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‘Black’ theology crosses the pond

18 April 2007

Michael Jagessar takes the chance to study comparisons

Black Theology in Transatlantic Dialogue
Anthony G. Reddie

ANTHONY REDDIE, a black British Methodist of Caribbean roots, is a prolific writer, and a creative black British theologian and educator. He is, arguably, the most significant voice in transatlantic Black theological discourse, and this book reflects that.

It is essentially a reflective and personal narrative that weaves the best of Black theological theorising and practice in a fruitful conversa-tion between two related and yet differently located schools of Black theology (in the UK and the United States), referred to in this volume in familial relational terms (elder, cousin, sibling).

Combining narrative and critical scholarship, the discourse is presented in six chapters. This covers historical developments; the relationship between Black theologians and the Church; the challenge of womanist theologians to the androcentric proclivity of Black theologians; the significant place of Christian education as a branch of practical theology; an evaluation of the development of the Black Theology journal (UK); and reflections on future trajectories.

Readers are offered a significant overview, comparative analysis, and critique of Black theology in the UK and the US, from the perspective of both an “insider” and an “outsider”.

Looking out from inside his own context, Reddie scans the wider Black Atlantic to present readers with an evaluative take on Black British theology and African American Black theology. Drawing on Black British theology’s symbiotic relationship with Black theology in the US, he skilfully evaluates the development of Black theology in Britain by comparing it “with her older sibling in the United States”.

While there is acknowledgement of gratitude to the African American scholars, Reddie also offers a critique of their ongoing hegemony, even though the Black landscape in the US is, and has become, much more diverse and complex with the presence of migrants from Africa and the Caribbean.

This volume is certainly the first attempt at comparing and contrasting the developments of Black theology on both sides of the Atlantic. Most significant, however, is Reddie’s informative and critical survey of the historical development of Black theology in Britain, by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the present generic approach in comparison with the “specialist” approach of the African American landscape.

Within this dialogical project or “dialectical conversation”, Reddie has also ably identified, nuanced, and critiqued the complex nature of Black theological discourse in the UK: for instance, his observation of the political and inclusive use of the term “black” in the British context, in comparison with its use in the US. There is, he says, a significant difference in terms of the “plural space” that the former inhabits.

And, in terms of a critique, the author highlights the tendency of the Black Church to be “a force for conservatism and reactionary thinking, rather than a liberating space for anti-oppressive struggle”.

With regard to future trajectories for Black theological discourse in Britain, Reddie signals the need for openness in “embracing difference”, “enabling all people to be their authentic selves”, and “critical rereading of scripture”. If Black theology in Britain is to move beyond “the formative stage”, there certainly needs to be a continuing and critical dialogue. And it may be that the time is now opportune to consider other dialogue partners.

The Revd Dr Michael N. Jagessar is lecturer in Ecumenical Theology and Interfaith Studies at The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, and reviews editor of Black Theology: An international journal.

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

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