Decolonial Thinking: Troubling the Progress in the Production of Western Theological Knowledge

In her thought-provoking book, The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative of Critical Theory (2016), Amy Allen criticizes contemporary Western philosophy and social thoughts, which defines “progress” exclusively as a singular process of human development that embedded, especially in the philosophical work of Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth and Rainer Forst (Allen, 2016: 1-36). Progress, as Allen describes, simply means that “… a moral-political imperative to strive to improve the human condition (Allen, 2016: 12)”. However, to unpack the idea of “progress” which is at the core of the Western thinkers assumed ‘one true and universal story’ of human history produces Western cognitive-political-economic imperialism and colonialism (de Sausa Santos, 2015: 118-135; Mentan, 2015: 157-227; Castoriadis, 1985: 18-36). To challenge the parochial roots, Allen contends that the social theory, the Western critical theory in particular, needs to decolonize (Allen, 2016: 204-230). Similar to other disciplines, Christian theology is undergoing a quite revolution. From contextual theology to postcolonial theology, many contemporary non-Western theologians challenge the one normative and universal way of theologizing. Either situation might be the case of progress in the Christian theological reflection, there does not seem to be any issue here. Rather contemporary non-Western theologians contend that the concept of progress in Christian theology must be critically evaluated, especially the underlying implicit epistemological assumptions. In a non-Western context, borrowing the concept of Gustavo Esteva, progress have become an ‘amoeba’ or lack of concrete meaning that resulted from Western colonialism and its continues legacy (Esteva, 2018). Decolonial thinkers have critically examined the ways in which Western theological knowledge have dealt with alternative voices and different ways of theologizing. Having said that, decolonial thinking can offer important challenges to the notion of progress in Christian theology (Mignolo, 2011). This paper therefore presents a decolonial engagement with the notion of progress used in Christian theological discourse to suggest a number of cautions about the nature of this inclusion. This paper is divided into three sections: The first section discusses the two controversial issues that truly pertain to a general concept of progress. These two controversial issues that have been artificially, and perhaps ideologically, connected to the concept of progress. The second section discusses the relevance of decolonization to the study of theology. Such decoloniality invites scholars to broaden the whole discourse. Since the word, progress has been (ab)used for such a broad variety of specific agendas, the paper concluded that there must be some initial clarification of the general concept of progress before progress in theology could be fruitfully discussed.

Hadje Sadje, University of Vienna/University of Hamburg