Epistemically Reconstituted Decolonial Theology

[Message: Abdon Josol Lecture Series, SATMI-ADDU, 23 Feb 2021]

It is my privilege to welcome you to the now traditional Abdon Josol Lecture Series of the Saint Alfonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University.  For those who do not yet know, the Redemptorist Father Abdon Josol was the energetic and visionary founder of SATMI, in whose honor these lectures are held annually.  In non pandemic years ADDU had the privilege of hosting them in its Finster Hall, always well attended by students and professors of theology, religious, clergy, and leaders of civil society, which much celebration. 

The pandemic prohibits that this year, but cannot stop our coming together nevertheless to listen to one of the most respected guros of Mindanao history and culture, Bro. Karl Gaspar, CSsR.  I will have to allow him to explain to you what he precisely means by sharing with us his contribution to an “Epistemic Reconstitution of Doing Decolonial Theology in the Philippines.”  I suppose it will have something to do with  our needing to do our own theology in the Philippines that is not determined by the thought constraints of our colonizers. These were the Spaniards, the British [pre Brexit!], the Germans, the Belgians, or, from across the Atlantic, the Americans.   Their evangelization was influenced by their colonial intention to subjugate us, or to “civilize” us, they considering themselves superior to us – affecting, willy nilly, the way we encounter God, understand his Word, his Message to us, and how in our society we behave before the powerful colonial bearers of this Message. 

It may also say something about how we Filipinos, influenced by the colonizer, may have tried to evangelize here in Mindanao by confounding civilization with the Gospel, so that the Muslim loyal to his faith was considered savage next to the “civilized Christian Filipino”; the “pagan Lumad”, on the other hand, is regarded as underdeveloped in the rituals he or she believes in to placate the divine spirits. 

Whatever Epistemically Reconstituted Decolonial Theology actually means, I am glad we come together this afternoon in the name of doing theology in Mindanao.  As President of a Catholic University in Mindanao this is a pressing concern. With all the other professional disciplines we deal with, from nanoscience to aerospace engineering, we must be concerned about the way people encounter God in Mindanao, the meaning they find in this encounter, the sacrifice or sacrifices that are considered appropriate to divinity, the influence this has on our society, on our sense of right and wrong, and on the type of society we believe that God calls us to build.  It is all the more urgent because we are in a plural society of diverse religions, slowly learning to embrace one another as legitimately different, yet needing to feel secure in the differentiated faith to which we are called.  Meanwhile, we face serious challenges to the environment that is rooted in our consumerist-driven economy, as we face challenges relative to how the power of the state should be wielded towards the achievement of the common good.  All these need the light of theological reflection.  In this context, I welcome you all to this lecture with the news that as of the last Feast of the Sto. Nino last January 17, 2021 ADDU and SATMI have renewed their commitment to continue collaborating with one another in doing theology with you in the context of Mindanao. 

Today’s Abdon Josol lecture is a happy manifestation of that collaboration. 

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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