On Marked and Unmarked Theologies

At times, I’m reminded of the problem people have with Black Theology being unapologetic about attaching Black to Theology. This is not an uncommon experience when one is developing black accounts of things (it is something we see often in the rejoinder “All Lives Matter!” ). “Why does it have to be a black theology,” the offended whine. Theology by itself names something universal that black disfigures with the problem of blackness–its particularity and historical contingency. In reality, we just need to recover better theology in general to confront the problem of whiteness in theology. Good theology is the antidote for bad theology (whether white theology or black theology). In response to this line of argument, I’ve been sketching some thoughts.

One cannot simply continue as though the name of theology, which has been white theology in practice, can simply be wrested back into a liberative mode without confronting and unsettling what is occluded by the appearance of universality given, without reserve, to this name (theology). The name Black theology thus marks theology (just as blackness marks existence) with the sign of excess or difference which cannot be assimilated into theology without theology becoming something different altogether–without theology experiencing an inoperativity or deconversion from its own whiteness. To simply announce theology by itself (whether it is true theology, or real theology, or better theology) as the answer to the problem of theology, is to leave theology unmarked as a problem for blackness (by which I mean existence) and untouched by the disfiguration blackness would effect upon theology. In my view, this marking or disfiguration of theology by blackness is precisely what keeps its speech theological. The repetition of arguments that claim to recover real theology are thus evasions of the problem an unmarked theology poses. Such evasion fails to take seriously both what theology names (our speech about God), what blackness names (a problem for the ontological whiteness that has made itself God), and the need to signal the radical incommensurability of the two yet, at the same time, their necessary confrontation.

6 Responses to “On Marked and Unmarked Theologies”

  1. Joe Calandrino Says:

    As I was reading your sketch about sketching, 2 books came to mind that might help you continue to sketch; perhaps you already know them, as they are introductory works:

    _What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism_ , by A.K.A. Adam

    _The Postmodern Bible_ , The Bible and Culture Collective ( G. Aichele et al.)

    Both these texts are a bit dated, but potentially helpful. Good luck with your efforts.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Wow, that is an incredibly patronizing comment directed at a woman who is doing her PhD at one of the top divinity schools in the country.

  3. Joe Calandrino Says:

    I’m so very sorry if it came across that way, but the authors in the books I cited seem to share an interest in in what it means to be ‘marked.’ My deepest and sincerest apologies to the author who (now obviously) needs no sharing from my meager experience. “Patronizing” was the last thing on my mind. Adam, you always make me feel so ‘old.’ My apologies to readers of AUFS as well. I retract that recommendation of those old tired texts to AUFS and the author.

  4. mattsstafford Says:

    Thanks for this – especially the specific theological link in confronting the “All Lives Matter” nonsense. I do have a question. How does the marked nature of Black Theology relate to other marked particular identities? For instance, is it viable and/or valuable to subsume feminist or queer theologies as exemplary of black theology? Should these be separate? Do you you see peril here? Thanks again for your work!

  5. amaryahshaye Says:

    Hey Matt,

    Thanks for your comment. I disagree pretty strongly with interpretations of blackness as separate from gender and sexuality, so part of what my work tries to do is show precisely how blackness names a particular (un)gendered and queer position in the world. I don’t see blackness operating in the same way as an already assumed universal like *theology*. It’s already assumed to be marked in some way, so for my work showing the multiplicity of that mark is important more than thinking of these as separate things and adding them together. But I also am not opposed to the proliferation of other markings.

  6. mattsstafford Says:

    Thanks. That is very helpful.


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