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Religious Reform Movements, Historical Aspects

Session Chair: N.N. | Thursday, August 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Cyril Orji

Tradition and Innovation: A Semiotic Approach to Christian Transformation

Innovations needed to move Christian theology forward in contemporary cultures is dogged by methodological problems. This paper argues that the science of semiotics holds the key to unlocking this methodological logjam. Bernard Lonergan (1904-84) revolutionized Christian theology when he suggested that the odyssey of the Christian gospel allows for transcultural communication and pluralism of expressions. He suggested correctly that the Church must devise new methods of communicating the Christian message to its three publics (to use David Tracy’s term): the academy, the church, and the society. Lonergan also recognized that it can no longer be denied that the Church exists in cultural forms and, since Christianity continues to move southward, the modern scientific notion of culture suggests that the theologies inherited from the churches of north Atlantic can no longer meet the changing needs of pluralities of cultures of the global south. The Christian message, therefore, has to be re-thought in light of the new findings in anthropology and the social sciences. The interdisciplinary approach, which Lonergan suggests for transposing the Christian message, finds resonance in the science of semiotics. Drawing from C.S. Peirce and Clifford Geertz in anthropology, the paper argues that the conceptual logjams that have hindered innovations in Christian theology can be overcome if careful attention is given to the kind of innovation that Lonergan suggests, an innovation that is supported by the science of semiotics.

David Lal

Kabirpanthis-‘The Weavers Religion’: Understanding the Socio-Religious Tradition of Kabirpanthis of 19th-20th century

Kabir was famously acclaimed as Indian ‘Luther’ of 15th century by Sir W. W. Hunter for his reformative role in the Indian society. He was a spiritual guide to some of the reform movement within the Hindu religion such as Guru Nanak founder of Sikhism, Jag Jiwan Das of Oudh and founder of Satnami sect and many more. Kabir brought innovation through socio-religious tradition filled with the principles of rationality, equality and modernity. He questioned/challenged the existing socio-religious authority of Brahmins of Hinduism and Maulanas of Islam by preaching cultural plurality (Ganga-Jamuna Tehzeeb), tolerance, love and harmony (Prem Nagar-City of Love), construction of alternative social vision. The followers of Kabir carried his vision by setting up a new tradition called as Kabirpanthis. During the colonial census too they were enumerated as Kabirpanthis. This paper attempts to explore the role of Kabirpanthis in envisioning the utopia of Kabir. How an individual’s thought for socio-religious reform lays foundation for alternative social tradition? Could Kabirpanthis escape the dogmas opposed by Kabir? How Kabirpanthis were targeted in the name of caste and religion? Where does this tradition stand today?

Sandra Nickel

How 'Beִelsebubu' got his second 'u': The development and significance of the Yorùbá Christian vocabulary

The 19th century saw not only a spread of Christianity throughout Africa, but also the translation of Christian texts into local languages. In what today is Nigeria, a small group of Anglican African and European missionaries translated the Scriptures into Yorùbá and documented their thoughts in journals and letters. Using examples from the Yorùbá Christian vocabulary, I reconstruct the considerations behind the translations and the often unexpected religious and political repercussions of missionary work. I show that the missionaries, by developing the Yorùbá Christian vocabulary, reinterpreted native theology and cosmology. Frequently, political and religio-cultural considerations influenced linguistic choices and thus shaped Yorùbá Christianity. However, the act of translation also meant that Yorùbá Christians were not mere passive recipients but also active and empowered creators of the message delivered to them. Interreligious contact, the missionaries' correspondence shows, meant relinquishing interpretative authority over the message and allowing for culture-specific reformations and adaptations.


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