Toward a Creole Christ : a theology of language and Christian hybridity.


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Following the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, a new tradition of theology was inaugurated, known today as Black Liberation Theology. This tradition attempted to offer an account of Christianity that could challenge white racism and the theological structures that support white racism. Their theological vision, as articulated by James Cone, culminated Christologically in a “Black Christ.” In the 1980’s and 90’s, many black religious scholars and cultural critics began to raise questions about the conception of black identity at the heart of Black Liberation Theology. Central to these questions was a worry about essentialist renderings of identity. In the 2000’s and 2010’s, two black theologians, J. Kameron Carter and Brian Bantum, attempted to resolve these questions by revising Cone’s vision of the “Black Christ” through an appeal to a “Mulatto Christ.” In this dissertation, I evaluate the success of this appeal. I begin by framing the conversation through a review of Black Liberation Theology. I next give an account of the two primary sources utilized by Carter and Bantum in their revision of Cone: Critical Race Theory and Radical Orthodoxy. I conclude that these two sources lead to a problematic understanding of transcendence. The result is that Carter and Bantum’s appeal to mulatto merely delays the issues encountered in Cone, and continues to render identity in an essentialist fashion. Therefore, I also move toward making an alternative proposal, replacing both the “Black Christ” and the “Mulatto Christ” through an articulation of a “Creole Christ.” I do this by trying to re-source Carter and Bantum through an appeal to (what I call) the ordinary reading of the later Wittgenstein. In particular, I consider Naoko Saito’s work on translation and cross-cultural understanding, in order to imagine new ways of navigating individual and collective identities, and especially, the identity of Christ. I argue that translation and translation’s communal maintenance of difference and similarity can help us envision Christ as “Word made flesh”––as the Divine Word spoken as a human word, advancing mutual attunement in language as a model for our lives together.



Theology. Race.