religions), nor syncretism (because a pure religion, devoid of influence for not religions, does not exist), and above all, to insist that no religion is better than the other from the perspective of historians, philosophers, and religion scientists. Each religious experience contributes to a portion of the religious thinking; each systematization of religious practices expresses the vision of a particular group, and each behavior witnessed had and has its own specific value, precisely for being and making clear the difference.
Theological reflection in the context of Afro experiences and practices has been conceptualized in different ways: Black Theology in the United States. (7) Incultured Theology in some African regions; Black Liberation Theology and Theology in Context, in other African regions (8); Afro-American Theology, in Latin America; Antilles Theology on the Caribbean.
On a personal level, it is essential that the individual recognizes himself as the maker and actor of his own history. In terms of blackness, this means to accept oneself as black. On a community level, the exigence is to accept the traditions, myths, and celebration practices, with their particularities and similarities. To accept that is to recognize the struggles of everyday life, expressed in poverty and practices of exclusion.
We present a view on "Being Black Pastoral Agent in the context of Brazilian reality" by the theologian Geraldo Rocha and the PhD candidate Cristina da Conceicao. The biblicist theologian Obertal seeks a biblical--theological look on the practices of black pastoral agents and the Bible in an Afro context; Claudio Carvalhaes writes about "Christians and Yoruba People Eating Together--Eucharist and Food Offerings", and offers possibilities of dialogue between two often distant religions; Marcos Rodrigues points to elements for "An Afro-American History: paths for a theological and epistemological reflection"; Nancy Cardoso and Claudio Carvalhaes, departing from the Afro-Native-Brazilian religion of Jurema, propose a dialog with the possibilities of Black Theology regarding all the shades of native peoples as a task of the whole Liberation Theology, particularly regarding the life and struggles of women; Rev. Leontino Farias dos Santos presents a script "For a Black Theology in Brazil" using as a starting point the persistent racist practices in Brazilian society to point to the necessity of developing a Black Theology that causes us to think about racism under the light of biblical--theological premises of liberating and prophetic intent; Silvia Barbosa and Maria Gabriela Hita develop the intersectionality of race, class, gender, age/generation in the Candomble Ile Ase Ogum Omimkaye in Bahia and help us see the ways in which blackness is shaped/developed in a Afro-Brazilian religion. Finally, the theologian Ronilson Pacheco shows that "Black Theology in Brazil is decolonial and marginal" in a context of violence, racism, and the fight for rights and for recognition that profoundly marks the life of blacks in Brazil.
The paths of Afro-American and Caribbean theology, more than merely pointing to a theological itinerary, have the obligation to reflect, emphasize, and highlight all those who are touched by the struggles of the black people. This is hardly a theological novelty, but a deepening of a reflection anchored on a singular reality that intends to reveal the witness, the compromise, and the solidarity of the black community regarding the changes in the reality in which they live in Latin America.
(1.) Buarque de Holanda, Sergio, Raizes do Brasil (Sao Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015).
(2.) Wilmore, Gayraud S., "Historical Perspective," The Cambridge Companion to Black Theology. Edited by Dwight N. Hopkins and Edward P. Antonio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 19.
(3.) Three sources will be essential to understand this period. Freire, P., Hassmann, H, Malumba, E., and Cone, J. Teologia Negra--Teologia de La Liberacion, Ediciones Sigueme, Salamanca, 1974; CONE, J. and WILMORE, G. Teologia Negra, EP, Sao Paulo, 1986. ASETT (org.) Identidade Negra e Religiao--Consulta sobre Cultura Negra e Teologia na America Latina, CEDI/Edicoes Liberdade, Sao Paulo, 1986.
(4.) MEMMI, Albert, Retrato do Colonizado precedido do retrato do colonizador, Civilizacao Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro/RJ, 2007, p. 55.
(5.) Idem. p. 165-164.
(6.) Idem, p. 173-174.
(7.) James H. Cone expresses as following his understanding about making Black Theology in North America:[...] Comenzare mi exposicions dando uma deficicion de libertad, historia y esperanza. Examinaredespueslasconsecuenciasteologicas que de ahi se deducen.[...] VV.AA. Teologia Negra-teologia de La liberacion, Ediciones Sigueme-Salamanca, 1974, p. 63.
(8.) In Africa, since the times of the Second Vatican Council, Vicente Mulago and others already talked about "Black Theology and cultures". During the 70s, James Cone had already demonstrated that it was not only legitimate but necessary and timely to reflect on theology using blackness as a key, or vice versa. During the last two decades of the last century, both in Africa and in the diaspora, the legitimacies and the necessity of Black Theology were recognized.
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|Author:||Carvalhaes, Claudio; da Silva, Marcos Rodrigues|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2017|
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