William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theological Educator

Category: Dissertation

Dissertation Question and Description

I get asked about my dissertation a lot, and I’ve posted about it before (abstract here, and theological significance here).  I’ve definitely made some headway in the past six months, but things have been slow as I’ve been adjusting to a new full-time job and have taken on a few other small writing projects.  Those are done now though, so 2015 promises to be a very productive writing year…  Anyway, to get back into it, I rewrote a description of my topic for a fellowship application, and here it is.

Core Question:

Seen within the context of the phenomenon of globalization, I am examining the Christian understanding of salvation with respect to the violence and impunity that has occurred as a result of the U.S.-Mexico Drug War. To do so, I ask: what is the good news and hope that the Christian faith promises to those who suffer in this conflict, and what kind of engagement and response does such a promise demand from North American churches in light of the difficulty that our Mexican neighbors are facing?

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Explaining the Theological Signficance of my Dissertation

[A few weeks ago I posted my dissertation abstract here (see link below), but was then asked to provide further clarification for what I understand to be the significance, uniqueness and potential contribution of my dissertation to contemporary, constructive Christian theology.  This is how I responded.]

First, as a work of political theology, it is hoped that a Christian soteriology will be expounded here that adequately develops a vision of redemption for the contemporary political and social situation in question on the one hand, but one that is also informed by eschatology – namely, has its criticism and inspiration rooted in an understanding of Christian hope in God’s coming reign through Christ as anticipated in Scripture and the confessing tradition of the Church – on the other hand.  Such an eschatologically-sensitized political theology will also necessarily take its departure from the social location of the Christian faith community, rather than principally from the standpoint of state citizenship.  Only from the eyes of faith, it is believed, can a resistance to violence and suffering be embodied in the spirit of neighborliness.  The object of that faith is taken here to be the beauty and goodness instantiated by Christ (von Balthasar), which is seen most acutely by this Incarnate bearing and overcoming of unjust death (Sobrino).

At the same time, these two places or identities – that of the church and the state – cannot be separated.  Moreover, if different identifies of religious, political or cultural groups are isolated from each other and/or reified, the possibility of neighborly praxis is thwarted (Dussel).  Therefore, and secondly, a notion of identity and discourse as transmodern will help to elucidate how salvation in this conflict can be conceived as both historical and eschatological, ecclesial and political, particular and planetary.  According to Dussel, however, transmodern identity, even if hybridized or pluriversal (a way of talking about solidarity and difference dialectically), is reliable precisely because it is subaltern in nature, or, formed from the view of history’s underside, what for me is a thoroughly Christian theological idea in spite of Christianity’s heritage of imperial complicity.  Thus, it will be necessary to attempt an immersion in the experience of the colonized — not to do a cross-cultural ‘study’, which would still leave us blind to the colonial difference (Walter Mignolo), but to make a contribution to the project of decolonization itself.  For only a decolonized Christian theology is a viable one in the age of globalization.

Of course, various theologies of liberation have explored historical and political salvation from the perspective of the marginalized before.  My concern, however, is that the eschatologies of these theologies have sometimes been either over-realized or anthropomorphized. That is, they have perhaps placed too much hope in political and economic reformation, even if these are nonetheless vital dimensions of any contextual theology (indeed, material relations are assumed here to be the most determinative of any context).  Accordingly then, a more contemplative conception of salvation is needed from the view of existence itself, and from the view of God’s action on behalf of humanity and all of creation as Christians conceive it – not merely as inspiration for social liberation.[1]

Thirdly, as a transdisciplinary project that will engage globalization theories in the area of economics and cultural studies, and that will also be looking at practical examples of neighborliness from an ecclesial perspective, a careful analysis of context is crucial for the success of this dissertation and for its theological significance.  This is because a theology can only truly be significant when it is appropriately contextualized, as all theology is in fact contextual.  Many modern and postmodern theologies have neglected to account for the context of material relations vis-à-vis globalization in the manner that I intend to, and the contribution and relevance to political theology hereby depends on this.


[1] I still presuppose the importance of social liberation for my understanding of Christian salvation, especially as it is expressed from the experience of social suffering by the poor and marginalized.  I am simply suggesting that the example of Christ and the promise of eschatological salvation, preserved by transcendent and not only immanent hope, must also constitute the imagination, expectation and performance of this historical salvation. In this way, it is hoped that Christian theology can be both subversive and peaceful, or non-anxious.

My Dissertation Abstract: Globalization, Violence and Salvation

Dissertation Prospectus

GLOBALIZATION, VIOLENCE AND SALVATION: TOWARD A TRANSMODERN POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF NEIGHBORLINESS AND RESISTANCE

“To be against globalization as such is like being against electricity.  However, this cannot lead us to resign ourselves to the present order of things because globalization as it is now being carried out exacerbates the unjust inequalities among different sectors of humanity and the social, economic, political and cultural exclusion of a good portion of the world’s population.” – Gustavo Gutierrez

Understood within an analytical framework and mediating theory of economic, political and cultural globalization, the purpose of this dissertation is to critically, socially and theologically reflect upon the violence and injustice that has been enacted and endured by people in Mexico and the United States in recent years (2008 to present) as a result of the so-called drug war.  To begin I will attempt to outline the various dimensions of the phenomenon of globalization and the drug war more specifically, the latter of which is presumed to epitomize major negative aspects of the former.  This part of the examination will rely on the work of several leading social scientists who have extensively studied the U.S. – Mexico underground political economy and its genealogy. Secondly, an ethical-political critique from a view of Christian salvation will be conducted as it pertains to this particular conflict, principally but not exclusively in its social sense.  My method and hermeneutical approach will be guided by what has been called the transmodern thought of Enrique Dussel and Hans Urs von Balthasar, respectively – Dussel with regard to historical and ethical-political concerns, and von Balthasar with attention to his theological aesthetics and the dramatic structure of his doctrine of salvation as symbolized by the theological significance he gives to Holy Saturday.

Dussel’s re-reading of the history of modernity as “coloniality” from a Latin American “border thinking” perspective, as well as his Levinasian and arguably Schellingian-Marxist interpretation of social relations will be the primary lens through which I will try to situate and appreciate the more particular problem of globalization and the drug war itself.  Subsequently, in an effort to sensitize Dussel’s approach to a view from “the eyes of faith,” it is von Balthasar’s meditation on the beauty of the Christ-form that will be appropriated in order to convey a less anthropocentric and more trans-temporal, thoroughgoing Christian theo-political imagination. The study will culminate in an attempt to synthesize several key contributions of Dussel and von Balthasar by drawing on additional soteriological and ecclesial insights from Dorothee Soelle, Jon Sobrino and Gustavo Gutierrez. It will be argued finally that only a properly historical-critical (Dussel), aesthetic and christocentric (von Balthasar) liberationist soteriology (Sobrino) of communion (Gutierrez) can confer the adequate theological and ethical vision of neighborliness – one that is necessary for the inspiration of faithful Christian and ecclesial resistance (Soelle) in this crisis and others.


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