Decolonial Love

Salvation in Colonial Modernity

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Joseph Drexler-Dreis
  • New York, NY: 
    Fordham University Press
    , December
     2018.
     224 pages.
     $25.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780823281879.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Decolonial Love: Salvation in Colonial Modernity, Joseph Drexler-Dreis makes an important contribution to the dialogue between decolonial thought and Christian theology. The author compellingly argues that Christian theology and the decolonial project can contribute to and benefit from one another.

In part 1, Drexler-Dreis summarizes the decolonial project. The “coloniality of power” from the 15th-century colonial expansion endures today. It privileges ways the modern/colonial world-system understands being, knowledge, and eschatology over those of the historically oppressed, who are rendered subhuman, incapable of their own epistemologies, and outside the salvific plan. Drexler-Dreis considers the coloniality of power as a more complete assessment of “the signs of the times” that theology must address. The decolonial project strives to combat the coloniality of power and to contribute to the “possibility to be, think, and imagine in ways that are not beholden to [its] confines” (37).

Further, the author indicts Christian theology for sustaining the coloniality of power and proposes a threshold issue for the discipline; that is, if the preferential option for the poor means anything, theology must take the decolonial project seriously. Drexler-Dreis encourages theologians to consider instances of “decolonial love”: the praxis of uplifting modes of being, knowing, and experiencing God (broadly defined) and encountering salvation that have been destroyed, suppressed, or ignored by colonial modernity.

Drexler-Dreis even acknowledges that liberation theologians have largely failed to take up the decolonial project, though he uplifts the ways they have. Foregrounding Ignacio Ellacuría and Jon Sobrino, the author illustrates that liberation theology has made starts toward a decolonial theology by lifting up new theological loci in the experiences of the poor and by emphasizing reality’s “theologal” nature. Decolonial love demands attentiveness to these new loci. Commonality between the two fields is found here.

In part 2, Drexler-Dreis reads Franz Fanon and James Baldwin as “theologically pedagogic,” showing their works as fruitful for theological reflection. Fanon’s method of encouraging the oppressed to assert personhood through “a praxis of catalyzing ‘the end of the world,’ of opening up ruptures in history” is decolonial love, a “violent” mode of love, and a salvific experience (74). Baldwin seeks to destroy the “alabaster Christ”—Christianity that upholds the coloniality of power—for the “fuller encounter with reality” (107), thereby also illustrating the decolonial love the author defines.

Though these two authors differ—Baldwin’s assertion is not the “forward-moving dialectical concept” that Fanon understands, but is a “primarily reflective process” of “uncover[ing] layers of reality concealed in order to legitimize the idea of the United States” (101, 103)—Drexler-Dreis uses them to show their different loci for thought and challenges theologians to reflect on the same.

In part 3, the author shows how Fanon’s and Baldwin’s methods expose idols and assert alternatives to the modern colonial world-system. He theologically interprets these alternatives as eschatologically significant because they link salvation and history, incompletely revealing the eschaton. Decolonial love, in the two-part method, names the structure of reality and reveals the political commitments that flow it, informing theology’s own commitments. Fanon and Baldwin unveil and participate in a fuller reality; one can interpret this model theologically as decolonizing salvation.

Drexler-Dreis then illustrates the compatibility between theology and decolonial thought based on the way Christian liberation theologians have found a link between salvation and history. Drawing on Ignacio Ellacuría, Ivona Gebara, and Marcella Althaus-Reid, the author shows three theological contributions that, like Fanon and Baldwin, point to a deeper structure of reality where humanity meets the transcendent and opens itself up to salvation but is located in history. From Ellacuría’s conceptualization of the historical-theologal structure of reality in which God and humanity both participate, to Gebara’s structure of reality rooted in relatedness removed from Ellacuría’s christocentrism, to Althaus-Reid’s structure of reality founded in the diverse loving relationships within her “queer holiness,” Drexler-Dreis shows three examples of the decolonial love he draws from Fanon and Baldwin.

These theologians, the author argues, have done theology from positions of decolonial love and are, as a result, making a theological contribution to the decolonial project.

Drexler-Dreis argues that these theologians offer “a decolonized image of salvation that more explicitly confronts the coloniality of power” (145). Bridging the two groups of thinkers, the author shows that decolonial love is a site of the historical-theologal structure of reality, a site of relatedness, and a site of queer holiness. The decolonized salvation that the author offers, then, more effectively addresses the coloniality of power in the decolonial project and effects more radically liberation theology’s mission.

Drexler-Dreis models and contributes to a dialogue offered as a challenge to theologians to reorient themselves in such a way as to grapple with the complexity of the coloniality of power. With Fanon and Baldwin, he shows what such an orientation looks like—decolonial love, “an eschatological reality that is also a historical reality” (161), descriptive and normative. While decolonial love is not the only option, it is an important one in the countering of the modern/colonial world-system “from which theologians can construct and articulate the sacred” (162). He makes a compelling argument that theology and decolonial theory have much to learn from one another, and he pays ample attention to ensure he responsibly represents each. He rightly acknowledges that this work is necessary in the US context—a context that “forces a decolonial option within theology” (160).

Yet, as a Roman Catholic and a student of theology in a confessional department, I found myself wondering how this contribution can function within my tradition. Drexler-Dreis’s insights make clear that the marriage of these two disciplines requires a fundamental restructuring of theology, as evidenced by his foregrounding of those theologians that decenter Christ. But what is Jesus Christ without the work of salvation? And what is Christianity when Christ is decentered? The absence of any discussion of these questions left me wanting more. But I believe that is the author’s goal—to leave the reader with a greater knowledge of the problem, keenly aware of the challenging road forward, yet equipped with new insights and energized to take up the task.

About the Reviewer(s): 

R. Zachary Karanovich is a doctoral student in Systematic Theology at Boston College.

 

Date of Review: 
April 22, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joseph Drexler-Dreis is in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.

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