Affective theology : Dalits, shame, and salvation.


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In this dissertation, I argue that Dalit theology and affect theory advance full-bodied accounts of shame, dignity, and communion which should inform broader Christian understandings of sin and salvation. I show how shame vitally animates the experience of sin and suffering, and how salvation possesses a crucial affective dimension involving the overturning of shame through dignity and communion. My dialogue with Dalit theology and affect theory offers thicker descriptions of shame, dignity, and communion than are prevalent in Western theologies, and it makes these affective themes central to soteriology. At a constructive and methodological level, my project demonstrates how Western theology can be more robust when its practitioners learn from and respond to the perspectives of affectivity scholars and South Asian subalterns.

I develop this affective and cross-cultural theology over the course of six chapters. Chapter One frames my project as theological accompaniment, a Western attempt to follow and support Dalit theology through attention to shared and distinct affects. Chapter Two describes Dalit contexts by examining caste in Indian society, Christianity, and theology. It also lays out the initial terms for an affective reading of Dalit theology. The third chapter addresses several approaches for understanding the affects and highlights contemporary affect theory as a useful tool for engaging with Dalit and theological concerns. In Chapter Four, I analyze shame from numerous perspectives, showing how it relates to the pathos of Dalit experience and to sin and suffering more broadly. Shame is resisted and overcome through dynamics I consider in the next chapters. Chapter Five highlights human dignity in affective terms, illustrating how dignity is a God-given source of selfhood, confidence, and self-respect. Chapter Six examines communion, understood as relationships of mutual interest and enjoyment that counteract shame and deepen dignity. To conclude, I offer a brief epilogue, noting the polyphony of affects. In affective, Dalit, and Christian life, positive and negative emotions intertwine as people strive and rest in hope.