Towards A Practical Dalit Theology


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TOWARDS A PRACTICAL DALIT THEOLOGY: A STUDY ON THE STATUS AND RELEVANCE OF DALIT THEOLOGY AMONG GRASS ROOTS DALIT CHRISTIANS IN THEIR STRUGGLE AGAINST
CASTE OPPRESSION
by VINCENT MANOHARAN JOHN PACKIANATHAN
A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the Degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Department of Theology School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion
College of Arts and Law University of Birmingham
January 2012

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File 1 of 2: Appendices are in a separate file

Thesis Abstract
This study seeks to develop a more practical and praxis-driven approach to Dalit Theology and its engagement with grassroots Dalit Christians. Dalit Theology is contextual and liberative. It emerged as a counter to Indian Christian theology, which ignored the caste affected life experience of Dalits, who form the majority in the Indian church. It aims to go beyond the merely spiritual in seeking to empower Dalit people and transform society.
However, the well reflected and articulated liberational theological themes of Dalit Theology seem to remain mostly within academia and the ecclesia. They have not adequately engaged with grass roots Dalit Christians who face severe discrimination and constant struggle against caste oppression. Therefore, this study is an attempt to analyse the status and potentials of Dalit Theology among grass roots Dalit Christians as a motivational force and to offer a methodological framework to enlarge Dalit Theology as a Practical theology of liberation.
The construction of Dalit Theology as a Practical theology of praxis among the grass roots hopes to facilitate the process of bringing about change in their personal life and the formation of a transformed society for both Dalits and non-Dalits to lead a caste-free life.

DEDICATION
I dedicate this work to the grass roots Dalit rights activists who spare their time and energy for regaining the dignity of Dalits

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am greatly indebted to Dr Anthony G. Reddie and the Revd Dr Adam Hood, my supervisors, for the intellectual and practical guidance, personal concern and warm encouragement, without which I would not have been introduced to theology and Practical theology and have learned to reflect upon and analyse the substance and practicality of Dalit theology.
I thank Revd Canon Dr David Hewlett, the Principal, Queen’s Theological Foundation, for all his support and encouragement in accommodating and supporting me in Queen’s Foundation.
I am thankful to Revd Dr Israel Selvanayagam, who introduced me to Queen’s Foundation, which in turn helped me to become a student of the University of Birmingham.
I need to thank Rosemary Maskell, Verona Earl and Althia Gray, of Queen’s Foundation, for their timely support and cordiality whenever I have approached them for assistance.
I must also thank Michael Gale, the Librarian of Queen’s Foundation, for the timely support he offered in providing books and other assistance.
My sincere thanks go to Ms Stephanie Joubert, the Project officer of Cordaid, in the Netherlands, who anchored my studies with financial sponsorship, and also to Ms Sabina Atzei, the Finance Officer of Cordaid, for the prompt release of funds.

I also thank the interviewees, who shared their views during the time of my field work, on the status and relevance of Dalit theology.
My thanks go to Revd Chandra Mohan for accompanying me during the interviews and for the role he played as translator from Tamil to English.
I thank, most profusely, the Revd David Haslam, a Supernumery Methodist Minister, who is also senior fellow Campaigner for Dalit Rights for his assistance in proofreading and making the corrections to the thesis. Rebecca Day also provided proofreading services for the completion of this thesis.
Finally, I immensely thank my wife, Gunaseeli, for her support, co-operation, encouragement and all assistance for the completion of this work.

Table of Contents

Chapter One – Introduction

1

1. The background and rationale for this research

1

2. The context – caste and its adverse effects on Dalits – Dalit

Christians

3

2.1 A brief appraisal of the origin and manifestation of caste

3

2.2 Situating Dalits – today’s context

6

2.3 Caste in Christianity and the plight of Dalit Christians

9

3. Caste-based discrimination against Dalit Christians - today’s

11

context

4. Indian Christian Theology

13

4.1 Its need, emergence and crux

13

4.2 Its development

16

5. Dalit Theology – its significance and themes – a broader view

20

5.1 ‘Contextual and life experience’ – the source

20

5.2 Dalit Theology is ‘Liberative’

22

5.3 Viewing ‘God as Redeemer – Liberator’

23

5.4 Seeing ‘Jesus, a Dalit’ and His mission as a ‘suffering

Messiah’

24

5.5 Dalit Theology ensures freedom and peace for all

25

6. The problem, key research question and methodology

27

6.1 The Problem

27

6.2 Key research questions

30

6.3 Methodology

30

6.4 Field work

32

6.5 Analysis

33

7. Organisation

34

Chapter Two – Dalit Theology – its significance

36

1. Significance

36

1.1 Counter to Indian Christian theology

38

1.1 (i) Dominant factors in formulating Indian Christian

39

theology

1.1 (ii) Criticism by Dalit theologians

40

2. The life-experience of Dalits – the source of Dalit Theology

47

2.1 Life experiences of Dalits – originating from the reality of

49

caste

2.2 Caste practices discriminate against Dalits

52

2.3 Life experiences of Dalit Christians

54

2.3 (i) The presence of caste in Christianity

54

2.3 (ii) Dalit Christians face discrimination by non-Dalit

56

Christians

2.3 (iii) Dalit Christians face discrimination by state

57

2.3 (iv) Dalit Christians face threat and violence by Hindu

fundamentalist forces

58

2.3 (v) Dalit Christians face exclusion in Church-based

59

institutions

3. Dalit Theology is contextual and liberative

61

4. Parallel from Black Theology

64

5. Culture as background

67

5.1 Culture – broad definition and as a source to challenge

hegemony

68

5.2 Dalit culture – its historicity and character

69

5.3 Dalits assimilating other cultures

73

5.4 Dalit culture as a background for Dalit Theology

75

5.5 Comments on the discussion on culture

77

Chapter Three – Themes in Dalit Theology

80

1. Rationale for considering these themes

80

2. Themes of Dalit Theology

82

2.1. God as the God of the oppressed

82

2.2 Dalits as ‘Full Human beings’ through the concept of imago

dei

92

2.3 Jesus as Dalit, Christ as Liberator

99

2.4 Dalits are called to struggle for transformation

104

2.5 Salvation for Dalits is liberation from caste

109

2.6 The speciality of Dalit Theology – to ensure freedom for all,

both Dalits and non-Dalits

112

Chapter Four – The liberational themes that Dalit Theology drew from

Black Theology

118

1. The rationale for writing this chapter

118

1.2 The parallels in the emergence of Black and Dalit theologies 121

2. The similarity - the significance of Black Theology

124

2.1 Black Theology is liberative

124

2.2 The life-experience of Black people, a significant source for

Black Theology

127

2.3 Black Theology is counter to White Theology

131

2.4 Black culture – a prominent factor in Black Theology

136

3. The parallel - The liberational themes in Black Theology

140

3.1 The God of the Oppressed – Black people are chosen

people of God

140

3.2 Black Theology and the imago dei

146

3.3 Claiming Jesus a Black person, a Black Messiah

149

3.4 Black people are called to struggle – also for the freedom of

White people

155

4. A brief overview on the position of White theologians on White

Theology

159

5. Salient similarities and dissimilarities between Black and Dalit

theologies and further insights to be drawn by Dalit Theology – a

final comment

162

Chapter Five – Practical theology as a transforming practice

166

1. Rationale for this chapter

166

2. Practical theology

167

2.1 Definition and significance

167

2.2 The history of Practical theology

169

2.3 The nature of Practical theology

171

2.4 Different models of Practical theology

175

2.4 (i) Practical theology and Pastoral theology

175

2.4 (ii) Practical theology as applied theology

177

2.4 (iii) Practical theology as transforming practice

178

2.4 (iv) Practical theology as a theology of hermeneutics and a

hermeneutic vocation

179

3. The ‘Action – Reflection paradigm’, a method in Practical theology 182

3.1 Definition, significance and nature of action-reflection

183

4. Dalit Theology to emerge as a full Practical theology

196

4.1 The need for ‘action-reflection’ method

196

4.2 The limitation of this method

201

5. Field study

202

5.1 The need

202

5.2 Details of field study

203

Chapter Six – Dalit Theology in Action: Reflection among the Grass roots

206

1. The hypothesis and research question

206

2. Qualitative research and the interpretative paradigm

208

3. Interview – a viable method

210

4. Methodological challenges

212

5. Limitations

218

6. Actualisation of interviews

219

7. Immediate implications

222

8. Analysis of the themes – their status and relevance among grass

roots – discussion, analysis and interpretation

223

8.1 Theme: God as ‘God of the Oppressed’

224

8.2 Theme: Dalits as full human beings under the concept of

‘imago dei’

233

8.3 Theme: Jesus a Dalit and Christ a liberator

237

8.4 Theme: Dalits are called to struggle for transformation and

also for the liberation of non-Dalits

245

8.5 Theme: Salvation for Dalits is liberation from caste

249

9. The perception of Dalit pastors/priest on the status and relevance

of Dalit Theology

254

10. The status and the need for Dalit Theology to become a Practical

theology of praxis

257

Chapter Seven – Conclusion: Making this work – Proposals for a

Transformative Pedagogy

260

1. The need for a proposal

260

2. Methodology – to be relevant to ground reality

260

3. The Proposal: Transformative informal education

262

3.1 Its broader definition

262

3.2 Its main characteristics

264

3.3 Its salient features

269

3.4 Informal education method: a prototype

272

3.5 Training of trainers - a primary requisite for informal

education

276

4. The way forward

280

Conclusion

282

Glossary

287

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Towards A Practical Dalit Theology