Notes to WATERtalk with Kwok Pui-lan
Postcolonial Politics and Theology: Unraveling Empire for a Global World (Westminster John Knox Press, 2021)
Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at 1pm EST
WATER thanks Professor Kwok Pui-lan for her enlightening lecture on her book Postcolonial Politics and Theology: Unraveling Empire for a Global World. Pui-lan is a longtime friend whom we are happy to welcome again to WATER to continue the conversations we have had over the long years.
A video of the session can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlmZ-H-FQb0.
INTRODUCTION by Mary E. Hunt:
Dr. Kwok Pui-lan is a highly esteemed colleague in the field of religion. She studied in Hong Kong and then in Boston where she taught for many years at Episcopal Divinity School. She is on the faculty at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University as Dean’s Professor of Systematic Theology. Not unexpectedly, she was named Faculty Person of the Year by the student body for two years in a row for her outstanding teaching, scholarship, and mentoring, not to mention her robust sense of humor and remarkable skill as a stand-up comedian.
Kwok’s research focuses on Asian feminist theology and postcolonial theology. She has written or edited 23 books in English and Chinese, including Postcolonial Politics and Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2021); The Hong Kong Protests and Political Theology (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021); Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012, with Joerg Rieger); Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2005) among others. Her current research focuses on the practice of postcolonial theology. Her work has been translated into English, Chinese, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Pui-lan is a past president of the American Academy of Religion and past editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She teaches a broad spectrum of classes, including a spirituality class on line that includes embodied, physical exercises.
When I blurbed this book for What We’re Reading, I began with a quote from Pui-lan: “Christians have often put their hope in the eschaton—the end time. But post-colonial hope is more like a process, for we cannot defer hope till eternity.” (p. 203) So Kwok Pui-lan sets the goal of this work to use religious analysis to bring about global social change. Her essays are crisp and clear; her approach accessible and pragmatic. Read this important book to join the efforts to “unravel Empire.”
REMARKS By Kwok Pui-Lan:
(Editor’s note) The speaker’s Power Point is embedded in the video.
Pui-lan described her student life in Hong Kong in the 1970’s when she first studied feminist theology. She read feminist scholars Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Ruether, as well as liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez. Feminist scholar activist Mary John Mananzan from the Philippines, and the journal In God’s Image gave her Asian resources from which to theologize. She asked herself how she could contribute to this line of theological thinking and doing.
By the late 1990’s it was clear to her that political theology and postcolonial studies were key sources for understanding mass movements for liberation both in East Asia and in other parts of the world, including the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. Anti-Asian violence arose in 2020 in the U.S., resultant in large part from the then-President’s naming of Covid 19 as a Chinese virus.
The peaceful rise of China versus Make America Great Again characterizes the current competition between these two empires. Theology for the world’s majority is Pui-lan’s focus, a concentration on those who do not enjoy liberal democracy.
She looks at the ramifications of post-colonial politics. Clearly the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality are as important as political economy because these issues are intertwined. Women and racial minorities participate in many arenas beyond the electorate. Postcolonial practices include teaching, interreligious solidarity, planetary ethics, and climate ethics. “Signs of the times” are found in these areas.
Her current questions include:
- What do midterm elections mean for Sino-American relations? This is crucial for seeing a broader perspective.
- People are very concerned about democracy in the U.S. mid-term elections. Compared to the Chinese process where a group of 7 people decide everything, the question remains which system will be participatory and democratic? Messy elections are considered by many people to be better than oligarchy or dictatorship. How can we to make the U.S. democratic process better? Given the billions of dollars spent every two years for elections, who can afford this system?
- Many women’s recent participation in voting was driven by concern about reproductive rights. This is an example of how “Hope is a process.”
DISCUSSION with responses by Kwok Pui-lan (KPL):
- One colleague stated that the maps we use are deceptive. States are shown as equal on maps, but the number of people who vote are not represented accurately in the blue/red state image.
KPL- Cartography is important in terms of how it shapes imagination. “Cartography is destiny.”
- Another colleague,who has lived three-fourths of her life in Latin America, said that cartography has influenced her life. It is hard to see the messy democracy whose potential is unfulfilled be touted for all people in the world. Feminicides in Mexico is an ongoing problem. Even with a new government in Mexico, the violence against women is as bad as ever.
KPL- There is a need to reclaim and re-imagine political theology from around the world especially from protest movements. Indigenous wisdom, especially women’s wisdom, needs to be lifted up for politics and theology.
- A colleague from Ecuador pointed to the Brazilian election with Lula back in and Bolsonaro out, yet many very conservative members are serving in the House of Representatives in Brasil. Redistricting in the U.S. seems to be undemocratic. Thinking in decolonializing terms, it is crucial to watch how both the U.S. and Brasil fare.
KPL- How can Brazilians get election results in 3 hours while the U.S. takes weeks unto months to have final results? Contrast Bolsonaro giving up power immediately while the U.S. still has election deniers months unto years after the fact. Conclusion: those who promote a preferential option for the poor cannot rest.
- A former WATER intern now involved in non-profit funding asked about the article provided for preparation for this event: “Postcolonial Intervention in Political Theology,” Kwok Pui-lan (2016) Postcolonial Intervention in Political Theology, Political Theology, 17:3, 223-225, DOI: 1080/1462317X.2016.1186443. He asked KPL to assess the progress of postcolonial theological work.
KPL described a forthcoming book on how political theology needs to be reconfigured in Asia from a trans-Pacific perspective and how to talk about reconciliation and peace. How do LGBTQ issues intersect with political economy? What about Sino-American relations? What about China taking back Taiwan à la Putin in Ukraine?
NOTE: One comment in the Chat mentioned the importance of seeing the U.S. not as ‘America’ but as the United States of America, not to be confused with so many other countries in the Americas.
There is always more to talk about with Kwok Pui-lan. Discussion continued very fruitfully after the session ended.
WATER thanks Pui-lan for excellent scholarship and creative, engaging pedagogy. We look forward to her next visit.