In Counterpoint

Diaspora, Postcoloniality, and Sacramental Theology

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Kristine Suna-Koro
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , May
     2017.
     318 pages.
     $37.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781625647108.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In her excellent book, In Counterpoint: Diaspora, Postcoloniality, and Sacramental Theology, Kristine Suna-Koro argues that the current historical moment demands a reevaluation and reformation of sacramental theology: “In light of enduring (neo)colonial and (neo)imperial histories, it is not difficult to see why the moment is opportune to seek more accountable, more faithful, more liberative, and ultimately more life-giving sacramental imaginaries to empower all those routinely pushed to the margins of life” (241). In this text, Suna-Koro’s particular socio-historical location as a diasporic, Latvian Lutheran allows her to uniquely recognize and address this need by constructing what she calls a postcolonial planetary sacramental imaginary. As a sacramental theological method, this imaginary serves as one way to critically address the colonial (ongoing) history of Christian thought and practice.

This book is divided into three main parts that are prefaced with three brief preludes. In these preludes, Suna-Koro “constructs the place” from which she does theology: the postcolonial hybridity of “the worldwide Latvian diaspora and its Lutheran communities of faith” (21). In her words, “the reflections I present in this monograph always carry the branding of my ‘dual citizenship’ in theology and postcolonial theory” (11). Part 1, then, “sketches the theoretical and interdisciplinary framework of diasporic and postcolonial analysis” that the author uses to construct her postcolonial planetary sacramental imaginary (12). The first part of this book will prove a particularly excellent resource for any reader that desires a succinct yet thorough survey of postcolonial thought. The pool of Suna-Koro’s interlocutors has remarkable depth and breadth.

The second part of the book “explores a range of resonances between theological inquiry and postcolonialism” (12). The resonance that receives the most attention is the shared concern for ethics. The postcolonial diasporic imaginary is ethical in its foundations. As such, it orients any theological inquiry that is undertaken from that imaginary. For this reviewer, the notion of the preferential option for the poor is immediately called to mind. However, the fundamental nature of the “ethical pre-text” of Suns-Koro’s postcolonial diasporic imaginary is that there need not be a dogmatic theology on which the preferential option for the poor is founded. Rather all theological endeavors should find their genesis in an ethical concern for the marginalized of the world. “This vision of postcolonial theology resonates particularly well with discourses such as liberation theology, feminist, womanist, mujerista, and other emancipatory fields of inquiry. . .” (106)

Lastly, the third part of the book “offers several constructive trajectories for emerging postcolonial sacramental theology from a diasporic perspective” (12). This penultimate and longest section is Suna-Koro’s constructive effort. Using the postcolonial method expounded in the first two parts, she describes what she calls a “postcolonial planetary sacramental imaginary.” In the end, the ethical pre-text of her postcolonial diasporic imaginary continually brings to the fore questions of power and its victims. This ethical pre-text means that the sacramental imaginary she constructs is preoccupied with the violent history of sacramentality. “Postcolonial sensibilities prioritize ethics before not only ontology and epistemology, but also before the history of dogmatic expression” (223). This priority leads Suna-Koro to a planetary sacramentality that addresses ecological crises by subverting anthropocentrism and insisting on viewing the world as Ursakrament (chapters 3.3-3.4). The author’s use of the postcolonial notion of planetarity leads to a sacramental theology that sees Creation as the fundamental sacrament. This foundation, then, allows her to construct a sacramental theology that emphasizes the pluriverse encountered in the histories of sacramental practice. The result is a deep seated concern for ecumenical difference and the histories that have led to Christian plurality. Any ecumenically minded reader seeking a sacramental theology that takes the diversity of Christian worship seriously will be edified by chapter 3.4. Chapter 3.5 constructs a Christology rooted in the notions of hybridity and Third Space. Here, Suna-Koro reads Chalcedonian doctrine through the postcolonial lens of hybridity. The result is a Christology that understands Jesus to be the “crescendo of sacramentality.” While all creation is sacramental in nature, it is the hybrid nature of Christ’s hypostatic union that allows Him to be “the perfect sacrament of God” (250). In chapter 3.6, the Eucharist is described as a practice that, through its opacity, allows those who celebrate it “to recognize and live with more than just immediately visible, classifiable, and assessable outcomes and without the compulsion to conquer, dichotomize, simplify, and reduce” (263). Suna-Koro argues that postcolonial theologians must not ignore the issue of Eucharistic change. In the final chapter before the Coda, she lays out a postcolonial theory of transubstantiation that is freed from the hegemonic category of sacrifice: “. . . only an idea of a profound change can signify a counter-hegemonic alternative for life, and cause a healing transformation of all the seemingly intransigent ills that are of human making” (267). In the end, the constructions found throughout the third part prove Suna-Koro’s claim that “the transformative intervention of postcolonialism for the renewal of Christian theology consists in its potential for re-orchestrating the most problematic patterns and imaginaries of relationality and power” (126).

Theologians interested in the intersection of liturgy and ethics will find this book informative and thought provoking. As a liturgical theologian, this reviewer was left wanting more examples of concrete prescription regarding liturgical reform. While no project can do everything, I am left wanting a brief liturgical application of this masterfully constructed postcolonial sacramental theology. One place that I will strongly disagree with Suna-Koro is the following claim she makes about the effects of her postcolonial context: “Mine is a diasporic hybridity of forced poetics—and hence it does not feel and may not come across as particularly poetic at all” (28). While the point about the violence of forced poetics is well taken, this work of theology does indeed come across as poetry. Suna-Koro has written a book that challenges the reader as any great poem does. As such, this book creatively pushes the boundaries of what theological discourse “ought” to look like.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David Farina Turnbloom is Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Portland.

Date of Review: 
December 29, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kristine Suna-Koro is associate professor of theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a Latvian-American diasporic theologian working at the intersection of postcolonialism, liturgical and sacramental studies as well as migration and diaspora discourses. As a Lutheran pastor she has served the diasporic Latvian Lutheran communities in Great Britain, Germany, and the United States.

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